David Lean focused all his talent as an epic-maker on Boris Pasternak’s sweeping novel about a doctor-poet in revolutionary Russia. The results may sometimes veer toward soap opera, especially with the screen frequently filled with adoring close-ups of Omar Sharif and Julie Christie, but Lean’s gift for cramming the screen with spectacle is not to be denied. The streets of Moscow, the snowy steppes of Russia, the house in the country taken over by ice; these are re-created with Lean’s unerring sense of grandness. The movie is so lush and so long that it becomes an irresistible wallow, even when logic suffers–like Gone with the Wind before it and Titanic after. Sharif, who achieved stardom in Lean’s previous film, Lawrence of Arabia, mostly looks noble, but the supporting cast is spiky: Rod Steiger as a fat-cat monster, Tom Courtenay as a self-righteous revolutionary, and Klaus Kinski and Alec Guinness in smaller roles. Geraldine Chaplin, in her adult debut, plays the doctor’s compliant wife. Robert Bolt’s screenplay won one of the film’s five Oscars┬«, with another going to perhaps the most immediately recognizable element of the movie: Maurice Jarre’s romantic music, with its hugely popular “Lara’s Theme” weaving in and out of a swooning score.

Studio: Warner Home Video
Year: 1965
Release Date: May 4, 2010
Run time: 197 minutes
Rating: R

Audio: DTS-HD MA lossless 5.1 mix
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
Disc Spec: 1 BD50 / 2 DVD
Region: A

This sweeping epic of a film, Dr. Zhivago, does an excellent job of integrating a romantic love story within the world changing Russian Revolution. The film covers the intellectual growing criticism of the Romanov family, the rise of the Bolsheviks in the working poor, the effect of World War I on the Russian people which prepares them to overthrown the Czar and create a worker’s government. Like Tolstoy’s great War and Peace and Naipaul’s The Bend in the River, the film shows how the lives of ordinary families and persons are swept up in the forces of war, politics, and history. This is a central theme in Dr. Zhivago where a young man and his family are separated due to these societal forces. There is a pivotal excellent scene in the film, where Zhivago has come from visiting his mistress Laura and is returning to his pregnant wife when paralyzed between his loving wife and son and his duty to family and his deep passion for his mistress Laura, Zhivago’s horse slows to a crawl. At this point, a scouting party from the Red Army surrounds him and conscripts him for his medical services during a military campaign. Unable to make the decision between wife and mistress, the forces of history make the decision for him.

The character of Zhivago, played very well by Omar Sharif, is that of a sensitive intellectual, artist, romantic, who was born in a world of privilege and is now cast into a world changing world of revolution. Yet, in the end, I found it hard to come to terms with his final sacrifices and decisions, especially the decision to allow Lara to escape to Mongolia with her daughter and unborn child in the company of a vicious man that Zhivago knows to be self serving and cruel. While his wife, son, and daughter escape to Paris and his mistress and unborn child escape to Mongolia, Zhivago decides to stay in Russia. Is it due to his love of medicine? Is it due to his love of poetry? Is it due to his love of Russia? It must be the love of Russia that compels him to leave Laura and remain. But at this point the story becomes ideology and seems to test our sense of reality. For if this idealistic poet of the upper classes remains in Russia, the implication is that Russia is not lost, that a new Russia can be built, and that the new Russia can be built by the intellectual poet from the former upper class as well as the mass forces of the unsophisticated working class.

If Pasternak had allowed Zhivago to immigrate to Paris with his wife and son and daughter, the message would be that the intellectual and artist and former ruling classes have no role in the new Russia. If Pasternak had allowed Zhivago to escape to Mongolia with Laura, the message would be much the same with the exception that he makes the choice based on passion. Thus this romantic dreamer makes a very hard objective decision to live in isolation from the two women he loves and that love him for an abstract love of the motherland. It makes a good novel and a good film, but lacks the credibility of lived experience – for if anyone knows that the forces of a single man against the forces of brutal history is often defeat, it is Zhivago.

If there is one criticism of the film, it is that often the Bolsheviks are shown as opportunistic, manipulative, power hungry, intolerant, ideologues. There is a tendency to portray the aristocrats in both the French and Russian revolution to be genteel saints and the revolutionary forces to be power-drive murderers. Balance is needed when the work of art does not portray both sides fairly. Suppose the films about the American revolution showed the British as highly civilized, intelligent victims of a bunch of wildly out of control violent New English colonists. We would hardly think this view as accurate. Yet both French and Russian revolutionists are often portrayed in films as homicidal opportunists and criminals.
Movie Content: 9/10

Print/Audio Quality

The print is presented in 1080p/VC-1 with a 2.40:1 aspect ratio. Warner’s engineers breath new life into this film on Blu-ray by spending the time and money to fully restore this film. I was impressed with the color timing as colors hold a vibrant and vivid look, providing for a bright colored image. The color red prevails throughout the film holding up rather well. Flesh tones are accurate. Blacks are good, yet there are a few instances where they look a bit soft. Details are prevalent throughout the entire print. Grain is in tact throughout the entire film never becoming a hindrance. I was very impressed with the image considering that the film is over 45 years old.
Video Quality: 9/10

The audio is presented in DTS-HD MA lossless 5.1 mix. With this film being dialogue centric, I did not expect my soundfield to be booming. I stand corrected as you hear the score come pouring into the soundfield as if this was a modern release. Then add the rears adding a nice set of sound effects into the soundfield, especially the riding of the horses as you can hear their hoofs stomping on the ground. Dialogue comes through the center channel very clear and crisp. With the nice added DTS-HD 5.1 mix, the film is still a very front heavy experience, which is not bad by any means.
Audio Quality: 9/10

Special Features

  • Audio Commentary with Actor Omar Sharif and Sandra Lean
  • Doctor Zhivago: A Celebration, Parts 1 & 2
  • New York Press Interviews
  • Behind the Camera with David Lean
  • David Lean’s Film of Doctor Zhivago
  • Pasternak
  • Moscow in Madrid
  • Geraldine Chaplin Screen Test
  • This Is Shorts
  • Cast & Crew
  • Awards
  • Original General-Release Trailer
  • Soundtrack Sampler

Special Features: 9.5/10

Final Thoughts

Doctor Zhivago sometimes feels like a soap opera, but it’s just about the most epic soap opera you can imagine–much like Gone With the Wind, it sets the fairly minor struggles of a small group of characters against a dramatic historical tableau and is all the better for it–compulsively watchable even at 3+ hours. The Blu-ray is highly recommend, time to give away those DVD’s.
Overall Rating: 9/10