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Thinking back to the early days of wide screen Laserdiscs, DOCTOR ZHIVAGO was one of the first two titles released by MGM/UA Home Video as an experiment to see if there would be any interest in Letterboxed Laserdiscs. Of course, the experiment was an enormous success, which changed the entire Laserdisc marketplace and helped to shape the wide screen preference for DVD. More than a decade later, DOCTOR ZHIVAGO ($30) has been revisited by Warner Home Video in an absolutely superb DVD edition that makes this nearly forty-year-old David Lean classic look like a brand new film.

Based upon the novel by Boris Pasternak, DOCTOR ZHIVAGO is an epic love story set against the backdrop of the Russian revolution and its oppressive aftermath. DOCTOR ZHIVAGO stars Omar Sharif as Yuri Zhivago, a physician and poet, who through the course of the film, falls in love with two women. Geraldine Chaplin portrays Zhivago’s wife Tonya, who has been part of his life since childhood. Julie Christie is Lara, the great love of Zhivago’s life, who becomes his mistress years after their first encounter. DOCTOR ZHIVAGO is a film of incredible beauty and epic scope, and for good reason it is considered to be among director David Lean’s cinematic masterpieces. Lean’s flawless casting and attention to detail makes DOCTOR ZHIVAGO an unforgettable motion picture. However, it is the delicacy of Lean’s direction that makes DOCTOR ZHIVAGO one of the cinema’s greatest love stories. The wonderful cast of DOCTOR ZHIVAGO also features Rod Steiger, Alec Guinness, Tom Courtenay, Siobhan McKenna and Ralph Richardson.

Warner Home Video has made DOCTOR ZHIVAGO available on DVD in a 2.35:1 wide screen presentation that features the anamorphic enhancement for 16:9 displays. As I stated above, the presentation of DOCTOR ZHIVAGO is absolutely superb. Warner has utilized Lowry Digital Images to work their own brand of magic on the wide screen transfer to make DOCTOR ZHIVAGO look like a new movie. The picture on the DVD is wonderfully clean, extremely sharp and highly detailed. There is nary a flaw to be found in this video presentation- kudos to Warner and Lowry for a job extraordinarily well done. Colors are so rich and vibrant that they sometimes look a bit more like Technicolor than the Eastmancolor derivative MetroColor, in which the film was originally released. The reds are absolutely glorious, as are many of the film’s other lush hues. Flesh tones are very appealing, but sometimes take on a slightly made up look. There are no signs of chroma noise, although the reds seemed to run a little too hot during the opening credit roll. Blacks are deep and thoroughly velvety, plus the picture has excellent contrast and impressive shadow detail. Due to its running time, DOCTOR ZHIVAGO is spread across two sides of a DVD-14 disc, with the side break occurring at the intermission point. This intelligent authoring keeps digital compression artifacts completely out of sight.

DOCTOR ZHIVAGO is presented on DVD with a Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack. The sound mix isn’t anywhere near as impressive as the video, but it is certainly quite good for a mid-sixties’ production. There is some directionality in the forward soundstage, but it doesn’t really call too much attention to itself. Dialogue reproduction is clean and completely understandable, plus the mix does retain dialogue directionality, which was part of the film’s original presentation. The recordings of Maurice Jarre’s Oscar winning score are well preserved and the big, wide stereo imaging of the music in maintained in the 5.1 channel sound mix. Of course, there are some frequency limitations in the sound recordings, but for the most part, DOCTOR ZHIVAGO has a warm well-rounded sound. A French 5.1 channel track is also encoded onto the DVD, as are English, French, and Spanish subtitles.

Some of Maurice Jarre’s music serves to enhance the DVD’s interactive menus. Through the menus, one has access to standard scene selection and set up features, as well as a number of very solid supplements. Due to the film’s length, the majority of the supplements are relegated to a second disc, but the movie disc does contain a few treasures of its own. This release of DOCTOR ZHIVAGO includes an audio commentary featuring Omar Sharif, Rod Steiger, and Sandra Lean- the wife of the late director. The participants share interesting stories about the production, although Steiger’s comments tend to be the most animated and amusing. Also included on disc one is an isolated version of Maurice Jarre’s presented in 5.1.

Moving on to disc two, we find many of the features that were present on MGM’s 30th Anniversary Laserdisc boxed set from a few years back. Doctor Zhivago: The Making of a Russian Epic is a recent hour long documentary that looks at the production of the film from its literary roots all the way through to its showing at the Academy Awards. Recent interviews are intermixed with actual clips from the film and vintage behind-the-scenes footage. 11 short featurettes from the time of movie’s theatrical release also appear on the DVD and they include the following: Zhivago: Behind the Camera with David Lean, David Lean’s Film Of Doctor Zhivago, Moscow In Madrid, Pasternak, New York Press Interviews Julie Christie, New York Press Interviews Omar Sharif, Geraldine Chaplin’s Screen Test, This Is Julie Christie, This Is Geraldine Chaplin, This Is Omar Sharif and Chaplin In New York. A theatrical trailer, awards listing and cast & crew filmographies close out disc two’s supplemental features.

Director David Lean’s film of DOCTOR ZHIVAGO is one of the truly great cinematic romances. The film’s popularity has endured for nearly four decades and includes fans too numerous to count. Warner Home Video has done a truly wondrous job of transferring DOCTOR ZHIVAGO to the DVD medium- creating a presentation of incredible beauty. It is doubtful that even a single fan will be disappointed by the video quality of this DVD. In addition, Warner has added some very nice supplements that will serve as the icing on what is already a very rich cake. The DVD of DOCTOR ZHIVAGO is very highly recommended.


Doctor Zhivago


DVD reviews are Copyright 2001 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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