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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. This brings us to the present, where wide screen high definition televisions offer a beautiful marriage to Blu-ray Discs that offer movies in their full, correct aspect ratios. In this high definition era, DOCTOR ZHIVAGO ($36) has been revisited once again by Warner Home Video, and is offered in presentation that showcases the beauty and wide screen vistas of the forty-five-year-old David Lean classic.

Adapted from the novel by Boris Pasternak, the film version of DOCTOR ZHIVAGO offers 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 Zhivagoís wife Tonya, who has been part of his life since childhood. Julie Christie is Lara, the great love of Zhivagoís 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 by many to be one of the greatest of director David Leanís cinematic masterpieces. Leanís flawless casting and attention to detail makes DOCTOR ZHIVAGO an unforgettable motion picture. However, it is the delicacy of Leanís direction that makes DOCTOR ZHIVAGO one of the cinemaís greatest love stories. Certainly, the film version of DOCTOR ZHIVAGO greatly whittles away at Pasternakís novel, but considering the three-plus hour runtime, concessions had to be made to turn literary source into a romantic cinematic masterpiece. The superb cast of DOCTOR ZHIVAGO also features Rod Steiger, Alec Guinness, Tom Courtenay, Siobhan McKenna, Ralph Richardson, Rita Tushingham and Klaus Kinski.

Warner Home Video has made DOCTOR ZHIVAGO available on Blu-ray Disc in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio presentation that has been encoded onto the disc with the VC-1 codec. DOCTOR ZHIVAGO has been afforded with a glorious 1080p presentation that demonstrates just how good older films can look in high definition. With its Oscar wins for Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction and Best Costume Design, high definition truly allows one to appreciate every nuance of what David Lean and his team were able to bring to the screen more than four decades ago. Certainly, DOCTOR ZHIVAGO doesnít look like a new film shot with modern film stocks, but for a vintage movie, it is definitely a best of breed. In general, the image is quite sharp and very nicely defined. However, there is some softness that creeps into the image in places; much of which is inherent to the available production technique, lenses, film stocks and optical effects processing of the 1960s. Color reproduction is pretty wonderful, especially for a film that originated in MetroColor; saturation is strong and stable, while the flesh tones appear reasonably natural, without too much evidence of the make-up manís craft. Blacks are deep and inky, while the numerous winter whites are crisp and wholly stable. Contrast is good, but the image can appear a bit flatter than modern films. Shadow detail is also good, but it is sometimes limited by the nature of the film stocks available during the time of the production. The film elements from which DOCTOR ZHIVAGO was transferred display virtually no flaws. Modest grain is present in the image, which helps the presentation maintain a highly organic quality that never appears digital.

DOCTOR ZHIVAGO is presented on Blu-ray Disc with a 5.1 channel DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. No doubt, the is the best that DOCTOR ZHIVAGO has ever sounded, or is likely to ever sound in the home venue. The lossless encode bolsters the strengths of these forty five year old recordings, without playing up the weaknesses. Of course, there are some frequency limitations that are entirely attributable to the sixties era recording technology. The bottom end of the track is a bit lacking, but the top holds its own, without becoming shrill. Maurice Jarreís Oscar winning score sounds very well preserved and the mix maintains the big, wide stereo imaging of the music. Directionality in the forward soundstage is modest in comparison to modern soundtracks, and never really calls too much attention to itself. Additionally, the mix retains directional dialogue that was part of the filmís original presentation. As for the dialogue itself, it is crisp and completely understandable. French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 channel tracks are also encoded onto the disc, as are English, French and Spanish subtitles.

The interactive menus allow one access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as, as well as the supplemental materials, many of which have been ported from previous DVD releases. Starting things off is a running Audio Commentary with Omar Sharif, Rod Steiger, and Sandra Lean- the wife of the late director. The participants share interesting stories about the production, although Steigerís comments tend to be the most animated and amusing. Also included on disc one is Dr. Zhivago: A Celebration, which is a retrospective in two parts that runs forty minutes in total.

Disc two consists of a DVD, which appears identical to what was contained on the previous DVD release. Some of this content made its debut on MGMís 30th Anniversary Laserdisc boxed set, but it is nice that it is included again for anyone who may not have the opportunity to view it previously. Doctor Zhivago: The Making of a Russian Epic is an 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. Interviews from the time of the programís creation are intermixed with actual clips from the film and vintage behind-the-scenes footage. Eleven short Featurettes from the time of movieís theatrical release also appear on the DVD and they include the following: Zhivago: Behind The Camera With David Lean, David Leanís Film Of Doctor Zhivago, Moscow In Madrid, Pasternak, New York Press Interviews Julie Christie, New York Press Interviews Omar Sharif, Geraldine Chaplinís 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 twoís supplemental features. A CD Sampler of the films soundtrack is also provided. DOCTOR ZHIVAGO features book styled packaging that contains forty-eight pages of photos and production notes.

Director David Leanís film of DOCTOR ZHIVAGO is one of the truly great cinematic romances. The filmís popularity has endured for well over four decades and for very good reason- David Lean was a master of his craft, which is evidenced in every frame of DOCTOR ZHIVAGO. The Blu-ray presentation is quite glorious. DOCTOR ZHIVAGO is very highly recommended.



Doctor Zhivago Anniversary Edition (Blu-ray Book) (1965)


DVD & Blu-ray Disc reviews are Copyright © 2010 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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