Monday, May 31, 2010

Doctor Zhivago (1965) 45th Anniversary Edition on DVD and BluRay

Lucky for us, they didn't wait for the 50th anniversary to release this!

If I enjoyed David Lean's greatest flop, Ryan's Daughter (1970), chances are I would thoroughly enjoy one his major successes. Doctor Zhivago (1965) is truly an epic. It's one of those films that has transcended it's own medium to become an icon. One of the things I love so very much about stories like Doctor Zhivago is that is demonstrates how love can blossom in the most dire of circumstances. Even the social and political turbulence of Russia during the Revolution could not stop the romance between Lara (Julie Christie) and Yuri (Omar Sharif). If this film hasn't broken your heart it's because it's made out of stone. It's really touching, and why I still don't understand completely why Yuri loves Lara, I was still swept away by the romance and the tragedy of the story.

This DVD set is quite divine. I like how they update the look of the cover by choosing a promotional photograph instead of the dated movie poster (which in my opinion has been over used). The first disc includes Part 1 and 2 of the film complete with Overture, Intermission and Exit Music. Even though it's quite a feat to get through, it's worth watching the entire length of the film with the commentary. There intermittent commentary from Sandra Lean (David Lean's partner) and Omar Sharif along side snippets from a commentary by the late Rod Steiger who played Komarovsky. I got a wealth of information from these commentaries and I learned to appreciate the film more for its genius. It would have been nice to have Julie Christie on here, and I'm sure they tried, but alas, no Christie. Here are a few highlights from the commentaries:
  1. When Yuri and Lara first cross paths it's in a trolley. They don't see each other but when they touch accidentally the electric line above the trolley gives off a spark which symbolizes the emotional spark between those two characters.
  2. David Lean's favorite color was yellow and he used yellow flowers, especially sunflowers to represent beauty and hope in the film. In the scene where Yuri and Lara part for the first time, sunflower petals fall mimicking tears.
  3. Julie Christie was stunning, let's face it. Lean knew that her beauty lied in her amazing face. He really wanted to focus on her eyes but felt that Christie's soft pillowy lips took away from them. So throughout the film you see that shadows cover the lips or that the light specifically highlights the eyes versus the lips.
  4. Carlos Ponti bought the movie rights to the novel and wanted his wife Sophia Loren to play Lara. David Lean said that there was no way that Loren could pull of playing a 17 year old virgin and the part went to Julie Christie.
  5. Lean saw a photograph of Geraldine Chaplin (daughter of Charlie Chaplin) and knew immediately he wanted her for the role of Tonya.
  6. Because the book was so controversial in Russia, they had to film in another country. Spain was chosen. It wasn't really plausible to film further north because of the restricted daylight hours.
  7. David Lean felt that it wasn't necessary to show violence that reaction shots were more important and added more to the drama. (Since I hate violence on screen, this is another reason why I heart Lean!).
This film is truly an English major's wet dream. There is so much detail and so much symbolism that it begs for repeated viewings, dissection and analysis. This boxed set proves to be the perfect companion for that purpose.

Also on the first DVD is a 2-part retrospective called Doctor Zhivago: A Celebration. This is so-so mostly because the people being interviewed are not that interesting. But as an analysis of the film it works fairly well.

And that's not it. There's a whole bunch more. It took me quite a long time to make it through the entire set! The second DVD is all extras and in a time in which DVD-R and stripped down DVDs reign, extras are a luxury to be fully appreciated.

The 1995 documentary Doctor Zhivago: The Making of a Russian Epic  was utterly fascinating. Tons of great information, it's hosted by Omar Sharif and there are interviews with Geraldine Chaplin, Rod Steiger, Robert Bolt, Maurice Jarr, etc. Here are some interesting tidbits from the documentary:

  1. The woman with the dead baby that gets pulled up onto the moving train by Yuri, the actress actually fell under the train and her legs were seriously injured. They used the actual shot of her being pulled under the train. Eek!
  2. To make Egyptian Omar Sharif more Russian, they made him wax his forehead, wear a wig and pull his eyes back. He got scars from the process because he had to do it repeatedly for a year.
  3. Author Pasternak's love affair with his mistress Olga is the basis of the love story of Yuri and Lara.
  4. For the scene with the town of Yuriatan burning in the background, Lean had a crew burn 2 tons of rubber tires! A lot of the filming process was bad for the environment (marble dust, beeswax, painting leaves, etc.).
  5. Maurice Jarre had a difficult time finding a theme Lean would like. Lean encouraged Jarre and Jarre's girlfriend to go on a romantic trip so that Jarre could be inspired to write romantic music. Thus Lara's Theme was born.

Various other documentaries and promotional videos round out the second DVD including Zhivago: Behind the Camera with David Lean, David Lean's Film Doctor Zhivhago (promo video), Moscow in Madrid (promo video), Pasternak (bio/promo)archival interviews with Sharif and Christie, Geraldine Chaplin's Screen Test, "This is" for Christie, Chaplin and Sharif, Chaplin in New York, etc. It's an exhaustive list of extras to say the least.

For a single film DVD, this is one sexy set. So I highly recommend checking it out if you are interested in a full movie experience. 

Special thanks to Warner Bros. for sending me this set to review!


  1. Oh my LORD I love Doctor Zhivago. This was such a pleasure to read, it was like watching it all over again! I really want to check out this set now :)

  2. Sarah- Wow. That's the best compliment I've ever had here. Thanks! You just made my day.

  3. I must admit I have to watch Dr. Zhivago again. The first time I saw it I didn't care for it, but so many people love the film I should re-evaluate it.

  4. I'm amazed they were still able to get some of the cast to do commentary for this film. This would be interesting to see hearing their thoughts. Thanks for sharing a few.

  5. I saw Dr. Z when it was first released ... it was a good date movie. Otherwise, it was OK but as I recall we liked bits and pieces other than being gaga over it's entirety.

    Spectacle movies were becoming vogue about that time (1960 onward). It's a Mad Mad Mad World, Cleopatra, Exodus, Lawrence of Arabia and Dr. Z were, in some ways, how the studios battled the emergence of TV's popularity & clout. So, wide screen, exotic locations and such were the answer to the small screen at home.

    Less exotic with regards to location and panoramas, but also of the era - Goldfinder, Dr. Strangelove, Psycho and West Side Story all were really splashy in first release. And all kicked TV to the curb.

  6. Splendid review! Dr. Z (sounds like a 50's horror flick) is one of my all time favorites ever. It's simply a grand film in every way. What intrigues me the most is that they managed to recreate the image of the freezing Siberian winter in the Sierra Nevada in Spain. What a challenge! All the ice on and in the palace was apparently created of melted wax. What an illusion!

    The only clue the viewer gets that it's not as cold as it seems are the missing breathing fumes, but on the other hand, how are you supposed to recreate those at an outdoor temperature of 90F? Cigar, anyone?

  7. Mercurie - I've come to love films on re-evaluation. Or hate them more. Good luck. :-)

    Robby - Yes, most of the cast is alive although the Rod Steiger commentary was older since he passed away in 2002. Omar Sharif seems very obliging to participate. What a swell guy!

    Reno - Thanks for sharing that!

    Jonas - Yes. The film was terribly un-environmental. They planted a whole bunch of daffodils for one shot and then pull them out the next day and proceeded to paint the leaves on the trees for Autumn. At least we have computers now and those effects can be added digitally. Beeswax was clever. Lean said that they just threw hot beeswax everywhere then blasted it with cold water and painted it to look frosty. Also they used marble dust to make the fake snowy glisteny.

  8. I love the music from this film. I think this may have been the first film I watched that had an "intermission" in the recording.


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