Doctor Zhivago (1965)

Directed by David Lean

The final film in what I think of as the David Lean trilogy (Bridge on the River Kwai first, Laurence of Arabia second), Doctor Zhivago is the weakest effort of the three. The primary reason for this is the unfortunate change of Lean’s focus, from masculine adventure to romance.

While the adventure films are full of a manly kind of romanticism (we like nothing more than dying gloriously with a stern, solitary grimace on our faces), in the arena of relationships, we get sentimental and dumb.

I’m unfamiliar with the Pasternak novel on which the film is based but, as it’s Pasternak’s best known work and he received the Nobel Prize for his body of work, I’m guessing the source material for the film wasn’t quite the soap opera Lean has put on celluloid.

While the movie has the stunning scenes and set pieces we expect from a Lean film, the actual story suffers from a sense of romantic restraint.

Perhaps due to a restraining sense of moral decorum, the film isn’t sexy enough or passionate enough. More troubling, the female characters are feminine in a Victorian sense, and it’s hard to view the as anything more than halfwits. And this is an odd feeling since both Julie Christie and Geraldine Chaplin are marvelous actors.

But direction and material leave them looking like Mrs. Howell calling for “Lovey!”

Mind you, the movie improves in the last 30 or 60 minutes, but it’s a little late since, by this time, about two hours of the film have passed by and the odds of still being awake at this point are not good. (Note: Roger Ebert‘s view is the opposite – he likes the first two hours.)

So … for me, this one’s a bit of a dud. Maybe I just wasn’t in the mood for an epic melodrama set against the Russian Revolution (which, here, seems a more tidy, less brusque affair than I would have imagined).

As for the DVD itself (refers to 2001 two disc special edition) … Very good quality. It makes me cry more older movies don’t get this treatment. The image is crisp and clean, the sound excellent (for a movie from 1965). As for bonus material, there is quite a bit of it including press interviews of Julie Christie and Omar Sharif that demonstrate what a horribly tedious business the activity must be for those appearing in the movies. However, the bonus material for me is dependent on how much I like a film. In this case, the film didn’t do much for me so, though the extras are plentiful, I find it hard to care.

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