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Doctor Zhivago

David Lean's Doctor Zhivago (1965) is about a Russian poet-doctor (Omar Sharif) who lives through World War I, the fall of the Czar, and the beginnings of the new Soviet state (which looks borrowed from Ninotchka). Along the way he marries the daughter (Geraldine Chaplin) of his adoptive parents (Ralph Richardson, Siobhan McKenna). Meanwhile, there's Lara (Julie Christie) whom the good doctor almost meets on several occasions. She starts out as a virginal 17-year-old student engaged to her radical boyfriend (Tom Courtenay) but seduced by her mother's prominent lover (Rod Steiger). During WWI she is a nurse and finally meets Zhivago. They fall in love but don't act on it. Later, Zhivago and his wife and child flee Moscow during the early days of the revolution for their country estate. In the nearby village he discovers Lara again and commences an affair. More separations and losses occur, and then Lara and Zhivago end up back at the estate, covered and filled with ice and snow. Steiger re-enters the picture to provide the impetus for the final unhappy ending. The whole movie is framed by Zhivago's supposed half brother (Alec Guinness), who is interviewing a girl who may be Zhivago's illegitimate daughter (Rita Tushingham). While a film loved by many for its romance and epic sweep, Doctor Zhivago does not entirely satisfy — the central character is mostly a passive observer of other, slightly more interesting characters; the history lesson that comprises the backdrop of the tale is predictable and superficial; the central lovers don't even formally meet until about 90 minutes into the 197-minute epic; and the political backdrop is a ruse. This is soap opera stuff, given urgency by the occasional explosion. Suffice it to say, that the $15 million project earned $200 million worldwide. It's a big bloated movie that is, paradoxically, well written by Robert Bolt, or at least as well written as something derived from the complicated, almost incoherent source novel can be. Maurice Jarre provides Lean with another humable theme and score, and Julie Christie is a delight to see and hear. Warner Home Video has done an adequate job of putting together a package to celebrate Doctor Zhivago, one of the AFI's 100 greatest films. It's a two-platter set with supplemental material on the second disc, most of which seems derived from the 1995 Laserdisc. Disc One offers a new transfer from restored elements and a remastered Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. The anamorphic (2.35:1) image shows no speckles, rubbings, markings, or even reel-change marks. Extras include a commentary with Omar Sharif, Rod Steiger, and Lean's widow Sandra; an introduction by Sharif; the one-hour documentary Doctor Zhivago: The Making of a Russian Epic; and various short promotional films. Dual-DVD digipak with paperboard slipcase.
—D.K. Holm

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