This was my Christmas present to myself. Even though I had seen extensive extracts, which is why I bought it, I was terrified to watch it and it took me a couple of weeks to pluck up courage ! Why ? Well, it has been, throughout my life, one of my favourite films, if not my favourite film. I saw it in the cinema 60 times and, altogether, it must run into hundreds. And it is still going strong, what with Blu Ray remastering and so on., It is a film that just isn't ready to die yet ! And, unlike Steven Spielberg, I prefer it to Lawrence and River Kwai. Why ? Two words will suffice: Julie Christie !
As for Julie Christie's Lara, Wow !!! She was "it" for a whole generation and, like everyone else, I wanted to marry her (and was quite successful in finding her!) And is there anybody in the world who does not know "Lara's Theme" ? So the whole idea of a "remake" was just ridiculous and absurd; it couldn't be done.Lean had said it all.
Apparently, technically, it is not a "remake" since it is not a film but an ITV television production. Even I can see that there is a difference between the "big screen" and television and, in a book like Doctor Zhivago, one of the greatest novels ever written, almost entirely to the benefit of television. Obviously, it is a more "intimate" medium and better suited to "character analysis." Still, it was made in association with an American company, WDB, and we are not lacking in spectacle. Nothing is lacking even though it cost well under a tenth of Lean's "super de-luxe extravaganza." Not having to build Moscow from scratch probably helped!
I was hesitant because David Lean's Zhivago was one of the greatest movies ever made and everyone involved in this new venture was aware of that. Nobody thought they could do better than Lean. It was a classic of the cinema. And, in today's money, one of the most expensive films ever made. But, as the producer said, Lean leaves out a vast amount that is in the book. For no apparent reason apart from the fact that he is making a blockbuster, super de-luxe Hollywood epic. Much of what Lean leaves out is really quite important. And sometimes totally wrong, such as the entire Lara/Komarovsky relationship.
So Lean's Zhivago was almost an era, a whole way of life. And it was a "super-de luxe epic" on a grand scale. Massively over-cast and over-built. Moscow was rebuilt in its entirety just outside Madrid. Totally unnecessary, of course, but those were the dying days of reality before it was all computer generated. And even peasants dying in the trenches were beautifully dressed. It was sumptuous from top to bottom.
So, clearly, a "new" Zhivago had a massive mountain to climb. How could anything ever be better than Lean's classic? Well, it doesn't have to be better, just different. And the producer is very interesting indeed. "Lean's film is a masterpiece, a classic of the cinema, but it does not tell the whole story. He misses out a huge amount of this remarkable novel. I think there is room for another view and it is time for another look. All of these massive works of art are eternal because they live for ever. We have taken another look at Zhivago. And I am quite proud of it."
My reaction to this upstart ? " Wow!!!!!" Once I had wrung out the tears from the sheets !! It achieves the impossible! At first glance, I would say that it is better than Lean's version but that is probably wrong and unfair. Without David Lean, most people would never have heard of Doctor Zhivago. David Lean showed people what an astounding masterpiece this is, one of the greatest novels of all time. And he persuaded the notoriously tight-fisted Hollywood Producers to part with millions to make it. No doubt, as with Shakespeare, they will be making films of Zhivago for centuries to come but Lean persuaded them it was "Box Office." So Lean needed all the glamour he could muster.
That said, I do feel this latest one is better, even if it could never have been made without Lean. I am probably the only man in the world who does not fancy Keira Knightley - and I don't! And when this came out, nobody had ever heard of her. She was only 16. So it was a very bold move by the producer and director. And the Director says that he was convinced right from the start that "Keira was Lara." Well, that's fine because Lara, also, is 16 at the start of the story. But, during the story, Lara goes to 37 years old.
I have to say, even though I don't fancy her, Keira Knightley does an astounding job. Even though I was in love with Julie Christie from the first minute, Keira Knightley is much more true to the novel. And the relationship with Komarovsky is 1,000 times better portrayed. As is Komarovsky himself by the amazing Sam Neill. David Lean uses Rod Steiger, who is O.K. But very much a Hollywood "Bad Guy." In Lean's film, you just do not get the view that Lara fancied Komarovsky and wanted him to seduce her and teach her the "ways of the world." Yet, these things are vital to Lara's character and the whole of her life and everything she does. Lean misses that completely. Absolutely 100%. Sam Neill is far better cast than Rod Steiger. A "silver haired smoothie" that you can imagine a young girl falling for. David Lean also totally passes over the fact that Komarovsky is obsessed with Lara and, for once, is no longer in control of everything. He is totally flattened, obsessed and besotted. Lara is the one person he cannot control.
So this is a pretty amazing piece of work and there is not one second of it that you can miss. I suppose what both films say, loud and clear, is that this is an amazing work, one of the four or five great works of literature. I prefer this version to David Lean's because there is so much more in it but, without David Lean, we would never have known Doctor Zhivago existed and he gives us the essence of the story< this one fleshes out the details. And Keira Knightley does an amazing job of an impossible task. Absolutely fantastic, the best thing I have ever seen, as was David Leans Zhivago. Must say something about the book ! ,