Following 'Lawrence of Arabia' (1962), director David Lean continued his epic phase with this adaptation of Boris Pasternak's novel. During World War One, Yuri Zhivago (Omar Sharif) studies to become a doctor in Moscow. He marries his childhood sweetheart Tonya (Geraldine Chaplin), but is attracted to dressmaker's daughter Lara (Julie Christie), herself engaged to young revolutionary Pasha (Tom Courtenay). Lara is also conducting an affair with government official Komarovsky (Rod Steiger). Yuri and Lara's paths cross again in the aftermath of the Bolshevik revolution, and the two begin a passionate affair.
David Lean's wintry adaptation of Boris Pasternak's melodramatic Russian Revolution romance, Doctor Zhivago, is a masterpiece of epic filmmaking, but one that risks leaving the viewer cold. Though none of the film was shot in the then USSR, Lean's assured technique nevertheless illuminates the breathtaking backgrounds magnificently: from the snowy wastes of the Urals to the strife-torn streets of Moscow, Lean stages a series of wonderful set-pieces showing war, revolution and its terrible aftermath. The problem lies in the foreground. Omar Sharif's entirely passive Zhivago is, we are told, a romantic poet of great sensitivity who internalises all his emotions and expresses them in verse. The trouble is the audience never gets to see a line of his poems, not even the centrally important "Lara" cycle. Thus Zhivago at the end of the picture is as much an emotional blank to us as he was at the beginning. His affair with the idealised beauty that is Julie Christie's Lara is also taken for granted by the filmmakers rather than set up in any convincing way, their mutual attraction remaining a mystery that creates a vacuum at the core of the picture. Given that none of the central characters with the exception of Rod Steiger's fire-breathing lecher Komarovsky ever give way to strong emotions, the romantic heart of the film remains oddly frigid. Matters are not helped by composer Maurice Jarre's incessant "Lara's Theme", which many will find teeth-grindingly irritating. Still, any David Lean epic, even a flawed one, is always going to be a first-class cinematic experience, and Zhivago is assuredly that.
On the DVD: A stunning anamorphic widescreen print is the ideal way to appreciate David Lean's craftsmanship and this movie's glorious, wintry cinematography. Maurice Jarre's "Lara's Theme" and the rest of his patchwork score can be heard in a music-only track, while Omar Sharif is joined by Lean's widow Sandra and Rod Steiger for an intermittent commentary. The second bonus disc contains a good hour-long making-of documentary plus 10 shorter contemporary documentaries giving various insights into the location shooting and the cast and crew. But it's the sheer beauty of the picture that will astonish and make this disc forever treasurable. --Mark Walker
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