on 19 November 2006
I saw this film in 1969 on general release when I was a young University student. I loved it then for the way it captured the spirit of Tolstoy's novel. I have always wanted an opportunity to see it again. I was astounded when a chance Amazon search revealed the film had been restored and was being re-released in a Collector's Edition the following week. After 38 years, the make up and hair firmly place it as 1960s vintage but that aside the scale and authenticity of the scenes, the attention to detail remain unsurpassed and it does not disappoint. The casting of Natasha, and Bondarchuk himself as Bezukhov are sublime. Natasha's first Ball, the Battle of Borodino and the Moscow Fire are just a few of many wonderful scenes. The courage and confidence of the Director to organise scenes on this scale is breathtaking.
The Collector's Edition is in Russian with English subtitles and some optional dubbing in English. I found the American accents of the dubbing irritating and next time will watch it with subtitles only - the richness of the Russian language is far kinder to the ear. I have wondered whether the standard edition released now in English has better dubbing. The sound has been remastered but on occasion the quality of sound falters. One of the joys of the Collector's Edition is a large amount of wonderful archive footage about how the film was made, Tolstoy, and interviews with people who made the film. These contribute a great deal to understanding the film's place in Film History. This edition will make a great present for any lover of films of the great classics of literature, for unreformed romantics like myself or anyone with an interest in Film History. I shall always treasure my copy.
on 12 March 2014
I bought this to replace a VHS set I had been given some years ago. The VHS set was in 3:4 aspect ratio (for old-style television) and the third tape had become damaged. So I was already 'sold' on the film but was very pleased to see it in it's original aspect ratio of digitised 70mm high resolution film with 6-channel audio, with clearer images and better sound. Best viewed with russian spoken dialog (although there are other languages such as french and german subsequently overdubbed in russian) and, in my case, english subtitles.
This film is more authentic than the King Vidor version of 1956 - the script is edited from Tolstoy's novel rather than adapted. Like the King Vidor version, the main focus is on three main characters - Prince Andrey, Natasha and Pierre Bezukhov, played by the director Bondarchuck.
The scale of the film is as vast as Russia itself yet captures the protagonist inner thoughts and emotions in a very engaging way. I spoke to a colleague of mine who I knew was a Napoleonic Wars enthusiast, and he said the battle scenes were, to his knowledge, really authentic. Solders in armies at this time had ages ranging from 15 to 70, and Bondarchuck managed to secure around 12,000 personnel of the russian army. The budget for the film has been estimated at various amounts - but all seem to agree it is the most expensive film ever made at around 100 million US dollars.
Like other epics, the film is divided over 4 DVDs - each one a self contained film but interconnecting to the others. I was nervous when I saw my package had arrived from the USA, but it turned out to be region 9 (all regions) discs.
I cannot critique this film - it is way and beyond my ability to assess such a masterpiece. I do recommend it to lovers of literature, world cinema, innovative cinematography and the old way of making films before CGI and uber-fast editing.
on 16 August 2004
Wildly ambitious, this 6 1/2 hour film can be frustrating for anyone who's read the book and knows how much has, inevitably, been left out. But I watched it with my partner and it interested him enough to motivate him to read the book. So a good introduction.
Filming such a mammoth tome, one would have to make a decision as to whether you lose the vast scope of the original, or the detail. This film has managed to keep the sense of vastness very well and we were kept enthralled throughout. The battle scenes are especially impressive. Unfortunately this means much of the detail has been lost, which makes the human storylines in it less appealing and not always easy to understand.
Despite the gaps, what is there is good: it is well paced and superbly acted and the 6 1/2 hours flew by in no time.
My only gripe is about the dubbing; the film is half dubbed and half subtitled. The dubbing isn't entirely convincing, and the film is at its best when you can listen to the original cast speaking in Russian, and watch the subtitles.
NB The DVDs arrived in about 5 days, much quicker than anticipated. And they're beautifully boxed!
on 16 March 2004
This Russian version of Tolstoys War and peace is more faithful to the novel than the 1956 Hollywood version. More than this it is also the most expensive movie ever made and every rubel shows on screen! With more than 10 000 extras and 300 speaking parts director Sergei Bondarchuk recreates every aspect of Tolstoys classic. Most noticeable are the scenes of Natashas first ball, the battle of Borodino and the burning of Moscow. Bondarchuk rendition is on such a grand scale that you actually believe that the scenes takes place before your eyes in reality. The photography is stunning -we get to follow the action through the camera which moves is such ways that you feel as you are part of the whole thing. Bondarchuks experimenting is evident throughout the picture and is by most parts a success. Some subliminal messages are distracting, but the cutting and movements of the camera is mostly fascinating. Bondarchuks influence from Abel Gance's fantastic silent "Napoléon" (1927) is evident.
War and peace is by far the greatest movie ever made, it has all the elements of a great story and is staged in such a grand scale that you are swept away. The acting are superb, ecpecially the part of Natasha Rostova and Pierre bezukhov. The latter played by Bondarchuk himself. The battlescenes are no less than magnificent, the closest any movie comes near War and Peace in this respect is "Saving private Ryan"- so you know what to expect.
I cannot stress hard enough how great this movie is, all I can say is that this is the greatest movie I have ever seen.
RUSCICO has released War and peace (distributed by Image) as a five disc box-set. The complete version is at last avaliable! Some information claims that there is another original version that is longer than this RUSCICO release. That is probably not true- and if so long lost. This release is the best there is and complete. The running time is a staggering 403 minutes! But I promise you -you won't fall asleep! The boxart is great and the digipack looks and works fine. There is no booklet but instead a fifth bonus disc with, among other things, a making of sequence from the 60:s. The picture quality is not the greatest. This is due to the loss of the original negatives. This taken into account the picture is, by all means not great, but more than fair. It is presented in anamorphic widescreen. The full picture is presented in other words. The original audio is bumped to a "million dollar sounding" 5.1. This is the best 5.1 I have heard on such an old recording. It really sounds great. You also have other sound options than the original (but 5.1) russian but the original is the one to choose. You have almost every european language represented as subtitles! I myself saw this with swedish subs and they worked very fine!
Conclusion: War and peace is the greatest movie ever made. It is presented in a great DVD-box. Why not buy it?
on 11 February 2016
Very difficult to review this. The film is, of course, an absolute masterpiece in itself. Superbly acted, wonderful direction, utterly unique in its style, construction and presentation. You will never see a better War and Peace anywhere, ever, anytime. With the entire Soviet Russian population to play with the director has produced something spectacular and unique. Why only three stars then? Two reasons. The film does not really work on the small screen, sadly, I have seen this film three times at the cinema...All seven hours plus of it, on television the drams is lost. Secondly the film needs a digital makeover now that the skills are available. This DVD is clearly taken from an original film that has been through that projection gate X hundred times. Consequently it is scratched, mis-coloured and very worn indeed. No matter so long as you know those couple of things carry on. The film was delivered in good time, well packaged and, as I say, remains a unique masterpiece whatever.
This is a review of Sergei Bondarchuk's 1960s interpretation of Tolstoy's `War & Peace', arguably the greatest novel ever written. The film, in four parts, is spread over the first four discs, whilst the final disc contains extras.
I have the version starring Henry Fonda, as well as the BBC series starring Anthony Hopkins, but have yet to watch them. Consequently I cannot comment on whether these are better than Bondarchuk's Soviet version. Having said that, there is no overt class agenda put forward in this film, unless it is the failure to include any reference to Bezukhov's allegiance to freemasonry. The film, then, is true to the spirit of Tolstoy, and since the great writer is so revered in Russia, perhaps it could not be otherwise. If there is one clear reference to the 1960s, it is with some of the hair styles.
Bondarchuk's four parts are based around specific characters or events: thus, 1. Andrei Bolkonsky (which takes us to about halfway through Book Two of the novel); 2. Natasha Rostova (from the meeting between the emperors at Tilsit, from whence we speed forward two years to Natasha's first grand ball, and ends with the fallout following Anatole and Natasha's attempted elopement); 3. 1812 (here the Battle of Borodino takes centre stage); and 4. Pierre Bezukhov (from the evacuation of Moscow onwards).
Even at over six hours long, the film leaves much out. For example, from Book One we do not see Nicholas's baptism of fire at the Enns Bridge, nor do we witness Prince Vasili's son Anatole being turned down by Princess Mary, daughter of Prince Bolkonsky. This lack of a full appreciation of each of the secondary characters means that later, when Anatole returns to elope with Natasha, those who do not know the novel are not fully aware that Anatole is Pierre's brother-in-law. Another example is young Petya in the final part: because we have not come to know him very well in the film, his tragic death means we feel little.
Part of the novel's greatness is that it is as much about thoughts and motivations as it is about actions and events. Tolstoy's precise and deeply insightful words about a character's psychology and intentions, the inner turmoils, the confusions and emptiness within are difficult to portray in film. Characters are thus not really given enough time to develop in this medium, or at least within the time-scales that a movie encompasses. I can thus imagine that the film might appear to disjointed to someone who had not read the book. What builds up over several pages is here over in ten seconds.
The film is certainly on an epic scale and is always a visual feast. I was going to write that such a film could not be done convincingly today, but CGI can now create visually battles on large enough scales. But we have in Bondarchuk's creation not only immense numbers of soldiers (supplied by the Red Army), but grand balls, grand houses, wide vistas, antique theatres, the destruction of towns, and the panic of whole populations.
I guess the film is therefore best seen on the biggest screen available. In the battle scenes Bondarchuk portrays the confusion and brutality of war, and employs aerial shots of infantry clashing, artillery shooting, and cavalry charging that he would later use in his film `Waterloo'. Indeed, Bondarchuk opens his film from the very start with a high aerial shot travelling over a broad landscape below that is often obscured by clouds that act as if they are smoke rising from a huge battle taking place below.
Bondarchuk appears to have specifically used pastel colours: even blue-skies have an autumnal feel to them. There is often a dream-like atmosphere with some 1960s psychedelic touches to express the more mystical philosophies of Tolstoy. Bondarchuk, through his DoP Anatoly Petritsky, employs quite innovative camerawork such as split-screen filming, the use of various filters, and playing with the focus. An occasional sound of dripping water foretells the later films of Tarkovsky, and the music of Vyacheslav Ovchinnikov is worthy of the epic nature of the film throughout.
The visual quality of the film is fine, but sometimes it is in clear need of (further?) restoration. All the same, it is watchable. There are, however, problems with the dialogue when using the Dolby 2.1 option: the voices are a little out-of-synch with the lip movements. Even though this is perhaps only a second out, it was enough to force me to return to the normal sound. In addition, some of the subtitling is a little confusing, especially in scenes where more than two people are speaking.
The extras include filmographies and a whole host of notes on Russia and its political and social life in the times of Napoleon and of Tolstoy. The set sketches provided are beautiful works of art in themselves. I felt like cutting them out of the TV screen and framing them. On the final disc there is a fifteen-minute but undated appreciation of Bondarchuk, as well as a good fifteen minutes of behind-the-scenes shooting.
The fifth disc also has the following interviews (all in Russian with subtitles): 1. Vyacheslav Ovchinnikov (composer, 33 mins) in which he talks about his film music in general, i.e. not just `War & Peace'; 2. Irina Skobtseva (actress, 5 mins); 3. Anatoly Petritsky (DOP, 30 mins), talking of the film's restoration as well as its original shooting; 4. Vassily Lanovoy (actor, 9 mins); and 5. Karen Shakhnararov (of Mosfilm, 20 mins), about the reason for the restoration.
This last disc of extras lasts for well over two hours, but twice during the interviews I thought I saw shots that did not appear on the DVD I had just seen, so I am not entirely sure that we have the complete film in this version.