Doctor Zhivago

Movie Review #696

This review is dedicated to anyone who actually thought I purposefully reviewed a romance on Valentine’s Day. It just goes along with the words of Gump: “Life’s like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” Sometimes, coincidence. (The mention of chocolates was intentional, though.)

NOTE: This review regards the 45th Anniversary Edition, which includes the movie as it was re-released in 1992.


Presented by Metro – Goldwyn – Mayer…

…a Carlo Ponti Production…

Distributor: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)
Country: USA – Italy
Spoken Languages: English – Russian

Directed by David Lean. Produced by Carlo Ponti. Screenplay by Robert Bolt. From the novel by Boris Leonidovic Pasternak “Doctor Zhivago”.

Approved by the Production Code Administration (unknown certificate). Later rated GP by the MPAA. Currently rated PG-13 by the MPAA — mature themes. Act I runs 1 hour, 59 minutes with overture music, opening credits, and intermission music. Act II runs 1 hour, 21 minutes with entr’acte music and final credits. Complete production runs 3 hours, 20 minutes (originally released 3 minutes shorter; 1999 re-release runs 8 minutes shorter). Premiered in New York City, New York on December 22, 1965; and in London on April 26, 1966. Wide release in the USA on December 31, 1965; and in Italy on December 10, 1966. Re-released in the USA on September 28, 1999.

Narrated by Alec Guinness. Starring Omar Sharif, Julie Christie, Geraldine Chaplin, Rod Steiger, Tom Courtenay, Siobhan McKenna, and Ralph Richardson. Also starring Jeffrey Rockland, Tarek Sharif, Gerard Tichy, Adrienne Corri, and Lucy Westmore. Featuring an uncredited cameo appearance by Mercedes Ruiz as Tonya at 7.

Cinemaniac Reviews four stars

As is appropriate in reviewing an epic, let me start in medias res. I took a break during the designated intermission during “Doctor Zhivago” and came back during the entr’acte. As I opened the door to my basement stairs, where the speakers and Blu-ray player were running without me, I experienced something extraordinary. I was not hearing the ever famous “Lara’s Theme,” but a terrific overflow of sound that encapsulated me from the very moment I began my journey down the stairs. It wasn’t like descending into a movie theater. It was like being pulled gently, gracefully into Heaven. Mind you, what I’m describing here is nothing more than how Sir David Lean, CBE, puts things together. Specifically, a title card with a French conjunction that translates as “between acts,” with a song composed by Maurice Jarre.

And how gloriously this man did it. He anoints my heart (my head, too) with water, my cup runneth over.

I don’t want to put “Zhivago” on a pedestal. Or maybe I do. It’s simply the best epic of its time. That time, from anything I’ve seen, denoting anything that came prior to “Reds” (1981)–itself a quasi-replica of this film–way back to anything that followed “Gone with the Wind” (1939). I wouldn’t doubt that just why “Zhivago” is so spectacular is in the simplicity of how Sir Lean imagined it from the beginning. Not as an epic movie, but as an epic poem with the vast accoutrements of a silver screen epic. This tale unfolds as a long narrative from the eyes of a single character. I’ll quote Tom Hanks as saying that, with the entire rest of the cast, our narrator is a “needle in a stack of needles.” None of it’s boring by any standard, but unless watched in theaters or with the viewing atmosphere of a theater, the story isn’t told like it could (and should) be.

There’s not a moment in “Zhivago” that lacks beauty. That much of the movie was filmed on location keeps the look intact and as realistic as it could ever be. With Freddie Young returning from Sir Lean’s “Lawrence of Arabia”, the camerawork is masterful. Except where that film was pompously beautiful, “Zhivago” orchestrates a humble beauty. Our main character is a sensitive, quiet man who leads careers as both a physician and a poet. During the time between the Russian Revolution of 1905 and the Second World War, Zhivago resorts to cheating on his wife, with the wife of a political acitivist. Perhaps his character isn’t disagreeable (and much more likeable than Sir Lean’s previous character) due to the magnanimous man he is; it seems to compensate. Zhivago is portrayed by Omar Sharif, though among the extraordinary cast he leads are two real standouts: Rod Steiger and Julie Christie. They really escalate the screenplay in their supporting roles. The novel Doctor Zhivago started as a manuscript that was smuggled out of the USSR to become published in Italy. Our screenwriter, Robert Bolt, wrote the screenplay. It’s highly, highly descriptive, but exquisite and thoroughly interesting. Having transitioned from the written craft into four stages of film production, that only seems to have escalated.

Coming Reviews

Blue Jasmine
Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood
This Film Is Not Yet Rated
Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!
We’re the Millers


Hit the jump for an announcement regarding the 2nd Annual Cinemaniac Awards:

Alfonso Cuarón has won 2014’s Cinemaniac Award for Best Director of the Year, an achievement earned for his film Gravity. No, Gravity isn’t perfect, but it’s dazzling. But if we were to narrow it down, Cuarón’s intent to bring us into outer space is extremely ambitious, and he accomplishes it. Stay tuned for tomorrow’s announcement, for Best Picture.


9 thoughts on “Doctor Zhivago

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      SHOUT-OUT TO ALL: I’m terribly sorry about the scheduling errors. Everything is supposed to be going up at 2:00 PM as usual (that’s eastern time, for those in different time zones). I’ll try and get them fixed ASAP. On a related note: fellow bloggers, if you wish not to experience such unexpected problems, do not post using the iOS edition of the WordPress app.

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