David Lean is famously referred to as the master of the epic, and Doctor Zhivago was the third in a trio (Lawrence of Arabia, Bridge on the River Kwai) that made him the king. The cinematography here is jaw-dropping; from the frigid, never-ending Siberian abyss to the massive streets of Moscow (a massive set replicated in Spain), every frame is like a cinematic orgy for the eyes.
Acting is top-notch as well, led by a restrained yet powerful performance by Omar Sharif as the titular doctor who makes a name (or rather reputation) for himself as a poet. Geraldine Chaplin is saintly as Mrs. Zhivago and Julie Christie is straight-up stunning to stare at as the real object of Sharif’s affection as Lara. But the man who really steals the show, in my opinion, is Rod Steiger. This guy is all over the map in this film, in the best of ways, and sure knows how to play a villain with empathy; a daunting task.
For a film about a massive revolution, there are surprisingly few battle scenes (Lean intentionally keeps most action offcamera, which does work), but since this was filmed almost 50 years ago, before the ASPCA was around, the battles they do depict contain some brutal horse spills, if that's your thing.
As for drawbacks, well, there is that 210 minute runtime that can be a little cumbersome (though not to worry, they grant us an Intermission). Despite that, the backdrop of the Russian Revolution isn’t too well explained, likely so it won’t overwhelm the love story at the crux of the film. The adulterous relationship that forms the backbone of the narrative however doesn’t develop until more than halfway through the film, and the blossoming of it takes place off-screen, which may not please some (female) viewers.
But these are all minor hiccups in an unforgettable experience. What’s perhaps most amazing about this film, about Bolt’s screenplay, Lean’s direction, and Sharif’s performance, is that despite his philandering ways, we never take a disliking to Zhivago, and only wish the best for him, despite the endless array of shitstorms life seems to throw at him. Yes folks, if you’re looking for an epic in the vein of The Sound of Music, look elsewhere. Doctor Zhivago’s plotline is as bleak and icy as the vast Russian tundra it takes place in. But that makes it no less enthralling.
Commentary by Omar Sharif, Rod Steiger and Sandra Lean - I hope you like the sound of Omar Sharif’s voice, cuz he takes over this whole thing. The late, insanely great Rod Steiger seems to have recorded his separately; both are interesting to listen to for their honesty and in the case of Steiger, for his sense of humor.
Doctor Zhivago: A Celebration (40:08) - A two-parter, with a dozen famous industry peeps gathering to discuss the classic film, the genius of it and how much it means to them. They discuss a bit of its history, analyze characters, etc. Provides a lot of insight into Lean’s probable intentions. Very insightful if you enjoyed the film, and probably the only new feature on this disc.
Cast and Crew - A menu with credits lists (and a few soundbytes) for the principal cast and for David Lean. Nothin' fancy.
Doctor Zhivago: The Making of a Russian Epic (1:00:27) - A 1995 feature, hosted by a very theatrical Omar Sharif, and neatly divided into I think 12 chapters. This is the definition of “in-depth”, covering pretty much all stages of production, as well as the history, the cast, etc. Oh and Rod Steiger is truly the man, you'll see.
Zhivago: Behind the Camera with David Lean (10:13) - A vintage featurette where we finally get to hear from the man of the hour, David Lean. It runs a bit too long but worth watching the first few minutes.
David Lean’s Film of Doctor Zhivago (7:14) - How many times can they remake and rename the Making of for this film? This is #4 and we’re still going strong. Another old school one here, this is a promo piece.
Moscow in Madrid (4:28) - Don’t be fooled by the title. Another very old promo piece.
Pasternak (8:51) - This one’s a bio about the book’s controversial and tormented Russian author.
New York Press Interviews Julie Christie (10:08) - They don’t shoot interviews like they used to. This is pretty fun to watch, as a clearly uncomfortable Julie Christie gets interviewed while smoking a cigarette in a crowded hotel. May explain why she didn’t show up for any of the other Special Features. Love her honesty and bravery here, as you can tell this shit is just not for her.
New York Press Interviews Omar Sharif (18:53) - Feeling much more at ease and relishing the spotlight more than Christie was, a young Omar has a series of interviews with a group of old journalists at the hotel.
Geraldine Chaplin Screen Test (3:15) - This woman was gorgeous in this film. Her acting wasn’t half-bad neither. That’s all I got.
This is Julie Christie (1:06) - A quick studio publicity promo for Julie. Skip it.
This is Geraldine Chaplin (1:09) - Same shpeel, different actress.
This is Omar Sharif (1:39) - Zzzzzzzz.
Chaplin in New York (2:14) - Sadly, this is about Geraldine again and not her famously awesome father. Just another, final fluff piece here.
Lastly, you get the film's trailer, which clocks in at nearly 4 minutes.
The amazing Blu-ray set comes in a hard-cover book-style casing, with a 40+ page booklet with beautiful photos, trivia and more interesting insight into the film.
As a final bonus, we also get a CD with 8 tracks from Maurice Jarre’s legendary score.