Review: Doctor Zhivago on ITunes

Doctor Zhivago posterSTUDIO: Warner | DIRECTOR: David Lean | CAST: Omar Sharif, Julie Christie, Geraldine Chaplin
RELEASE DATE: 5/4/2010 | PRICE: ITunes download $14.99, 45th Anniversary Edition DVD $24.98, Blu-ray $35.99
BONUSES: none on download
SPECS: PG-13 | 199 min. | historical drama | 2.20:1 |

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie | Audio | Video | Overall

Doctor Zhivago movie scene with Omar SharifDirector David Lean’s classic epic drama Doctor Zhivago debuted as a download the same day it arrived on Blu-ray, and when Warner asked me to review the download from iTunes, I said sure. I reviewed downloads from iTunes, PlayStation Store and Xbox Live when all three services launched, and I was curious to see how the experience had changed. Ultimately, it hasn’t changed much over the years.

Downloading Doctor Zhivago from iTunes took about 45 minutes on a powerful cable modem connection. The movie is playable while it’s downloading, but you have to make sure you’ve got enough stored that you won’t catch up halfway through the movie, or you’ll have to wait. Now, 45 minutes is a huge improvement from the four hours a download took the first time I reviewed the iTunes service, but I still experienced glitches. When my phone rang, I hit pause on my computer, but when I hit play, iTunes continued playing the movie where I left off and started playing a new version simultaneously, so I heard two soundtracks instead of one, and they weren’t in sync. I managed to fix the glitch by stopping playback on everything and starting again, and this time, the movie played without any problems — even with me pausing it a couple times. I’m curious to know if that glitch was because the movie was playing while downloading, but either way, it was a glitch.

Once the movie played properly, the picture quality was fine. At fullscreen on my 17-inch computer, it looked a little fuzzy, and there were a few dust bunny spots in various places, but overall, it wasn’t bad for a downloaded picture, and the sound was great.

But Doctor Zhivago is a beautiful movie. Based on the novel by Boris Pasternak, Doctor Zhivago follows the tragic life of the titular character (Omar Sharif), who is haunted by two loves in his life, the safe one of his wife (Geraldine Chaplin) and family and the more sensuous one in Lara (Julie Christie, whose performance in Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet will be on Blu-ray on Aug. 17). Set against the backdrop of revolution in Russia, Doctor Zhivago shows the historical events as the good doctor gets caught up in them, and it’s difficult to not get caught up ourselves.

The film impresses with luxurious images of a train rushing through countryside, Julie Christie’s fabulous blue eyes (which did look stunningly blue even in the download), an estate house covered in snow and delicate snowflakes on a window pane. And then there’s Maurice Jarre’s wonderful, iconic music. A movie like that deserves the extra quality of Blu-ray’s high definition.

Of course, the Blu-ray is more expensive. On iTunes, Doctor Zhivago can be downloaded as a purchase for $14.99 ($2.99 as a rental). The Blu-ray list price is $35.99, but by the time retailers discount it, it’s more like $28. The movie also was released today as a new DVD, and that standard-definition disc is priced at $24.98, but lower from retail.

These 45th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray and DVD releases do come with special features, too. As well as a collectible booklet, the Blu-ray has a commentary with Sharif, co-star Rod Steiger and the late Lean’s wife Sandra Lean (recorded for an earlier release of the movie); a new two-part commemorative retrospective documentary; an hour-long making-of documentary; a set of featurettes from earlier DVD releases; and, exclusive to the Blu-ray, an 8-track version of the Grammy-winning soundtrack album. Double the price of the download, yes, but it pays for a lot more.

There are benefits to downloading Doctor Zhivago, though. You don’t have to leave the house, and you can watch it just about anywhere if you have a laptop and video iPod or iPhone. But you will lose a lot of Lean’s genius filmmaking on that small screen. And, of course, there’s that cheaper price tag, if you’re not interested in all those extras.

One fun thing about this new Zhivago release is that it preserves the musical overture at the beginning and the intermission at the halfway point, just as they would have played when the film first ran in theaters. On iTunes, the six-minute overture doesn’t work so well, but it’s great fun that it’s there.

Download is not necessarily the best format for Doctor Zhivago, unless it’s a high-definition download playable on a TV screen. But there’s no doubt that download is a wonderful option to have. It could be perfect for, say, classic comedy Caddyshack, which Warner is debuting on Blu-ray on June 8 for the movie’s 30th anniversary and is something any movie fan can watch over and over and get the laughs no matter how big the screen.

And here’s a Disc Dish bonus: Read our interview with Doctor Zhivago actress Rita Tushingham, who talks about the making of the film and the differences between filmmaking in the 1960s and today.

About S. Clark

Sam Clark is the former Managing Editor/Online Editor of Video Business magazine. With 19 years experience in journalism, 12 in the home entertainment industry, Sam has been hooked on movies on since she saw E.T. then stared into the sky waiting to meet her own friendly alien. Thanks to her husband’s shared love of movies, Sam reviews Blu-ray discs in a true home theater, with a 118-inch screen, projector and cushy recliners with cup holders.