Dr. Zhivago at the Cerrito

Thanks to Cerrito Classics, I’ve finally seen Dr. Zhivago in something approximating the way it was meant to be seen–35mm with DTS digital 5.1 sound. True, the movie was meant to be seen in 70mm, with six-track magnetic sound, but this is probably as close as I’m ever going to get to that.

There’s an interesting technical issue here. Zhivago was one of the first films shot in plain old 35mm scope to be released in a 70mm blow-up. Yes, the image quality suffers–previous 70mm releases, shot in 65mm or a large 35mm format called Technirama–look better. (For details, visit the American WideScreen Museum.) Unfortunately, 35mm blow-ups were soon the standard for 70mm presentations.
Although made by Lawrence of Arabia’s writer, director, and cinematographer, Dr. Zhivago doesn’t measure up to that masterpiece. But then, few films do. Still, I’m a sucker for this kind of historical epic–one that focuses on normal people trying to cope with huge historical changes going on around them. The cast is excellent, and I’m even willing to forgive the casting of Omar Sharif, who doesn’t look Russian but still gives a fine performance.

I have one major quibble with the story. Can anyone tell me in what year the framing story–the one by the dam where Zhivago’s brother interviews his possible niece–is supposed to be set? The sequence keeps suggesting that everything in the USSR is so much better now. Yet things only got worse until Stalin died in 1953. That would make any child conceived during the Russian Civil War considerably older than the girl in those scenes.

Anyway, a big thanks to Speakeasy Theaters and the Cerrito for giving Dr. Zhivago such a wonderful presentation. Besides, if you’re going to watch a three-hour movie with an intermission, what’s better than a theater with couches and real food?

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