When it comes to movies, my all-time top-ten hits many of the marks expected from a film school graduate: Allen, Altman, Bergman, Fincher, Kubrick, Leone, and Malick all have spots. The only director who makes it twice, however, is my cinematic idol, Sir David Lean. Few people would argue with one of my choices, the extraordinary 1962 Lawrence of Arabia, but the other Lean picture on my list is one which is not looked upon as favorably: his 1965 follow-up, Doctor Zhivago, which is now available on Netflix Instant Watch.
The adaptation of Nobelist Boris Pasternak’s signature tome was a massive blockbuster complete with chart-topping soundtrack album, but even then the critical reaction was decidedly mixed. Those in disfavor attacked it as three hours and twenty minutes of lovely pictures with a plot straight out of a soap opera. Worst of all, it was charged with committing the cardinal sin of boredom. To this day, Zhivago is rarely mentioned in film history books, whether scholarly or popular…while enduring in popular memory, if AFI and BFI honors and multiple DVD reissues are any indication.
But the aesthetic near-dismissal of Doctor Zhivago is a mistake.