A Passage to India

"A Passage to India" on Blu-ray Disc

David Lean's 1984 epic has all the ingredients of his earlier masterpieces, yet despite that - and despite it being a very good movie overall - it just doesn't quite match some of his other great films.

Of course, David Lean is a tough act to follow, even if you're David Lean, and even a Lean film that isn't his best is still far better than average. A Passage to India still managed to be nominated for 11 Oscars, after all.

The story is that of Adela Quested (Judy Davis), a young British girl who travels to India to see her fiance. She's accompanied on the journey by his mother Mrs. Moore (Peggy Ashcroft, who won Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal), and both of them are charmed by and caught up in the Indian experience. They're also more than a tad bothered by the British' snooty attitude toward the "natives," a disdainful racism that's so obvious the Indians are constantly having their faces rubbed in it.

Adela and Mrs. Moore meet and befriend a young native Dr. Aziz (Victor Bannerjee), a handsome and classy individual if there ever were one. He knows his place in the Brit-dominated society, but he's also charmed by the two English women and works hard to cultivate their friendship - not for its "brownie point" potential, but because he appears to be as interested in them (British people who seem like decent individuals who don't look down their noses at the "natives") as they are in him.

He takes them on a picnic trip to a famous set of caves, which turn out to be rather mundane caves located in a typically eye-popping David Lean landscape, though they're famous for their strange echoes. Then something goes seriously wrong, as Adela runs in fright from the caves and from Dr. Aziz.

The incident results in Dr. Aziz being accused of having raped Adela who, apparently for reasons of youth, emotional shock, and peer pressure, allows the accusation to stand, becoming party to a possible travesty of justice.

Here the movie becomes a courtroom drama showcasing the Indians' and Brits' mutual distrust and dislike - but in the end it all works out, well. You'll have to see for yourself how they tie things up.

Sir David Lean appears to have been more heavily involved in "A Passage to India" than in his other epics like "Lawrence of Arabia, " "Bridge on the River Kwai," and "Dr. Zhivago," because not only did he direct "Passage," he also wrote the screenplay and edited the film.

This movie might be a good introduction to the films of David Lean. Since it's weaker in some ways than his other epics, yet still highly enjoyable, it can give the Lean neophyte a good starting point to move onto the other BIG Lean movies that will only enhance their enjoyment even more. On the other hand, why not go right for the gusto with The Big Three: Bridge, Lawrence and Zhivago? But you shouldn't miss this one in your quest for Lean's "best"

The filming is typical Lean, with plenty of extras, gorgeous shots and colors, and wonderful performances by a perfect cast. As one might expect, the movie looks glorious on Blu-ray as well. Sony has released it in 1080p, widescreen, at an unusual aspect ratio of 1.66:1 (which makes us think it might have been envisioned for television - especially since HBO was involved in the production).

The result on a widescreen TV, however, is a picture that completely fills the screen from top to bottom, with no black bars - but which doesn't fill it from side to side, leaving black bars - though they're smaller than they would be if this were a "real" TV aspect ratio (4x3) transfer. It's okay, but it makes us wish for the widescreen images for which Lean is so justifiably famous.

That said, the colors are very good and the image is sharp, though we didn't notice that real "depth" that drags you into the screen as it if were a picture window rather than a projection.

Audio is Dolby True HD5.1 and it's also good, though there isn't a lot of low frequency effect use and the surrounds are used sparingly, though when they are invoked it's to good effect, surrounding you with ambience that helps make you feel as if you're really there.

Extras include a commentary by producer Richard Goodwin, some featurettes about the author, the film, etc. "Reflections of David Lean," a video look inside the head of the honored director, "David Lean: Shooting with the Master" and a Blu-ray exclusive "Beyond the Passage: Picture-in-graphics track." This is interesting in that it gives you the movie in a picture in picture environment the lion's share of which gives you inside info about the title, but we'd have preferred to see it the other way around, with the movie taking center stage and the notes etc. in an auxiliary picture.

Still, it's an impressive production and a must see Blu-ray if you're a fan of "BIG MOVIES."

A Passage to India, from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
164 min, widescreen (1.66:1), Dolby TrueHD 5.1
Starring Judy Davis, Peggy Ashcroft, Victor Bannerjee, James Fox, Alec Guinness
Produced by John Brabourne and Richard Goodwin
Written and directed by David Lean.

Jim Bray's columns are available from the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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