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A Passage to India

"A Passage to India" on DVD

Lean's Last Epic

David Lean's 1984 epic has all the ingredients of his earlier epics, 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 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, but is also charmed by the English women and works hard to cultivate their friendship.

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

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 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 does 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.

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 DVD as well. Columbia Tristar has released it in anamorphic widescreen, 16x9 TV compatible, and in Dolby Digital surround and the picture and sound quality are excellent.

Surprisingly, considering the 2.35:1 aspect ratio Lean used on his other epics, "Passage" is shot at 1.85:1. The result on a widescreen TV, however, is a picture that completely fills the screen, with no black bars. They've also use the surround channels to good effect, surrounding you with ambience that helps make you feel as if you're really there.

Extras include "Reflections of David Lean," a video look inside the head of the honored director, talent files, production notes, and some bonus trailers.

A must see DVD if you're a fan of "BIG MOVIES."

A Passage to India, from Columbia Tristar Home Video
164 min, widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, Dolby Digital Surround
Starring Judy Davis, Peggy Ashcroft, Victor Bannerjee, James Fox, Alec Guinness
Produced by John Brabourne and Richard Goodwin
Written and directed by David Lean.


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Updated May 13, 2006