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Richard Attenborough
Ben Kingsley, Candice Bergen, Edward Fox, John Gielgud, Trevor Howard, John Mills, Martin Sheen, Ian Charleson
Writing Credits:
John Briley

His Triumph Changed The World Forever.

Sir Richard Attenborough's 1982 multiple-Oscar winner (including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor for Ben Kingsley) is an engrossing, reverential look at the life of Mohandas K. Gandhi, who introduced the doctrine of nonviolent resistance to the colonized people of India and who ultimately gained the nation its independence. Kingsley is magnificent as Gandhi as he changes over the course of the three-hour film from an insignificant lawyer to an international leader and symbol.

Box Office:
$22 million.
Opening Weekend
$131.153 thousand on 4 screens.
Domestic Gross
$31.226 million.

Rated PG

Widescreen 2.35:1/16X9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
Portuguese Dolby Surround 2.0
French Dolby Surround 2.0
Spanish Dolby Surround 2.0
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 191 min.
Price: $24.96
Release Date: 2/20/2007

• Audio Commentary with Director Richard Attenborough
• Introduction from Director Richard Attenborough
• “Designing Gandhi” Featurettes
• “In Search of Gandhi” Featurette
• “Looking Back” Featurette
• “Madeleine Slade: An Englishwoman Abroad” Featurette
• “Reflections on Ben” Featurette
• “Shooting an Epic in India” Featurette
• “The Funeral” Featurette
• “Ben Kingsley Talks About Gandhi” Featurette
• “From the Director’s Chair” Featurettes
• Vintage Newsreel Footage
• “The Making of Gandhi” Photo Montage
• “The Words of Mahatma Gandhi”
• Vintage Lobby Cards
• “Milestones in the Life of Gandhi” Interactive Map
• Trailer


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


Gandhi: 25th Anniversary Collector's Edition (1982)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 7, 2007)

Regular readers may recall my rants about Oscar injustices, and one of these remains the worst in my mind. Back in 1982, I absolutely adored ET the Extra-Terrestrial. Although I feel less strongly about it today, it reigned as my all-time favorite film for a number of years, and it still maintains a special place for me.

As such, its failure to snag the Best Picture award at the Oscars absolutely galled me. In a fit of 15-year-old pique, I even threw my balled-up sock at the TV screen. This outrage wasn’t based on ignorance, by the way. For the first time ever, I saw all five of the Best Picture nominees prior to the awards, so I didn’t develop a knee-jerk reaction against Gandhi simply due to the competition between it and ET.

Actually, I’d thought Gandhi was a fairly decent film when I saw it theatrically in the winter of 1982. Nonetheless, not for a second did I feel it merited such high endorsement from the Academy, especially not compared to the delights of ET.

Not surprisingly, Gandhi tells the story of Indian leader Mohandas K. Gandhi, here portrayed by Ben Kingsley. While basically biographical in nature, the movie doesn’t follow a standard line. After a quick glimpse of Gandhi’s demise and funeral, we go back to 1893, at which time Gandhi was 24 years old and a young lawyer. The film skips about after that. It stays on a chronological route, but it doesn’t attempt to proceed along a complete path.

Instead, the movie focuses on Gandhi’s civil rights campaign, as he works to remove the British domination of India and allow the inhabitants the right to determine their own destinies. No matter how hard the authorities try to quiet Gandhi and his followers, he remains set on his course and will not deviate from it one iota.

At its heart, Gandhi tells an excellent story, especially for those of us born long after Gandhi’s assassination in 1948. It’s fascinating and enlightening to watch the power of one man and his determination, and the case can be made for Gandhi as one of the century’s most powerful and influential figures.

Unfortunately, as directed by Richard Attenborough, Gandhi is little more than a dry and slow-paced sequence of the Mahatma’s greatest hits. I won’t fault the film for its length, as even at 190 minutes, it still seems too short to contain the full tale of the man. However, the flick takes such a pompous and distanced attitude toward the material that it never delivers much of the power behind the man and his work.

As I watched Gandhi, I couldn’t help but see the parallels between it and David Lean’s 1962 classic, Lawrence of Arabia. The films bear many similarities, from their epic scopes to the basic storylines that look at men who tried to influence the destinies of nations. Both also begin with the main character’s death, though they quickly launch back toward earlier material and work forward chronologically from there. Gandhi continues until we see the opening sequence repeated, while Lawrence ends with the main character’s spiritual death but doesn’t progress toward his physical demise. Gandhi attempts to cover a lot more chronological territory than Lawrence. The former goes over 55 years, while the latter stays in a fairly concentrated frame.

Despite the differences, the similarities are more than enough to seem less than coincidental. While it appears likely that Attenborough borrowed some superficial tones from Lean, he failed to capitalize on his predecessor’s liveliness. Gandhi virtually defines the notion of the noble but bland epic. The film progresses on such a deliberate and plodding pace that it quickly becomes tiresome and flat, two attributes that should not have been associated with Gandhi’s story.

Much of the problem stems from the lack of nuance and shading seen during the film. Everything’s told in degrees of black and white. Almost no negative sides are attached to Gandhi himself, and even his followers have very few overt flaws. When we do see mistakes on their part, they exist mainly to point out Gandhi’s perfection. On the other hand, the British oppressors never emerge as anything other than baddies. Almost to a man, they’re violent, nasty and small-minded.

As such, Gandhi becomes an extremely one-sided battle between good and evil. That’s fine for fantasy stories, but when the tale is taken from real life, the lack of distinction feels very unsatisfying. Part of the beauty of Lawrence is that it presents its hero as such a flawed and believable person. He was no deity and he had as many missteps as he did triumphs.

In Gandhi, however, we see virtually no faults, and there’s also weak character development. Other than the title role, all of the others get very little exposition. Even the parts that continue through the film usually feel like little more than walk-on cameos. Gandhi himself barely changes through the movie. Early in the piece, he suffers from discrimination while on a train, and that one event apparently sets the rest of his life in place. From that moment on, he follows the same path and never shows signs of doubt, fear, or any other realistic attitudes. Truly, he does become a god in the eyes of the filmmakers.

Clearly a lot more depth could have been developed. Toward the end of the film, we learn that Gandhi and his wife haven’t been intimate in years, and truth be told, he seems to be a pretty crummy husband. However, all of these tones are gathered through inference. When the movie even remotely casts aspersions on Gandhi’s character - he potentially could seem cold, distant, or smug at times - they’re shown in such a way to make the other characters look bad. When his wife rebels against some of his single-minded demands, she’s the one who comes off poorly, not him.

To be certain, Gandhi was a great man. I won’t argue against that notion for a second, and the movie is able to convey the positivity of his message and his goals. However, I think it needs greater balance. Kingsley won an Oscar for his work here, and while he does a nice impersonation of the Mahatma, I feel his portrayal ultimately fails because he also can’t convey the depth of the character. Even with a script that deified Gandhi, Kingsley could have allowed greater nuance and personality to emerge. Instead, he becomes a 20th century Jesus, except many movies show Jesus as a more three-dimensional and realistic figure.

Attenborough’s drab direction doesn’t help matters. As I noted in my review of Lawrence, that was the first older movie I ever saw that really lit a fire under me. I thought of “classics” as being stodgy and tame, but Lean displayed marvelous flair and life throughout that brilliant piece. Attenborough does exactly the opposite in Gandhi. It’s a bland and conservative piece that never once portrays its subject with vivacity or spark.

Instead, it hopes that the grandness of its subject and the grandeur of its sets and thousands of participants will be enough. They’re not. Gandhi comes across as less than the sum of its parts. We see scads of different characters and situations, but they all blend into one. There’s another jail term, here’s another hunger strike. As a person, Gandhi deserves the highest of accolades and praise. As a film, Gandhi is a pompous, overbearing and dull piece that rarely does its subject justice.

Trivia time: yes, that was Daniel Day-Lewis you saw. Hmm… perhaps my animosity toward Gandhi results from his character; he plays a racist street thug named Colin. And yes, you also witnessed Cheers’ John Ratzenberger in a very small role. However, you didn’t hear his voice, as someone else clearly dubbed his lines, a move that now seems unintentionally amusing.

The DVD Grades: Picture A-/ Audio B-/ Bonus B+

Gandhi appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Across the board, this transfer looked great.

Sharpness appeared nicely crisp and accurate throughout the film. At no time did I distinguish any real signs of softness, as the movie always remained detailed and distinct. Only a few slightly indistinct shots appeared, and those flew by without damage. A couple of images showed very minor shimmering, but no jagged edges appeared, and I saw very minimal edge enhancement. As for source flaws, they remained blissfully absent in this clean presentation.

Colors came across as natural and vivid, and they displayed some lovely and warm tones. I saw no signs of bleeding or noise as the hues appeared vibrant and clean. Black levels also seemed to be deep and rich, and shadow detail was clean without any excessive opacity. This was an excellent visual presentation.

Also good was the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Gandhi, especially in regard to its soundfield. Though the mix accentuated the forward channels, it spread the sound cleanly and distinctly across that spectrum. Both effects and music developed neatly and covered the forward speakers well. At times, the elements seemed to be too “speaker-specific”, and they didn’t blend together terribly well. However, the overall impression of the forward soundfield seemed to be very strong for its era, and the mix added a lot of life to the proceedings.

Surround usage was adequate but more subdued. For the most part, the rear channels worked to reinforce audio heard from the front. They bolstered the music and effects, and occasionally became more active. For example, some train scenes added a nice level of involvement. As a whole, the surrounds were definitely junior partners, but they functioned well for the period.

Gandhi lost some points due to the quality of the audio, which seemed to be a little drab. Dialogue always remained intelligible and it lacked edginess, but the lines sounded slightly muted and flat for the most part. The same qualities affected the soundtrack as a whole, as the entire package lacked much depth or range. At times, some decent bass emerged, such as when a parade loaded a nice rumble. However, most of the film came across as somewhat sterile and thin. Music and effects were reasonably accurate, but they felt distant. I also detected some distortion from gunshots and a few louder sounds. Overall, the soundtrack of Gandhi was good for its age, but a few iffy elements meant that it wasn’t a great one.

How did the picture and audio of this “25th Anniversary Edition” compare to those of the original DVD from 2001? Both DVDs presented virtually identical 5.1 audio, but the 25th Anniversary set offered substantially improved visuals. This occurred mostly because it eliminated the original transfer’s source flaws, but it also seemed a bit tighter.

The 25th Anniversary release expands the supplements from the old set. I’ll mark new extras with an asterisk. If you don’t see a star, then the component appeared on the original DVD.

On DVD One, we find an *introduction by director Richard Attenborough. In this 84-second clip, Attenborough tells us a little about the production, but he mostly just imparts that he hopes we’ll like it. Don’t expect much from his remarks, though he seems so warm and likable that I wish I enjoyed his movie more than I do.

Disc One also presents an *audio commentary from Attenborough. For his running, screen-specific chat, the director discusses the film’s structure, historical topics and the movie’s choices, cast and performances, shooting in India and other locations, consultation with real historical figures and factual concerns, cinematography, problems launching the production, its reception, and other filming details.

Given the movie’s length and Attenborough’s age, I feared that this would end up as a slow, spotty commentary. Happily, the director stays active and informative throughout the film. He throws out quite a few good details and provides a nice overview of the production. At times he starts to simply narrate the flick, but those moments are rare. Instead, Attenborough keeps on task and makes this a nice discussion. Heck, he even states that he thinks ET should have won Best Picture!

Moving to DVD Two, we find a collection of elements under “Featurettes”. *Designing Gandhi breaks into three smaller components: “Building the Ashram” (1:16), “The Tent” (2:06) and “Finding Trains” (2:15). No “Play All” feature appears. Production designer Stuart Craig chats about various elements and gives us a few insights. Only a few, though, as these short clips don’t tell us a lot. They’re short enough to be painless but too brief to offer much.

With the nine-minute and 25-second *In Search of Gandhi, we hear from Attenborough. The director discusses his childhood thoughts about Gandhi and how he came to the project. He also chats about working with the Indians and financial issues. Attenborough covers some interesting areas – almost all of which we already hear in the commentary. If you don’t listen to that track, then “Search” merits your time, but otherwise you can skip it.

*Looking Back goes for 18 minutes, 20 seconds, and includes notes from Attenborough, Craig, executive in charge of production Terence Clegg, director of publicity Diana Hawkins, director of photography Billy Williams, and actors Edward Fox, Geraldine James, and Saeed Jaffrey. The show mostly concentrates on the movie’s reception. We learn about its distribution, reactions to it, awards, and its continued legacy.

I thought “Looking Back” would offer reflections on the production, not opinions of the film 25 years later. This leads to quite a lot of praise, obviously, but at least the show lacks the gushiness typical of this kind of piece. It doesn’t serve much purpose, but it doesn’t grate, at least, which counts as an accomplishment for this genre.

Next comes the nine-minute and 40-second *Madeleine Slade: An Englishwoman Abroad. It features Attenborough and James. The show covers James’ casting, notes about the real Slade and aspects of James’ performance. The limited focus allows the program to offer decent details. Though not a great piece, “Slade” offers enough content to make it useful.

We look at the lead actor via *Reflections on Ben. During this nine-minute and 23-second clip, we hear from Attenborough, Jaffrey, Clegg, Williams and James. The show examines the casting of Ben Kingsley, the actor’s preparation for the role, and his work in the film. A few good notes emerge, but the absence of Kingsley himself harms the piece.

*Shooting an Epic in India fills 17 minutes, 55 seconds with comments from Attenborough, Clegg, Hawkins, Williams, Craig, and Fox. “Epic” examines filming in India and the related challenges as well as Attenborough’s style on the set. It offers a pretty strong glimpse of various issues. I especially like the notes about protests against the production, and the rest of the show includes good reflections on the appropriate areas. This stands as possibly the DVD’s best featurette.

After this we go to *The Funeral. The 13-minute and 33-second piece presents remarks from Attenborough, Clegg, Hawkins, James, Jaffrey, Craig, and Williams. This show looks at the recreation of Gandhi’s funeral for the film. We learn about various aspects of this immense production sequence. “Funeral” covers the topic well as it throws in a number of insights.

The Words of Mahatma Gandhi displays exactly what it implies. In this 117-second piece, we see filmed text that show a number of his quotes. While the material itself is mildly interesting, the presentation seems odd. The material could have fit into part of a booklet, which would have been more efficient than having to wade through the video display. Even still frames would have been more useful.

More compelling are the four bits of Vintage Newsreel Footage. These offer exactly what they claim, as we find film pieces that range from 50 seconds to four minutes, 20 seconds in length; all in all, the DVD features nine minutes, 55 seconds of material. These are uniformly interesting, but the last is easily the best of the bunch. Titled “Gandhi Speaks: First Talking Picture Ever Made by India’s Famous Leader”, it provides a short interview with Gandhi while on a hunger strike, and it seems to be the most revealing and compelling of the lot.

Under the “Interviews” banner we find three clips that start with Ben Kingsley Talks About Gandhi. During this 19 minute and 20 second piece, we indeed hear the actor as he recalls his experiences on the film. As a whole, he adds some decent tidbits, but frankly, he comes across as rather full of himself, and this attitude slightly mars the discussion. I also think the program includes far too many clips from the film, as these detract from the issues at hand. Ultimately, this is a reasonably interesting interview at times, but it doesn’t bring a great deal to the table.

Two elements come under the title of *From the Director’s Chair. We find “On Casting” (7:03) and “On Music” (2:54). In these, Attenborough discusses finding various actors and aspects of the flick’s score. Attenborough avoids too much repetition from the commentary and gives us a mix of nice details.

“Galleries” starts with a collection of *Vintage Lobby Cards. Here we find eight mildly interesting ads. On the other hand, The Making of Gandhi video montage avoids the normal still frame presentation. Instead, we find a five-minute, 23-second running program that shows a mix of images. Most of them simply represent shots from the movie, but there are also some publicity shots and a few glimpses from the set. The set never reaches a depth implied by its name, and ultimately I think these are fairly dull.

Lastly, we got the film’s theatrical trailer plus an interactive map called *Milestones in the Life of Gandhi. This takes us around a map of India to get blurbs about important moments in Gandhi’s life. The presentation seems awfully flat and we don’t get enough detail to make it worthwhile.

As a movie, Gandhi falls well short of its goals. It glorifies the life of a great man to an unrealistic degree, and it comes across as a dull, stodgy hagiography. The DVD offers excellent picture, good sound, and a mix of informative extras.

While I don’t care for Gandhi as a film, this 25th Anniversary DVD treats it well. It’s definitely the release to own, and that goes for folks who already have the old disc from 2001. Since this one improves in terms of picture and supplements, it becomes a worthwhile upgrade.

To rate this film visit the original review of GANDHI

Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main