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David Lean
Judy Davis, Victor Banerjee, Peggy Ashcroft, James Fox, Alec Guinness, Nigel Havers, Richard Wilson, Antonia Pemberton, Michael Culver, Art Malik
Writing Credits:
E.M. Forster (novel), Santha Rama Rau (play), David Lean

David Lean, the Director of Doctor Zhivago, Lawrence of Arabia and The Bridge on the River Kwai, invites you on ... A Passage to India.

Set in 1928, this film portrays an indelibly sardonic picture of British life in territorial India. The story concerns Adela Quested (Judy Davis), who is a free-spirited British woman who has settled in India and is to marry Ronny Heaslop (Nigel Havers), a town magistrate. She is befriended by the charming Dr. Aziz (Victor Banerjee), but it's a friendship that ultimately leads to tragedy.

Box Office:
Opening Weekend
$84.580 thousand on 3 screens.
Domestic Gross
$27.187 million.

Rated PG

Widescreen 1.66:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 164 min.
Price: $24.96
Release Date: 4/15/08

DVD One:
• Audio Commentary with Producer Richard Goodwin
DVD Two:
• “EM Forster: Profile of an Author” Featurette
• “An Epic Takes Shape” Featurette
• “An Indian Affair” Featurette
• “Only Connect: A Vision of India” Featurette
• “Casting a Classic” Featurette
• “David Lean: Shooting with the Master” Featurette
• “Reflections of David Lean” Featurette
• Previews


Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Harman/Kardon DPR 2005 7.1 Channel Receiver; Toshiba A-30 HD-DVD/1080p Upconverting DVD Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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A Passage To India: Collector's Edition (1984)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 3, 2008)

After he made Ryan’s Daughter in 1970, director David Lean stayed away from the camera for quite some time. Indeed, I imagine that film buffs must have assumed he’d retired and ended his storied career with Daughter. However, Lean confounded those expectations when he returned to the silver screen one last time via 1984’s A Passage to India.

Set during the 1920s, young Adela Quested (Judy Davis) goes to India to visit her prospective fiancé, a provincial magistrate named Ronny Heaslop (Nigel Havers). While there, she and Ronny’s mother Mrs. Moore (Peggy Ashcroft) tour some famous caves with an Indian doctor named Aziz (Victor Banerjee).

During this event, something untoward apparently occurs. Adela suddenly flees one of the caves and ends up scratched and distraught. She flags down a car and heads back, all while Aziz wonders what happens to her.

Matters get worse when he comes home. He learns that apparently Adela accused him of attempted rape. The authorities take him into custody and a trial ensues that pits the Indians against the British. The rest of the flick follows the court proceedings and their aftermath.

That synopsis makes it sound like India comes with a tight, concise plot, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, that doesn’t prove to be true. It takes forever for the story to reach the point of the journey to the caves, and I can’t say that it uses all that time wisely.

I’d not mind the extended set-up for the plot developments if the film gave us good character development or exposition. However, India tends to make the same basic points again and again, so it fills more than an hour with material that easily could have been conveyed in less than half the time.

Matters don’t improve when we get to court. One might hope that the level of drama would ratchet up at that time, but unfortunately, the story remains surprisingly tepid. Nothing terribly exciting occurs along the way, as even the events that pack the greatest potential punch fall flat and fail to produce much of interest.

This boring journey becomes complicated by the resolutely one-dimensional manner in which Lean paints the picture. In essence, he posits “Indians good, British bad”. Sure, we get a few exceptions – mainly from local college president Fielding (James Fox), Aziz’s one English ally – but that rule remains true much of the time. The movie lacks any remote subtlety in the way it depicts the British view and treatment of the Indians. It telegraphs its themes and often feels more like it wants to be a portrait of 1980s South Africa than of 1920s India.

One element that compounds the film’s lack of depth comes from Banerjee’s performance as Aziz. He emotes to an extreme, as he’s all wild eyebrows and weepy eyes. He plays Aziz like the character is a 12-year-old schoolgirl, and he creates a broad, unnatural take on the role. This becomes even more glaring when the character changes at the end. Aziz looks like Gomer Pyle for two hours and then all of a sudden he becomes Huey Newton. Perhaps Banerjee’s performance reflects the differences between Indian filmmaking styles and Western preferences, but all I know is that his work does a lot to harm the film.

Not that great acting across the board would have made much of a difference. India simply lacks the depth and heart to make it worthwhile. It takes maybe 90 minutes worth of story and stretches it to nearly double the length, all populated with boring characters and endless, pointless exposition. David Lean was a great director, but he finished his career with a dud.

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

A Passage to India appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.66:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The movie provided a consistently satisfying transfer.

Very few issues with sharpness materialized. A few shots suffered from minor softness, but those remained acceptably infrequent. Most of the time the film looked distinctive and concise. I noticed no issues with jagged edges or moiré effects, and edge enhancement stayed insignificant. Print flaws caused surprisingly few distractions given the flick’s age. I noticed a speck or two but not much else in this clean presentation.

When allowed to do so, colors excelled. The Indian clothes created the best opportunities for bright, dynamic hues, and the transfer displayed these with great vivacity. Even when the palette became more subdued, the tones were appropriate and rendered clearly. Blacks seemed firm and dark, and shadows came across as full and smooth. This wasn’t a great transfer, but it proved more than satisfactory.

Since India wasn’t exactly an action-adventure, I didn’t expect much from its Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack – and the soundfield usually remained laid-back. A few sequences managed to broaden the circumstances a bit, such as some outdoors pieces and those at train stations. These created a decent sense of environment, and the track even boasted some localized information from the surrounds. Nonetheless, the back speakers didn’t have a lot to do. The mix was reasonably involving given the film’s scope, but it wasn’t terribly fulfilling.

Though somewhat dated, audio quality usually seemed fine. Speech could be a bit thin and also occasionally got buried in the mix, but the lines were acceptably accurate and concise most of the time. Music showed reasonable range and fullness, while effects came across as fairly dynamic and concise. At no point did this track excel, but it was fine for a movie from 1984.

A mix of extras fleshes out this set. On DVD One, we find an audio commentary from producer Richard Goodwin. He offers a running, screen-specific chat that looks at sets, locations and shooting in India, cast and crew notes, the source novel and story elements, costumes, makeup and visual choices, financial considerations, working with director David Lean, and aspects of the real situation in India.

The commentary starts slowly, with a fair amount of narration and not much pizzazz. However, Goodwin quickly picks up the pace and makes this a pretty interesting discussion. He proves frank as he gets into some problems with Lean and controversies about the casting of Alec Guinness, and I also like his personal notes about spending time in India as a child. After a flat opening, this becomes a pretty good track.

With that we head to DVD Two and its seven featurettes. EM Forster: Profile of an Author runs six minutes, 55 seconds as it mixes movie clips, archival elements, and comments from King’s College Cambridge fellow and librarian Peter Jones. He tells us a little about novelist Forster’s life and the writing of India. “Profile” doesn’t run long enough to give us a strong biography, but Jones makes this a reasonably informative piece.

Next comes the 10-minute and 55-second An Epic Takes Shape. It involves Goodwin, assistant directors Christopher Figg and Patrick Cadell, and actors Richard Wilson, Art Malik and Nigel Havers. “Shape” looks at the adaptation of the novel, financing and location scouts, and set design. It becomes a fairly informative look at the start of production.

An Indian Affair goes for 13 minutes, 38 seconds and includes Cadell, Havers, Figg, Goodwin, Wilson, casting director Priscilla John, and actor James Fox. They discuss various production topics connected to the shoot in India. Really, “Affair” acts as an extension of “Shape”, so it also works well as it digs into the flick.

After this we get Only Connect: A Vision of India. The 10-minute and 34-second piece offers remarks from Cadell, Figg, Malik, Goodwin, John, Wilson, Havers, and actor Ann Firbank. “Connect” views stage shoots back in England, editing, and the film’s reception. “Connect” completes the production experience with some good notes. It’s not quite as full as its two predecessors, but it adds useful material.

We take a look at the actors via the 11-minute and 22-second Casting a Classic. It features John, Malik, Fox, Havers, Goodwin, Cadell, and Wilson. As expected, “Classic” examines the film’s cast and their performances. It’s too bad prime players like Judy Davis don’t appear, but the featurette manages to satisfy anyway.

More info about the director comes to us with David Lean: Shooting with the Master. This 13-minute and 23-second program involves Figg, Cadell, Goodwin, Wilson, Havers, Firbank, Fox, Malik and actor Saeed Jaffrey. “Master” tells us of Lean’s directorial style and offers some memories of working with him. To my delight, “Master” avoids the usual puffy tone. Sure, it tells us positives about Lean, but it also throws out some minor negatives about him. This is a reasonably balanced piece.

A little more about the director arrives in the eight-minute and 17-second Reflections of David Lean. It gives us a circa 1980s interview with Lean as he chats about some of the actors with which he worked, making India, and some reflections on that flick. This never becomes a great chat, but it includes a few informative notes.

The package ends with some Previews. We find ads for The David Lean Collection and A Raisin in the Sun (2008). No trailer for India appears here.

As much as I admire David Lean, I can’t find much good to say about his final film, 1984’s A Passage to India. Too long and too dull, it consists of some lovely images without enough substance to maintain our interest. The DVD provides very good picture quality along with pretty positive audio and a few useful extras highlighted by a surprisingly interesting audio commentary. I feel pleased with this release but don’t care for the movie itself.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.7333 Stars Number of Votes: 15
0 3:
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