Plot: What’s it about?
Although this film does have a central storyline, there’s a much larger backdrop to it all, as we watch the tension between the Indians and the British. So while the characters venture through our smaller plotlines and such, the strain created by British rule over India can always be felt. We see this on both small and large scales of course, but I think A Passage To India strives for the smaller scale, more personal approach and that works well. The storyline also leaves a lot of things up the audience to decide, which means not everything is explained and once again, I think that choice enhances the entire experience for the viewers. But enough about all of this let me offer a brief overview of the storyline we’re given here. Adela Quested (Judy Davis) is on her way to India to visit her fiancee, in the British controlled city of Chandrapore. Adela is joined by her fiancee’s mother, Mrs. Moore (Peggy Ashcroft), who dislikes the treatment of the Indians under the British rule. The two women soon meet and befriend a young doctor, Dr. Aziz (Victor Banerjee), who takes a risk and despite class boundaries, invites them to a picnic. But things just don’t go as planned and in the end, we’re left to ponder what really happened in the caves on that occasion.
Although this is not one of my personal favorites, A Passage To India is a powerful and effective film, so I am very pleased to see it released on our beloved format. I think the slow pace of the film teamed with the over two and a half hour running time scares some folks off, but I think the film’s impact is more than worth the effort. I agree with the slow pace argument, but there is a different between a dull movie and one that moves at a slow pace. I mean, yes, A Passage To India has a deliberate pace, but never it never bores the audience and in the scheme of things, picks up the tempo when it needs to. The elements all seem in order, from the lush production design to the terrific cast to the always excellent direction of David Lean. It was nominated for a total of eleven Oscars, but ended with just two, although the competition was very strong in 1985. Although I am pleased to own this film on DVD, I do wish some time was taken to enhance this disc, as it offers little in terms of supplements. So I give the film itself a very high recommendation, but the disc is more of a renter than anything. In the end, those who love the movie will want to pick up this disc, while the others should be well served with just a rental.
This was the final film directed by David Lean, who had a career filled with excellent motion pictures. This movie endures a lot of criticism, perhaps due to comparisons with some of Lean’s other efforts, which I think is unfair. I admit that A Passage to India is not on the same level with Lean’s best pictures, but I do think it stands up very well deserves more praise than it gets. I know the pace is rather slow, but I think Lean allows the events to unfold at a brisk enough strip, even with a running time over two and a half hours. I do think Lean had turned out superior films prior to A Passage To India, but I still consider this to be a superb picture and one that needs to be seen more, especially by younger audiences. Other films directed by Lean include Oliver Twist, Summertime, Ryan’s Daughter, Brief Encounter, The Bridge on The River Kwai, Great Expectations, and Lawrence of Arabia. The cast here includes Judy Davis (Naked Lunch, Barton Fink), Alec Guinness (Doctor Zhivago, Damn The Defiant), Victor Banerjee (The Machine Age, Bitter Moon), Nigel Havers (Empire of the Sun, Chariots of Fire), James Fox (Patriot Games, The Chase), and Peggy Ashcroft (Sunday Bloody Sunday, She’s Been Away)
Video: How does it look?
A Passage to India was David Leans last great movie and the film simply screamed for a wide scope to take in the sheer beauty of the photography. Unfortunately this wasnt the case as the movie was produced in accordance with HBO and we get a much narrower 1.85:1 AVC HD transfer. Id never actually seen the film all the way though and I have to admit that as stunning as the cinematography is, I felt a bit shorted. The movie is well over twenty years old and there are a few instances of the age, but by and large its a very good effort. Colors are a bit muted, but I found the level of detail to be outstanding and flesh tones were very well-balanced.
Audio: How does it sound?
Sony has given A Passage to India a Dolby TrueHD track which sounds, for the most part, acceptable. This movie wasnt really made for surround sound and though there are a few instances in which the track struts its stuff, its basically a Surround mix with some emphasis on the front stage. Dialogue is very crisp and easy to understand and though the left and right surrounds dont come into play that often, there were a few times when their presence was stated very well. While the soundtrack doesnt hold up to those of today, its a vast improvement over the previous material, for sure.
Supplements: What are the extras?
The previous edition of “A Passage to India” contained a paltry amount of supplements and with this release of the “Columbia Classics” line of Blu-rays, Sony has given this disc the proper treatment. We start off with an audio commentary track with producer Richard Goodwin who gives us some insight on the shoot and the script and, of course, Mr. Lean. Its a good, though, spotty track that true fans will certainly enjoy. New to the disc are seven featurettes: “E.M. Forster: Profile of an Author,” “An Epic Takes Shape,” “An Indian Affair,” “Only Connect: A Vision of India,” “Casting a Classic,” “David Lean: Shooting with the Master,” “Reflections Of David Lean” each shedding a little light on a particular aspect of the movie. Whats really exciting is the exclusive to Blu-ray trivia track. I found it both interesting and entertaining and a far cry from those “Pop Up Video” segments used in DVDs several years back.