A Passage to India

January 28, 2012 8 Min Read

Review by: Fusion3600

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 is presented in a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. This was made in cooperation with HBO, which accounts for the lack of the very wide aspect ratios Lean liked to use. This more narrow field allowed HBO to show the film in full frame on television, without using pan & scan methods. While I can understand that line of thinking, I wish Lean were allowed to use the full 2.35:1 or so field, as he was a master of using all available screen space. But enough about those issues, how does this presentation hold up? This edition looks excellent and allows the superb photography to shine, I could find minimal complaints at best here. The film’s color scheme is well presented, flesh tones seem accurate, and I saw no issues with contrast worth a mention here. I did see some small flaws, but these never detracted much from the experience, so I won’t knock the score much.

Audio: How does it sound?

This disc features a 2.0 surround track, which offers a rich experience, so long as don’t expect the walls to blow down. This is a dialogue driven film most of the time and this track reflects that, but it also packs some power when it needs to. The surrounds see some use due to various sound effects, but also from Maurice Jarre’s Oscar winning score, which is excellent in all respects. The main focus is on the dialogue however, which sounds rich and clean at all times, no real issues to report on this end. The disc also houses French and Spanish language tracks, as well as subtitles in English, French, and Spanish.

Supplements: What are the extras?

This disc includes a brief interview piece with David Lean, as well as some talent files.

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