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review by Anthony D.

Rated R

Studio: Columbia/Tri-Star

Running Time: 113 minutes

Starring Ben Kingsley, Martin Sheen, Candice Bergen

Written by John Briley

Directed by Richard Attenborough

Retail Price: $24.95

Features: Ben Kingsley Interview, Photo Montage, The Words of Mahatma Gandhi, Production Notes, Filmographies, Newsreels, Weblink to Official Mahatma Gandhi Website, Theatrical Trailers

Specs: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, English Dolby Digital 5.1, English Dolby Surround, French Dolby Surround, Spanish Dolby Surround, English Closed Captions, English Subtitles, French Subtitles, Portuguese Subtitles, Chinese Subtitles, Korean Subtitles, Thai Subtitles, Scene Selection

Released: August 28th, 2001

The towering performance of Ben Kinglsey (Academy Award winner) as the 20th Century's first and foremost civil rights leader and the sure-handed direction of Richard Attenborough make 1982's film "Gandhi" a film for the ages. A sweeping, beautifully crafted biographical film, which preserves the sanctity of India's martyr while glossing over the Mahatma's controversial political stances, still can be appreciated on its own terms. "Gandhi" is indeed the type of filmmaking which wins awards, yet can be discussed arduously by its detractors: considering that "Gandhi" swept the Academy Awards over a little Spielbergian film called "E.T.," (Editor's Note: Never heard of it.) "Gandhi" has won its share of detractors. Totally overlooked in the film's literate screenplay are Gandhi's stances during World War II: he supported the Japanese, and felt that his countrymen should too, against the British; he thought that German Jews should sacrifice themselves to their fate using non-violent resistance against Hitler. Perhaps the inclusion of these choice facts could have rendered "Gandhi" a biographical masterpiece, rather than an thoroughly involving, impressive film.

Attenborough, again tackling the true tale of an historic person ("Young Winston" followed the early career of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill), chooses to begin his film with the course of events which set Gandhi's career in motion. Already a respected lawyer, Gandhi is thrown from a train in South Africa because of his dark complexion; then creates civil disobedience in South Africa by refusing to accept the South African laws against the non-white population. Gandhi gains supporters in the foreign press, as exemplified by the terrific Martin Sheen, as well as with the world's religious leaders; while at the same time creating conflict within his own household. The film follows The Mahatma from 1893 to the final day of his life, January 30, 1948, when he was publicly assassinated by an Indian non-supporter. Though never presented as a "and then he met so-and-so" type of biography, the viewer is carefully shown the repercussions of those meeting with famous and not-so-famous figures have on the character of Gandhi. It is indeed striking that in the first violent scene of protest, that it is NOT Gandhi who cautions the crowd in South Africa to lie down in the streets against the charging British soldiers, but rather a background character whose cries of "Lie down!" inspire the impressionable Gandhi.

When Gandhi returns to his native land, he decides to forego all accouterments of Western ways, by choosing to live as an Indian, right down his clothing. Comparisons to David Lean's masterwork "Lawrence of Arabia" are inevitable: Gandhi speaks out in a knowing scene that "derailing trains and slashing people with sabers" is not the only way to unite a nation. Considering that T. E. Lawrence was indeed using those named methods at the time to unite the Arab states, it would seem that Kinglsey's Gandhi is the antithesis of Peter O'Toole's Lawrence. Whereas Lean created an enigmatic figure, Attenborough presents a fully-thinking, if rather obvious character - - after a while, we know exactly how The Mahatma is going to handle the problems which come his way.

Historically speaking, the film could have just as easily worked as a black and white documentary-like film. Each of the major, as well as the minor, events of Gandhi's newsworthy life and death, are given equal time. Gandhi goes on hunger strike when jailed. Gandhi trades traditional clothing for standard loincloth. Gandhi meets world renowned photographer Margaret Bourke-White. Gandhi leads the people of India crusade against the Dharasana Salt Works. But Attenborough, with his superb choice of cast has created a M-A-N of The Mahatma with Kinglsey, and the remainder of his cast are not slouchers. Martin Sheen, Sir John Guilgud, John Mills, Trevor Howard and even Candice Bergen provide memorable moments.

"Gandhi" is quite a movie. Never boring, and always fascinating, it is a film which will be revered and appreciated, more often than debated and heralded. Make no mistake, Kinglsley deserved every accolade that came his way. This is not a performance, it is a personification. Never once in the film's length running time, is there any frame in which the "acting" of Kingsley is visible - - it is quite a portrayal, one to be savored devoutly. In the midst of all the non-violent crusades, it is truly jarring to see those moments of physical violence which punctuate the film.


Columbia's anamorphic presentation of "Gandhi," accurately framed in its 2.35:1 Panavision aspect ratio, most assuredly cannot be faulted. It is quite close to perfection, excellently capturing the subdued colors of a recent past, while maintaining the sumptuous cinematography of Billy Williams and Ronnie Taylor. India looks beautiful, from its ornate, golden-domed palaces, to the squalor of its teeming village streets. There is some minor edge enhancement, but nothing that goes overboard. Flesh tones, ranging from the native to the suitably pale Europeans, is very accurate. Some minor grain can be seen in darker scenes. This film looks as good today as when it was first released, and thus serves its creators well in the digital format.

Even though it boasts a musical score played by the formidable sitar genius, Ravi Shankar, "Gandhi" is primarily a film about words, words which come across quite clearly in the English 5.1 Dolby Digital track. There really is very little independent channel operation going on here. The soundstage is primarily up front, with excellent separation. Some ambience is provided by the surrounds, but they don't get too much play until the Intermission music kicks in. The sound design is such that anything more would be redundant, not to mention against the filmmakers' wishes. Like most Columbia titles, there are foreign subtitles provided in Thai, Korean, Portuguese, French and Spanish, as well as Chinese. The soundtrack itself is also available in 2.0 Dolby Surround in English, french and Spanish. Quite a lot of choices here.

Starting with a nicely arranged montage of photos from the film, the disc conjures up the menu screens. A theatrical trailer, which does the film justice, is standard fare (Editor's Note: And it lasts EXACTLY five minutes.). The remainder of the Special Features, truly make this a Special Edition. Several newsreels document the real Gandhi in various stages of his career, and one can see for oneself how Gandhi-like Ben Kingsley really is, which makes one appreciate his portrayal even more. These newsreels could easily be "Zelig"-like documents with Kingley edited in by whatever means, but they are the real Mahatma. A nicely organized "The Words of Mahatma Gandhi" offers several of his oft-quoted lines against a papyrus-like background, with remnants of the score moving things along. Ben Kingsley's interview session is a fascinating look back from the actor's perspective, as he drops a few choice anecdotes regarding the making of the film. A Photo Montage, titled "The Making of 'Gandhi,'" is accompanied by the score, and rarely features any behind the scenes photos in its five and a half minute running time. Text documents are there for Filmographies and Production Notes, as well as a link to The Official Mahatma Gandhi Website.

Barring a commentary by Director Attenborough in the future, this edition of "Gandhi" more than makes it mark. An education experience. A biographical experience. A literary experience. An historical experience. "Gandhi" is all this, and more. Certainly one of the finer DVDs to cross my path this year, with a nicely arranged set of special features which actually take one into the world of the subject, rather than the promotional end of the film itself, this multi-Academy Award winner is a welcome addition to any film lover's library. In times like the times we live in, the inspirational life and work of Mahatma Gandhi should be looked upon with fresh eyes.

(4.5/5 - NOT included in final score)




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