Peter O'Toole, Alec Guinness, Anthony Quinn, Jack Hawkins, Omar Sharif, Jose Ferrer, Anthony Quayle, Claude Rains, Arthur Kennedy
T.E. Lawrence (writings), Robert Bolt, Michael Wilson
Director David Lean follows the heroic true-life odyssey of T.E. Lawrence (Peter O'Toole) in this dramatic portrait of the famed British officer's journey to the Middle East. Assigned to Arabia during World War I, Lawrence courageously unites the warring Arab factions into a strong guerrilla front and leads them to brilliant victories in treacherous desert battlefields where they eventually defeat the ruling Turkish Empire.
Aspect Ratio: 2.20:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
Runtime: 227 min.
Release Date: 11/13/2012
• “Secrets of Arabia: A Picture-in-Graphics Track”
• “The Making of Lawrence of Arabia” Documentary
• “A Conversation With Steven Spielberg” Featurette
• “Peter O’Toole Revisits Lawrence of Arabia” Featurette
• Four Original Featurettes
• Advertising Campaigns
• New York Premiere Newsreel
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Lawrence of Arabia [Blu-Ray] (1962)
Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (November 6, 2012)
Back when I was a shallow, callow youth - as opposed to the shallow, callow adult I became - I tried hard to cultivate an appreciation for the so-called “classic” films. Periodically I gave some of these famous flicks a look, but they never did much for me. Oh, I enjoyed movies like Casablanca and Citizen Kane, but nothing about them made me truly appreciate why they merited such legendary status. They were well-made and I appreciate them now, but in my youth, I thought they seemed stilted and lifeless compared to newer films.
My impressions of older movies changed for good in 1992, however, when I borrowed my Dad’s laserdisc copy of 1962’s Lawrence of Arabia. I had never seen the film, and frankly, I only bothered with it due to boredom. I had nothing better to do, so I figured I’d give this alleged classic a whirl. Based on the movie’s extremely long running time and my Dad’s favorable opinion of it - he and I frequently disagree about films - I fully expected to be bored out of my gourd.
How wrong I was! Instead of the plodding snooze-fest I anticipated, Lawrence presented one of the most visceral and compelling films I’d ever seen. This was no static and conservative bore. Lawrence swirled and swooped and provided a grand, imaginative vision that made the hours pass quickly. My Dad isn’t often right about films, but I owed him one on this occasion; if I hadn’t been bored enough to borrow the LD, I wouldn’t have experienced the joys of this winner until years later.
No level of praise for Lawrence can be excessive, for it really is one of the rare films that deserves all of its accolades. Frankly, movies don’t get any better than this. No, I can’t claim that it’s my favorite picture of all-time - there are a few other flicks that I enjoy more - but I believe it makes a strong claim as the best movie ever made.
Lawrence functions as a semi-biography of British office TE. Lawrence (Peter O’Toole), but it focuses solely on his experiences during World War I. At that time he worked in the Middle East - as indicated by the title - and made quite a name for himself with his organization of an Arab army. Lawrence covers the beginnings of his involvement with this group and shows what feats they accomplished.
Admittedly, that’s an excessive oversimplification of the storyline, but plot isn’t the emphasis during Lawrence. Instead, the film works more as a psychological study of a great man, and it also provides an interesting look at the Arabs as a whole. In both regards, the movie succeeds swimmingly.
I’m always struck at the depth given to the portrayals of the Arabs. They aren’t shown as simple “camel jockeys” or solely in the stereotypical manners in which we’ve grown accustomed. We see them shown “warts and all”, with both positive and negative aspects of the culture on display. I thought the film gave a rich and varied look at them.
We also get a fine view of Lawrence himself, wonderfully portrayed by O’Toole. The character occupies an extremely high amount of screen time, and O’Toole must experience and embrace a wide variety of emotions. He does so terrifically well as he shows the many dimensions of Lawrence as he goes through different experiences. In O’Toole’s hands, Lawrence becomes a genuinely multi-dimensional figure. Others could have turned him into some sort of cardboard hero, but that thin fate never befalls Lawrence here.
Actually, the entire cast of Lawrence seems excellent, and it’s hard to pick out any specific talents. However, in the category of “making the most of little screentime” fall Claude Rains and Jose Ferrer. The former plays British civil servant Dryden and provides a marvelously droll and circumspect performance as the elusive little politician. Although I also liked Rains in leading roles, he seems to have been at his best with supporting parts, such as during Casablanca. He makes the otherwise-drab character of Dryden much more lively and interesting and he creates an indelible impression.
As for Ferrer, his character doesn’t even get a name; he plays the “Turkish Bey”. TB appears only during one brief segment of the film, but he has a strong impact, largely due to Ferrer’s impeccably understated performance. He makes the character powerful but not overwhelming and his work sticks with the viewer long after TB vanishes from the screen.
Although the excellent acting makes Lawrence strong, it was the amazing direction of David Lean that led the movie to be so perfect. Even with its nearly four-hour length, it truly flies by with ease. Despite my familiarity with Lawrence, I continue to find it to be captivating. If anything, the movie has become even more fascinating with repeated viewings.
One of the main reasons Lawrence so impressed me and overcame my skepticism back in 1992 stemmed from the sumptuous visual style. Lawrence presents consistently gorgeous images, but that’s not the reason why it works so well. After all, plenty of other movies - including the era’s other epics - look terrific.
However, the manner in which Lawrence differs relates to the vivid and fluid camerawork and the impeccably composed shots. The film abounds with vibrant and memorable visuals. From the famed “match” transition early in the movie to Ali’s entrance to Lawrence’s rescue of Gasim to the dance on top of the train to... Well, just suffice it to say that Lawrence offers some visceral shots that will stay with you long after the film ends.
It’s really the cinematography that makes Lawrence stand out from the other classic films I’ve seen, and it’s the visual aspects that make it truly timeless. Lawrence is one of exceedingly few older movies that looks like it could have been made yesterday. As I watched it, I tried to determine what scenes looked dated or lacked flair, and I really couldn’t find any. I suppose a 2012 version of Lawrence would probably offer more graphic violence and profanity, but otherwise I can think of nothing that would be changed. It’s perfect as it is.
I could go on and on about Lawrence of Arabia, for it’s about as good as a movie can get. However, I’ll stop here. If you’ve already experienced its wonders, you don’t need more babbling from me, and if you haven’t seen it, I’d prefer to leave most of its delights to be fresh for you. Lawrence of Arabia is the epic for people who hate epics and the classic for those who think anything made before 2000 is “old”.
The Blu-ray Grades: Picture A/ Audio A-/ Bonus B-
Lawrence of Arabia appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.20:1 on these Blu-ray Discs. The movie received the treatment it deserved via this excellent presentation.
Sharpness seemed solid at all times. The image always came across as tight and well defined; even in the widest shots, we got strong clarity and delineation. Jagged edges and shimmering failed to occur, and I noticed no edge haloes. Digital noise reduction didn’t appear to be a problem, as the film presented a light layer of grain, and print flaws were a non-issue in this clean image.
Throughout Lawrence, I was treated to consistently rich and accurate colors. Due to the setting, sandy tones dominated the proceedings, and since most of the clothes were either white or black, one might think that the film would be a bust in regard to brighter hues. However, this was not the case, as more vivid colors popped up on many occasions. The hues always appeared clear and vibrant, and they lacked any concerns related to bleeding or noise.
Black levels seemed consistently deep and rich, and contrast levels appeared strong. These areas were important given the many extremely bright desert scenes and the darker objects that appeared in those shots. The various tones of white were clean and accurate, and shadow detail usually seemed appropriately heavy without excessive opacity.
The only significant exceptions were examples of “day for night” photography. Like many films of the period, Lawrence used a fair amount of this style, a method that usually renders the image more dark than it should be. The DFN shots were less attractive than the rest of the movie, but they seemed acceptable – and their concerns were unavoidable. This was a stunning presentation that always looked amazing.
Though not without flaws, the film’s DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack appeared good, especially for its age. Lawrence offered a wonderfully active and involving mix. Across the front spectrum I heard clearly delineated music throughout the film, and the side channels also boasted quite a lot of ambient sound. Sometimes I found the speech that came from the right or left to seem too localized - occasionally it sounded like a mono recording that had been artificially made stereo - but most of the dialogue appeared to emanate from fairly natural spots in the field. Effects were placed neatly, and they blended together well to create a vivid and lively impression.
Surround usage seemed strong as well. Most films of this vintage simply offer mild reinforcement of the forward channels, but Lawrence went far beyond that. The score appeared so actively from the rears that it seemed to provide a distinct personality of its own, and effects also presented unique audio. The latter generally appeared to be monaural, but I thought I detected some stereo surround indications at times. In any case, the rear speakers added lots of engrossing effects, especially during battle scenes. On those occasions, the surrounds became very involved in the process and they created a surprisingly convincing and rich environment that made the action even more exciting.
Audio quality appeared inconsistent and occasionally showed its age, but for the most part I thought the film sounded very good. Dialogue generally seemed nicely clear and natural, without many signs of edginess. Due to problems with the original audio stems, some lines were re-recorded when the restoration was performed in the late Eighties. These instances usually seemed pretty obvious, with the most glaring example taking place soon after the intermission. When Bentley and Feisal first chat, some of the latter’s lines do not match his lip movements well.
Nonetheless, these problems only appeared during a few scenes. Otherwise speech was pretty warm and distinct. A little edginess interfered with a few louder scenes - particularly in the parliament toward the end of the film - but again, these were minor, as were any concerns related to the movie’s effects. Actually, I expected a fair amount of distortion from these elements, but I didn’t really hear any. Even during explosions or gunfire, the track remained clean and accurate. The effects showed their age, as they lacked the dynamics we’d expect from modern efforts, but they still sounded very clear and accurate for their age.
As with the speech, music seemed moderately inconsistent, but for the most part the score appeared very well rendered. At its worst, these aspects of the track appeared typical of movies from the era. The music could be a bit thin and lifeless at times, though it never seemed poorly reproduced. However, during most of Lawrence, the score came across as wonderfully bright and dynamic. Highs appeared nicely clear and distinct, and bass response could be warm and tight. When I heard drums beat, they appeared bold and offered the appropriate thump. Inevitably, the soundtrack for Lawrence of Arabia betrayed some flaws; these are inevitable for a movie that’s at its 50th birthday. However, I thought it sounded well above average for the era, and I found it to provide a satisfying mix.
How did the Blu-ray compare to the 2008 Collector’s Edition release? Audio was bolder and more dynamic, and visuals absolutely blew away the DVD. In all ways, the Blu-ray was better defined, clearer, more vivid and more accurate. This was a night and day improvement.
The Blu-ray includes old and new extras. To accompany the movie, we find Secrets of Arabia: A Picture-in-Graphics Track. This offers mostly text, though it includes elements like photos and maps as well. “Secrets” provides info about the real-life elements reflected in the film as well as aspects of the production. It delivers a good combination of components and boasts a user-friendly interface that allows you to skip across pop-ups easily; you’re never stuck at the mercy of the film’s progression. “Secrets” becomes a useful addition to the package.
On Disc Two, the most significant extra comes from a documentary produced by Laurent Bouzereau. Creatively named The Making of Lawrence of Arabia, this 61-minute and 29-second show offers a good look at the creation of the film. We hear from actors Peter O’Toole, Omar Sharif, and Anthony Quinn, director David Lean, director of photography Freddie Young, production designed John Box, property master Eddie Fowlie, editor Anne V. Coates, costume designer Phyllis Dalton, second unit director Peter Newbrook, Lean’s assistant Norman Spencer, film historian Adrian Turner, and assistant director Roy Stevens. O’Toole and Lean were interviewed in 1989, but the other participants seem to have been filmed closer to the original DVD’s 2001 release.
The program provides a fairly solid impression of the production. The show doesn’t try to offer a thorough chronological examination of the production; instead, it starts with the basics of the film’s beginnings - how Lean and company got interested in the subject and how the actors were cast - and then jumps about other subjects with little rhyme or reason. Although the presentation doesn’t seem disorganized and messy, it does feel as though it could have come about in a more logical progression.
Nonetheless, there’s a lot of good material to be found in the program. We hear a nice mix of facts and anecdotes as the participants give their impressions of various aspects of the shoot. I wasn’t overwhelmingly impressed by this documentary, but I thought it seemed largely compelling.
A separate interview appears in A Conversation With Steven Spielberg. That director’s fondness for the works of David Lean is well-known, and one can even find obvious homages to Lawrence and other Lean efforts in some of Spielberg’s films. With obvious enthusiasm, Spielberg discusses his experiences with Lawrence and comments upon the reasons for his fascination for the movie in this eight-minute and 49-second bit. It’s a solid little piece that was fun to watch; Spielberg provides some good information, and it was fun to see the delight Lawrence continues to inspire in him.
In the “new” category, we find Peter O’Toole Revisits Lawrence of Arabia. This piece goes for 21 minutes, seven seconds as O’Toole reminisces about his cast/crewmates, the real Lawrence, shooting the film and its legacy. O’Toole remains bright and engaging as he gives us a solid look back at the film.
In addition, the disc includes four original featurettes. Three of these appear to have come from the time of the movie’s first theatrical appearance. “Maan, Jordan: The Camels Are Cast” provides a two minute look at the four-legged stars of Lawrence, while “In Search of Lawrence” wastes five minutes with pompous declamations about the heat. “Romance of Arabia” offered a little more material about the film, but that four-minute and 37-second piece also seemed a bit thin.
1970’s “Wind, Sand and Star: The Making of a Classic” comes from a re-release of the movie and is probably the best of the four featurettes. While it still lacked depth, it provided some nice production material plus voice-over snippets from O’Toole during its four minutes, 32 seconds.
A few other video pieces also appear. We find a fairly dull 68-second newsreel from the film’s New York premiere, and in Advertising Campaigns, we get a four-minute and 51-second run-through the various print promotions used for the movie. That program includes a nice voice-over that discusses the campaigns.
The plaudits Lawrence of Arabia has received over the years are completely appropriate, as this stunning epic fully deserves as much praise as can be heaped upon it. Lawrence is an amazing piece of work that never fails to entertain and delight. As for the Blu-ray, it mixes nearly immaculate visuals, solid audio and a generally positive set of supplements. This is a must-buy Blu-ray.
To rate this film, visit the original review of LAWRENCE OF ARABIA