Lawrence of Arabia appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.20:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. 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.
All the above materials appear on the standard Blu-ray of Lawrence. For this “Collector’s Edition”, we get an additional disc of bonus features as well as some other components.
On the exclusive Blu-ray, we get one Deleted Scene. With an introduction from editor Anne V. Coates, “Balcony Scene” lasts seven minutes, six seconds.
“Balcony” extends the conversation between Lawrence and Allenby that comes late in the story. It offers nothing of great import, but it becomes an interesting look at the relationship between the two men.
Apparently part of the movie’s original long cut, “Balcony” didn’t make the late 1980s restoration because it lacked Jack Hawkins’ dialogue stems and the recreated vocals didn’t mesh. Coates tells us a little about these issues in her informative intro.
The Lure of the Desert brings a seven-minute, 51-second chat with filmmaker Martin Scorsese. He discusses his experiences with Lawrence and his thoughts about it. Scorsese offers some useful thoughts.
Next comes A Classic Restored, a 13-minute, 30-second piece with notes from Sony Pictures Technologies president Chris Cookson, SPE Executive VP Grover Crisp and digital colorist Scott Ostrowsky.
As expected, “Restored” looks at the work done for the movie’s transfer. Like most shows of this sort, “Restored” can feel self-congratulatory, but it comes with some interesting insights related to the processes.
An archival piece, King Hussein Visits Lawrence of Arabia Set goes for two minutes, one second. We see that ruler’s stop at the location in this innocuous slice of history.
An alternate version of the featurette found earlier, Wind, Sand and Star comes from 1963 and spans five minutes, four seconds. It’s slightly longer and higher quality than the 1970 edition. Like that one, it’s also a pretty enjoyable archival segment.
Made in 2000, the disc’s most substantial component comes from In Love With the Desert. A one-hour, 23-minute, 54-second documentary, it features property master Eddie Fowlie.
As we visit various movie locations, Fowlie gives us a mix of memories about the production and his experiences. Fowlie delivers a nice array of notes, though the format can feel a bit sluggish. An interview like this might work better as a commentary.
Three segments appear under Archival Interviews. We find chats with filmmakers William Friedkin (5:43), Sydney Pollack (2:38) and Steven Spielberg (1:26).
All three give us some thoughts about the movie and various cinematic techniques, and they bring useful insights. Given that he speaks the longest, Friedkin fares best.
Finally, the disc concludes with some ads. We get four trailers and two TV spots. Except for the 1989 re-release promo, all of these stems from the 1960s.
A fourth disc brings a CD soundtrack. It brings 16 cues and lasts 41 minutes. Fans should enjoy its inclusion.
Even better, we get a hardcover book. LP-sized, it comes packed with photos and archival materials as well as essays and production notes. The 88-page book becomes a nice addition to the package.
Finally, we locate a 70mm film frame. I don’t really get the usefulness of this, but it beats a kick in the head.
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. Lawrence remains a great film, and this Collector’s Edition offers some useful materials for super-fans.
To rate this film, visit the original review of LAWRENCE OF ARABIA