Lawrence of Arabia appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.20:1 on these single-sided, double-layered DVDs; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. This was a consistently positive presentation.
Sharpness seemed solid at all times. The original DVD exhibited notable softness on occasion, but those concerns never appeared here. Instead, the image came across as tight and well defined. Jagged edges also failed to manifest themselves, and none of the previous disc’s minor shimmering popped up here either. Unfortunately, some light edge enhancement still seemed to mar the picture. This seemed lessened from what appeared on the previous DVD, but occasionally I saw some small examples of haloes.
Print concerns remained about the same. I noted occasional specks and nicks, and some odd vertical white bars danced in the center of the screen during a number of scenes. The latter were very light and could easily be missed, I suspect, but I saw them at least 10 times throughout the film. (Apparently these are stuck in the original negative and resulted from the heat on location, which makes them totally unavoidable without undesirable digital tampering.)
I also witnessed some minor “pulsing” in some images during the first scene at Feisal’s tent; this only affected three-shots in which we saw Lawrence, Ali and Brighton, and while it was light, it remained pretty noticeable.
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.
When I decided on my grade for the picture quality of Lawrence, I debated whether or not it merited the “A-” it eventually got. Usually I reserve a grade that high for a virtually flawless image, and Lawrence included a few minor flaws. However, I believed those issues remained quite minor, and the rest of the package seemed so solid that I felt it really did earn that “A-”.
To be sure, it rectified most of the problems with the 2001 DVD of the film. That presentation suffered from notable edge enhancement, a lot of softness and occasionally incorrect color timing. This was a consistently pleasing presentation.
Though not without flaws, the film’s Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack appeared generally good, especially for its age. I wasn’t ready for such a fine auditory experience. 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 terrific 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, not only do some of the latter’s lines not match his lip movements well, but I also saw some abrupt cuts right before the audio changed.
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 very satisfying mix.
As I mentioned, the picture of this 2008 Collector’s Edition offered substantial improvements over those found on the original 2001 DVD. I thought both discs provided virtually identical audio, as did the 2003 Superbit release; I’ve not observed any auditory differences among the three.
In terms of picture, though, I thought the 2008 CE and the Superbit seemed very similar. I’d guess that both came from the same transfer, honestly, as they displayed comparable visuals. And that’s a good thing. The Superbit made Lawrence look nice but it lacked supplements. As we’ll see, the CE helps change that situation.
The CE mostly repeats the elements from the 2001 Limited Edition. DVD One opens with some ads. We get promos for “The David Lean Collection” and A Raisin in the Sun. These also appear in the Previews domain on DVD Two.
The main components on DVD Two revolve around video programs, the most significant of which is a documentary produced by Laurent Bouzereau. Creatively named The Making of Lawrence of Arabia, this 61-minute and 25-second show offers a good look at the creation of the film. It combines film clips, a few production shots, and interview snippets from a variety of participants; we hear from actors O’Toole, Sharif, and Quinn, director 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 more recently.
Although this program doesn’t compare with the stunning documentary found on Cleopatra, it nonetheless provides a fairly solid impression of the production. I’ve seen many features produced by Bouzereau - he also did those found on the Hitchcock DVDs from Universal - and they’re uniformly fine. 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 works 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 48-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 addition, the DVD 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 40-second piece also seemed a bit thin.
“Wind, Sand and Star: The Making of a Classic” appears to come from a re-release of the movie, as it discusses the awards won by Lawrence; however, I couldn’t determine the exact timeframe. Anyway, this was 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, 34 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.
Does this CE drop elements from the original 2001 release? Yup, and some of them were significant. We lose “Talent Files”, trailers, a good booklet, and a collection of very interesting DVD-ROM pieces. I miss most of these and they should have reappeared here.
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 DVD, it provides generally solid picture with very good sound and some decent extras. Put simply, movies don’t get any better than Lawrence of Arabia, and this flick belongs in the library of every collector.
On its own, this Collector’s Edition of Lawrence of Arabia stands as the film’s best release to date. It mixes a few good extras with the high quality movie presentation found on the Superbit DVD. Unfortunately, big Lawrence fans who own the original 2001 disc won’t be able to replace it. While the 2008 disc looks much better than that version, it drops some good extras. Nonetheless, the 2008 CE gives us the best combination of movie presentation and supplements to date.
To rate this film, visit the original review of LAWRENCE OF ARABIA