- Aspect Ratio: 2.20:1
- Video Codec: AVC/MPEG-4
- Resolution: 1080p/24
- Audio Codec: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, French/Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1
- Subtitles: English, French, Arabic, Japanese, Dutch
- Region: ABC (Region-Free)
- Rating: Not Rated
- Discs:2 (2 x Blu-ray)
- Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
- Blu-ray Release Date: November 13, 2012
- List Price: $26.99
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Sir David Lean’s masterpiece, Lawrence of Arabia, has just turned 50! Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has released this restored special edition, available in two-disc or deluxe four-disc blu-ray versions. To get a sense of what viewers can expect, we get an early exchange between our hero (Peter O’Toole) and sardonic British Arab Bureau official Mr. Dryden (Claude Rains): “Lawrence, only two kinds of creatures get fun in the desert, Bedouins and gods and you’re neither.” Scene after scene unfolds against the desert backdrops of Jordan, Morocco and Spain. Maurice Jarre’s score, magnificent music in its own right, adds just the right atmosphere. T.E. Lawrence, a British Army officer and self-styled expert on the region, is sent to assess Prince Faisal’s (Alec Guinness) chances of defeating the Turks (German Allies during World War I). He next meets Sherif Ali (Omar Sharif) and British Colonel (Anthony Quayle) and becomes a military director of the “Arab Revolt.” After Lawrence enlists tribal leader Auda Abu Tayi (Anthony Quinn) to fight the Turks, he convinces General Allenby (Jack Hawkins) to let him continue his campaign. Along the way, war correspondent Jackson Bentley (Arthur Kennedy) adds the final journalistic touches to creating the Lawrence legend. Be advised that the second half of this film contains brutal footage of the massacre of Turkish troops at Tafas during the march to Damascus. Most chilling are close ups of Lawrence, covered in blood and intoxicated with senseless killing. As the film concludes, he has failed to unite the Arab Council, and exhausted from his efforts, returns to England.
As a man who straddled two very different worlds, English and Arab, Thomas Edward Lawrence was a controversial figure in his short lifetime and even more so after his death. Some family members of the real characters included in Lawrence of Arabia took legal actions about their relatives’ portrayal in the film. That aside, this movie received tremendous critical acclaim upon its release.
This completely new 4K restoration gives viewers a bunch of startling details such as the makeup line on Alec Guinness’s forehead or the fake blood on a dying soldier’s face. Presented in its original 2.20:1 aspect ratio, panoramic views of the desert swell magnificently, and highlight the relative insignificance of the men crossing their burning sands. The darker scenes have occasional unevenness and grain but this is unimportant compared to the brilliance of the daylight desert shots. Note, for example, the “mirage” sequence that introduces Sherif Ali, still a piece of cinematic wonderment. The close ups are just as telling, as is seen in O’Toole’s ever shifting facial expressions that reflect the moment. Contrasting with the harsh monotony of the endless sands, the colors of the tribal wardrobes and tent interiors literally pop out of the screen.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack reworks what was not originally a “surround sound” recording. The largely front channel presentation has good breadth, and plenty of thundering hoof beats and percussive gunfire. The final result still sounds a tad boxy by contemporary audio standards. The dialogue channel is clear with occasional anomalies of voice placement, probably an artifact of multichannel re-mastering. There are also occasional changes in volume level, most notable during the interior scenes. The Jarre score does get a major boost from the audio engineers’ restoration efforts that is particularly apparent in the introduction to each “act” when the screen is dark.
Many of the extras are carryovers from the previous DVD reissue, most of which are found on the bonus BD.
- “Secrets of Arabia”: an interactive picture-in-graphic track that contains numerous facts from “The Seven Pillars of Wisdom,” the basis for the Lawrence of Arabia story as well as details about changes made in the film.
- “Peter O’Toole Revisits Lawrence of Arabia.” A new interview with this now elderly star who takes a sentimental journey through this his film debut.
- “The Making of Lawrence of Arabia”: An hour-long documentary that is essential viewing for students of this film.
- “A Conversation with Stephen Spielberg”: The director, known for his many epic movies, gives a brief personal perspective on this, his favorite film, that inspired his film-making career.
- “The Camels Are Cast”: Ever wonder how the filmmakers got all of those camels into the film? Here, in two minutes, the secrets are revealed.
- “In Search of Lawrence”: A vintage five minute featurette describing the difficulties of filming in the desert.
- “Romance of Arabia”: exactly what you think it is, a brief travelogue of the region.
- “Wind, Sand and Star”: The Making of a Classic (1970 Version). Another brief behind-the-scenes footage of the film’s creation.
- Newsreel Footage of the New York Premiere
- Advertising campaigns.
Generous extras, indeed, and quite watch-worthy.
The Definitive Word
Lawrence of Arabia has long been atop the American Film Institute’s list of cinematic epics. It took home seven of its ten Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Cinematography, and Best Score. This 50th anniversary release adds about 10 minutes to the three and a half hour 1989 Director’s Cut DVD. The very good news is that you get a magnificent movie whose images largely belie its age. While the same cannot be said for the soundtrack, it sounds much better than its previous incarnations. Director Lean, no stranger to long running times, had recently finished The Bridge on the River Kwai and understood the art of making epic films. The casting crew gave him a near-perfect group of actors with nary a weak link. This BD reissue was a significant gamble, given the decreasing attention span of current audiences, the five previous versions of this film, and the expense of re-mastering. Sony Pictures rolled the proverbial dice here and, thankfully, got a lucky seven in return. Even if you have seen Lawrence of Arabia, and, probably many of you have, you have not seen it like this. A masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, this is pure and simple movie making at its very best.
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