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Lawrence of Arabia (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

November 4, 2012 by  



One of the greatest epics created of all time, David Lean’s masterpiece, “Lawrence of Arabia” has received a special 50th anniversary 4K digital restoration on Blu-ray.  From its fantastic picture quality to impressive lossless soundtrack, fans of this classic film will no doubt want to own this Blu-ray release!  Highly recommended! 5 Stars!

Images courtesy of © 1962, renewed 1990, © 1988 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Lawrence of Arabia

FILM RELEASE: 1962

DURATION: 227 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (2:20:1), English,  5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, French, Portuguese, Japanese 5.1 Dolby Digital, Subtitles: Arabic, Dutch, English (UK), English (US), French (Parisian), Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish, Thai

COMPANY: Columbia Pictures/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

RATED: PG

Release Date: November 13, 2012

Directed by David Lean

Writings by T.E. Lawrence

Screenplay by Robert Bolt, Michael Wilson

Producer: Sam Spiegel, David Lean

Music by Maurice Jarre

Cinematography by Freddie Young

Edited by Anne V. Coates

Casting by Maude Spector

Production Design by John Box

Art Direction by John Stoll, Anthony Masters

Decoration by Dario Simoni

Costume Design by Phyllis Dalton

Starring:

Peter O’Toole as T.E. Lawrence

Alec Guinness as Prince Feisal

Anthony Quinn as Auda Abu Tayi

Jack Hawkins as General Allenby

Omar Sharif as Sherif Ali

Jose Ferrer as Turkish Bey

Anthony Quayle as Colonel Brighton

Claude Rains as Mr. Dryden

Arthur Kennedy as Jackson Bentley

Donald Wolfit as General Murray

David Lean’s splendid biography of the enigmatic T. E. Lawrence paints a complex portrait of the desert-loving Englishman who united Arab tribes in a battle against the Ottoman Turks during World War I.

Back in 1962, filmmaker David Lean (known for directing films such as “The Bridge on the River Kwai”, “Doctor Zhivago”, “A Passage to India”, “Great Expectations”, “Oliver Twist” and “Brief Encounter”), Lean would go on to direct a film that would be considered as “one of the greatest and most influential films” in the history of cinema according to film institutes and cinema poll.

With the success of “The Bridge on the River Kwai”, both producer Sam Spiegel and David Lean decided to take on a film that would be based on the life of T.E. Lawrence.  The film is based on the writings of T.E. Lawrence and a screenplay was created by Robert Bolt (“A Man for All Seasons”, “Doctor Zhivago”) and Michael Wilson (“Planet of hte Apes”, “5 Fingers”, “The Sandpiper”).

Lawrence, who was an officer of the British Army was sent to the Middle East  in order to create an internal insurgency against the Ottoman Empire and is best known for convincing Arab leaders (Faisal and Abdullah) to support the British strategy and lead an assault on the Ottoman stronghold in Medina.  And lead to even more success in supporting Lawrence’s dream of an independent Arabia.

Throughout his life, Lawrence was a prolific writer’s whose work including his most famous novel “Seven Pillars of Wisdom” was published and made famous in England.

Posthumously, the officer has been honored and was featured on the list of BBC’s “100 Greatest Gritons” poll.  T.E. Lawrence has been honored with a memorial plaque in Oxford Boys’ High School, his Brough Superior SS100 motorcycle at the Imperial War Museum in London, a bronze bust is featured in the crypt of St. Paul’s Cathedral along with the tombs of Britain’s greatest military leaders, plaques are also featured at the homes he grew up as a child.

But around the world, the greatest honor for T.E. Lawrence was David Leane’s film “Lawrence of Arabia” with the magnificent performance of actor Peter O’Toole as T.E. Lawrence.  Known for its cinematography (shot in Super Panavision 70 courtesy of Freddie Young), its dramatic score by Maurice Jarr and its visual style which influenced filmmakers such as Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Martin Scorsese and Sam Peckinpah, “Lawrence of Arabia” is constantly featured in the top 10 rating of the American Film Institute’s “Greatest Films” and ranked #1 in 2008 for AFI’s Top 10 for “Epic Film”.

In 1991, the film was deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.  With its ten Academy Award nominations, “Lawrence of Arabia” would win seven Oscars for “Best Picture”, “Best Director”, “Best cinematography” and “Best Substantially Original Score” to name a few.  While in Britain, “Lawrence of Arabia” would receive five “British Academy Film Awards” nominations and would win four including “Best Film from Any Source”, “Best British Film”, “Best British Actor” and “Best British Screenplay”.

While the film has received quite a bit of editing to shorten its duration in the ’60s and ’70s, a 216-minute restored version was created in 1989 and a restored version (courtesy of Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese) was featured in the 2000 Limited Edition of “Lawrence of Arabia” on DVD.  While the film had several re-releases on DVD, a fully restored version of the film was released in 2008.

With the 50th Anniversary of the film for 2012, Sony Pictures did a new 8K scan/4K intermediate digital restoration of “Lawrence of Arabia” and will be released on Blu-ray on November 13th.

“Lawrence of Arabia” is one of those rare epics.  Divided into two parts, the film begins with a musical intro with a black screen.  The film then begins with the death of T.E. Lawrence in 1935, who died while riding his motorcycle and while avoiding two young children riding in the middle of the road, he swerved and was ejected when his motorcycle hit a dip.

During his memorial service at St. Paul Cathedral and his bust being put into a crypt with other military greats of Britain, reporters try to interview those who knew him and find out why T.E. Lawrence was such a great man.

The film then takes us to the First World War and Lawrence, a lieutenant of the British Army is sent to Cairo because of his knowledge of the area.  He is sent to the area by Mr. Dryden of the Arab Bureau in order to find out how Prince Faisal (portrayed by Alec Guinness) is doing in the revolt against the Turks.

When Lawerence arrives to Cairo, during his journey, he comes across Sherif Ali (portrayed by Omar Sharif), who kills Lawrence’s Bedouin guide for drinking out of his well.  Upset with what he sees, Lawrence tries to tell Colonel Brighton (portrayed by Anthony Quail) of what had happened but is told to focus on his assessment of Prince Faisal and then he can leave.

But Lawrence takes things into his own hands by meeting with Faisal (against British orders) and because of Lawrence’s knowledge of the area and his constant speaking of his own free will over Colonel Brighton who advises Faisal to retreat.  Lawrence proposes a sneak attack on Aqaba, and to the surprise of the Colonel, Faisal decides to back Lawrence by providing 50 men to attack Aqaba.

But 50 men will not be enough, Lawrence will need the help of Sherif Ali, but can he persuade him and also Auda abu Tayi (portrayed by Anthony Quinn), leader of the powerful local Howeitat tribe, to fight the Turks?

And while trying to bring these various tribes together to fight against the Turks, Lawrence will need to take part in things that he never dreamed of doing.

For the second part of “Lawrence of Arabia”, after proving to the British Army of what he accomplished, an American war correspondent named Jackson Bentley (portrayed by Arthur Kennedy) wants to cover Lawrence’s exploits.  And in the process, publicizing these exploits have made Major Lawrence famous.

But for a man who has been forever changed by war, a man who had no choice but to commit murder, can Major Lawrence continue to fight along with the various tribes, will his leadership be enough to keep everyone united?    And does the British military share the same ideals that Major Lawrence has of an independent Arabia?

VIDEO:

The anticipation has been high for videophiles and cinema fans for the “Lawrence of Arabia” Blu-ray release.  Presented in 1080p High Definition (2:20:1 Anamorphic Widescreen).  Rarely do you get to see films that receive a digital restoration that receives an 8K scan/4K intermediate digital restoration but in order to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of “Lawrence of Arabia”, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment definitely went all out.

Having owned various video releases of “Lawrence of Arabia” in the past, video have been soft, slight flickering of video and DNR was used.

And here we are now with the new digital restoration of “Lawrence of Arabia” and not only does the Blu-ray surpass the DVD in many levels, but the detail can be seen magnificently through this new restoration.  No sign of softness, no sign of DNR, no flickering of video, you ca see the textures in the clothing, the blue in Lawrence’s eyes and yes, the use of makeup during that time of the ’60s.  But suffice to say, there are no problems in video whatsoever.  The details and the overall look of “Lawrence of Arabia” is beautiful.  Flesh tones are now natural instead of soft, black levels are nice and deep and the colors really pop when it comes to scenery, especially with Lawrence walking through the desert.

Videophiles will no doubt be pleased by this 50th Anniversary Blu-ray release of “Lawrence of Arabia”.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“Lawrence of Arabia” is presented in English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and French and Japanese 5.1 Dolby Digital.  Possibly the biggest difference that I personally noticed with the soundtrack is Maurice Jarr’s musical score.  The music sounds absolutely fantastic via lossless.

But for a film that displays quite a bit of action, from a stampede, to a war which includes quite a bit of machine gun shooting to the opening of the film featuring Lawrence speeding through the road with his motorcycle, the sound effects are much more noticeable through the surround channels.

Also, there is quite a bit of ambiance featured throughout the film.  For example, in one scene, as Lawrence and his men hear bombs from the distance or the vehicles driving by, “Lawrence of Arabia” similar to its picture quality is absolutely delightful via lossless.  This is the best I have seen and heard of “Lawrence  of Arabia” and as videophiles would be pleased with the picture quality, audiophiles and cinema fans will be pleased by the lossless audio soundtrack.

Subtitles are in English, Chinese, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish and Thai.

SPECIAL FEATURES

“Lawrence of Arabia” comes with the following special features:

  • Secrets of Arabia – A picture-in-graphics track delves onto the real life of T.E. Lawrence.
  • Peter O’Toole Revisits Lawrence of Arabia – (21:07) Peter O’Toole talks about the people he worked with and the filmking of “Lawrence of Arabia”.
  • Making of Lawrence of Arabia – (1:01:29) The original making of featurette (originally featured in the 2000 limited edition DVD release) of “Lawrence of Arabia”.
  • A Conversation with Steven Spielberg – (8:49) Filmmaker Steven Spielberg talks about his first experience of watching “Lawrence of Arabia” and his love for the film (originally featured in the 2000 limited edition DVD release).
  • Maan Jordan: The Camels are Cast – (2:00) The casting of the camels used in “Lawrence of Arabia” (originally featured in the 2000 limited edition DVD release).
  • In Search of Lawrence – (5:00) A featurette that discusses the locations of where the film was shot (originally featured in the 2000 limited edition DVD release).
  • Romance of Arabia – (4:37) Another featurette that discusses location but the beauty of Arabia and the cities nearby (originally featured in the 2000 limited edition DVD release).
  • Wind, Sand and Star: The Making of a Classic – (4:32) The original 1970 featurette on the making of “Lawrence of Arabia”.
  • New York Premiere – (1:08) The original news reel footage for NYC premiere of “Lawrence of Arabia”.
  • Advertising campaigns – (4:51) The advertising campaign for “Lawrence of Arabia”.

EXTRAS:

“Lawrence of Arabia” comes with a cardboard sleeve case and comes with an UtraViolet code with a redemption code to download the film onto a computer or to Apple and Android devices for streaming to computers, tablets or smartphones.

When it comes to renown epics, David Lean’s “Lawrence of Arabia” is one of the most amazing films ever created.  From its beautiful cinematography, its impressive and moving musical score and its powerful acting by Peter O’Toole, believe it or not, “Lawrence of Arabia” was a major risk.

Sure, David Lean and Sam Spiegel have had their success, especially with “Bridge Over the River Kwai” but a film shot in a desert, four hours long, for this film to work, it was going to have to be significant and well-balanced especially telling the story of T.E. Lawrence and why he is so respected in Britain.

The storytelling would have go keep viewers captivated but the film rode on the shoulders of main actor Peter O’Toole.  Lawrence was not your typical action hero of the era, nor was he a man of gun ablazing.  He was a different man with a mindset that was meant to be good, honorable no matter how flamboyant of a person that he may be.

I have watched this film a number of times, owned it in various formats and even for myself, having watched this film when I was younger until now, I felt at the time that when I first watched this film, he was a man with strong conviction but also a man of mystery.  Whether or not Lawrence was gay or what happened when he was held in prison and tortured, what is important is the journey of seeing this man being put into Cairo to assess one man but instead, ending up creating a revolution.

The cinematography by Freddie Young (“Doctor Zhivago”, “You Only Live Twice”, “Battle of Britain”) is vast, beautiful and amazing.  The shots of Lawrence in his robe walking through the desert is breathtaking.  But the music by Maurice Jarr (“Ghost”, “Doctor Zhivago”, “Dead Poets Society”) is equally fantastic as it creates the mood before the film begins, but is rich, emotional and moving.

And as costume design, scenery and everything pretty much comes to play in the efficacy of the film, the film is not too cerebral.  It’s straight-to-the-point, easily accessible but yet manages to be complex thanks to its two parts, which portray different sides of the Lawrence.

But watching this film, no matter how many times throughout my life I have seen it, I am moved, I am amazed and I am impressed by the work that went into the creation of this film.

For any cinema fan, you can easily see how this film is a masterpiece by taking a character, that probably is not well-known outside of Britain and craft a story with a unique vision by filmmaker David Lean and given incredible life and once again, adding yet another masterpiece to the filmmakers oeuvre.

David Lean is one of the few filmmakers of that era who has been able to make his films appreciated throughout the world because of his grand vision and big ideas that influenced many significant filmmakers today.  And to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of this fantastic film, suffice to say, its a no-brainer that this film is worth owning.

Not many films get the 8K scan/4K intermediate digital restoration but it’s great to see Sony take this classic film and give it the proper restoration, not only does this Blu-ray release feature the best looking and sounding version of “Lawrence of Arabia”, but it features the director’s cut which is much longer that the 2000 Limited Edition DVD release (which was only 217 minutes long).  While the special features are the same as featured in the previous Limited Edition DVD release, the Blu-ray does include a new interview with Peter O’Toole plus a “Secrets of Arabia Picture-in-Graphics Track” (both are Blu-ray exclusives).

Before anyone gets rid of their 2000 Limited Edition DVD release, it’s important to note that the original DVD had “Archives of Arabia: Historic Photographs” which is not included on this Blu-ray, as well as the original interactive map and reproduction of the original 1962 souvenir booklet.  So, for collectors, you may want to hold on to that older limited edition DVD release.

But it’s impressive how far things have come with the release of this film, considering that over 20-years ago, the film could have been lost as the 1989 restoration duo Robert A. Harris and Jim Painten discovered the negatives crushed and in rusted cans.   Also, thanks to filmmakers Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese for overseeing another restoration of the film and trying to bring the scenes that were cut and edited back together in order to bring back the original long version that moviegoers watched back in 1962.

And in 2012, we have the full-length version and the best presentation of “Lawrence of Arabia” yet.  This is a magnificent release of the film and while I am aware of the debate by scholars of the historical accuracy of the film, the fact is that the film’s screenplay was based on one man’s writings and human nature has shown that there is a stretching of truth at times for well-known figures.

But the fact is that “Lawrence of Arabia” is a unique undertaking and will continue to be seen as one of the grandest epic films created in cinema history.  And this Blu-ray release is a true and wonderful celebration for the 50th anniversary of “Lawrence of Arabia”.

Highly recommended!

 






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