Lawrence of Arabia, Restored 50th Anniversary Edition, Blu-ray (1962/2012)

by | Nov 10, 2012 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews

Lawrence of Arabia, Restored 50th Anniversary Edition, Blu-ray (1962/2012)
Director: David Lean
Cast: Peter O’Toole, Alec Guiness, Anthony Quinn, Omar Sharif
Music: Maurice Jarre
Studio: Columbia/Sony Pictures 16990 [11/13/12] (2 discs)
Video: 2.35:1 anamorphic/enhanced 1080p HD (70 mm orig.)
Audio: English DTS-HD MA, French or Japanese DD 5.1, English DD. 2.0
Subtitles: English, English SDH, Arabic, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Thai, Korian, Japanese
All regions
Extras: Multiple commentary tracks, Picture-In-Graphics track, “O’Toole Revisits Lawrence of Arabia,” “The Making of Lawrence of Arabia,” Conversation with Steven Spielberg, “Mann, Jordan: The Camels Are Cast.” “In Search of Lawrence,” “Romance of Arabia,” “Wind, Sand and Star: The Making of a Classic (1970),” Orig. newsreel fottage of the NYC Premiere, Theatrical Advertising Campaigns, Theatrical trailer, two DVD-ROM features (PC only), Interactive map, more
Length: 227 minutes, over 100 min. of extras
Rating: *****
OK, another entry for The Greatest Film Ever Made. The most perfect combination of cinematography, story, actors, direction, action, suspense, special effects and music. No wonder it won seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Naturally some viewers may feel it’s boring—there’s no sexy women, car chases—that sort of thing. But it’s the epitome of movie storytelling. One film critic compared Lean’s work in Lawrence with James Cameron in Titanic, in the creation of an “intimate epic.” What makes the plot super-engrossing is Lean’s exploration of the odd psychology of Lawrence—his sometimes almost Christ-like image of himself. At one point he asks a reduced band of Arabs, greatly outnumbered by their adversaries, to “walk on the water with me.” My favorite line in the film, however, is when the war correspondent asks Lawrence what it is about the desert that attracts him so much. Lawrence replies, “It’s clean.”
Bear in mind that until now the only way to really properly view Lawrence of Arabia was at a good theater that still projects 65mm films. The detail and resolution of nearly all the screen images is amazing. It didn’t matter if you had a big widescreen display or front projector, the DVDs and even the Blu-rays were basically blurry. Only now has yet a new restoration been done using the latest technical innovations, and a perfect digital version created in the 4K format, which surpasses even 65mm analog film. This transfer was only done for this new Blu-ray—any earlier version and all DVDs use an earlier restoration that was not nearly as hi-res. Details such as Ali first appearing on the desert in the distance or Lawrence first appearing following his rescue of his Arab companion are not visible at all on transfers to optical disc. Don’t bother to pick this up at your library—you probably won’t see it as it should be viewed.
By now it’s surely not necessary to detail the story of British lieutenant Lawrence, who in WWI had a boring position in Cairo and somehow developed that into a heroic exploit trying to unite the various tribes in Arabia to battle the Ottoman Turks. The picture quality is fresh and free of all spots and dirt. The DTS surround is superb, and some may be thrown by Lean’s insistence that the optical discs have the same overture and “entracte” music that plays to a dark screen for several minutes prior to both halves of the movie and at the end of both. (The entire film is on the first Blu-ray, nearly using up all the 50MB of space for double-layer Blu-rays. So don’t make the mistake—as I did initially—of looking at all the extras on the second disc and afterwards wondering where the feature was.)
Speaking of the extras, while some of the original ones now look like clips from the 30s or 40s, all are interesting—though there is a tiresome repetition of shots from the feature. The discussion of the major efforts to sweep away the evidence of footsteps on the sand for retakes was fascinating. Spielberg’s talk is worth viewing, and the new documentary “O’Toole Revisits Lawrence of Arabia,” was made especially for this Blu-ray release. There are two DVD-ROM features—which unfortunately are just for use on PCs, not Macs—plus a split-screen gimmick which shows you text descriptions of behind-the-scenes details of the section of the movie you are watching. There are also multiple audio commentary tracks; few would be able to listen to more than one.
—John Sunier

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