Lawrence of Arabia (Blu-ray)

November 15, 2012 11 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton

Plot: What’s it about?

In the midst of World War I, a young British lieutenant named T.E. Lawrence (Peter O’Toole) has become tired of his current assignment, in which he colors maps and such. As such, he leaps at the chance to take on a new position and in this case, he works as an observer with Price Feisal (Alec Guinness), an Arab military leader. But once he reports to Saudi Arabia for his duties, he soon finds himself swept up in all the affairs, which means he does more than just observe. As time passes, Lawrence travels all across the dunes, meets all kinds of people, and takes action whenever he feels he needs to. When he first arrived in the deserts, he was just a normal man like anyone else, but after some time, he became a hero and a leader. But even then, he was a simple man with a larger vision, not a larger than life figure that was untouchable. This synopsis glosses over much of the detail to be found in Lawrence of Arabia, but I have done that on purpose, so that the viewers can explore those areas for themselves.

It has been a long wait, but one of the finest films of all time has reached Blu-ray, as Sony has released Lawrence of Arabia. This epic film took home seven Oscars in 1962, including Best Picture and over time, has gained even more praise as new viewers discovered it for themselves. In this two disc release, we’re given a restored visual presentation, new surround sound mix, and a wealth of terrific supplements. In other words, the deluxe treatment that Lawrence of Arabia deserves, but more on the discs later in the review. I think this is one of the greatest movies ever and as time passes, I seem to find even more ways to appreciate it, on so many levels. The masterful direction of David Lean steers this epic to success on all plains, on both artistic and entertainment plateaus. So while this picture is a visual masterpiece and features incredible performances and creative motions, the audience is always entertained also, so this is not a stuffy period piece, to say the least. In short, this release is one of the easiest recommendations I’ve ever made, as everyone from rabid cinema lovers to casual movie fans will want to pick this up, it is a must see title in all respects. A rental is good for first timers, but film buffs and fans of the film will want to run out to purchase this, it deserves a space in anyone’s collection.

As I mentioned, the film was directed by David Lean, who I consider to be one of the finest directors of all time. As I look over his resume of films, I can’t detect a single movie that isn’t a treasure trove for films fans, at least on some levels. Some offer more than others of course, but I love to watch any of his efforts, as I am sure I’ll be treated to lush visuals and great performances, thanks to Lean’s excellent direction. I won’t say all of Lean’s movies are classics either, but he has a number of films worthy of that status, even more that rank as must see titles for film buffs. In Lawrence of Arabia, Lean uses a massive canvas on which to paint his film, but he also keeps it very personal, which is impressive beyond all means. Other films directed by Lean include Summertime, Great Expectations, A Passage To India, Brief Encounter, Doctor Zhivago, Oliver Twist, and The Bridge On The River Kwai. The cast of the film includes Peter O’Toole (Supergirl, The Stunt Man), Omar Sharif (Mackenna’s Gold, Green Ice), Alec Guinness (Star Wars, Murder By Death), Anthony Quinn (The Message, Last Action Hero), Jose Ferrer (The Caine Mutiny, Ship of Fools), Jack Hawkins (Zulu, Ben-Hur), and Claude Rains (Notorious, Casablanca).

Video: How does it look?

Ok, I’m going to come right out and say it – until viewing this Blu-ray of the film, I’ve never seen Lawrence of Arabia.  It’s just one of those movies that’s slipped through the cracks and I’ve never sat down and watched it.  Ironically enough, this movie was one featured in Sony’s early promo for Blu-ray and that came out circa 2006.  I’d made a deal with myself that when the movie came out in Blu-ray, I’d watch it.  Well six years later here I sit.  The film is widely recognized as one of the best movies of all-time and as such, Sony had their hands full with tackling this beast.  Thankfully their 4K restoration of the film has paid off and the 2.20:1 AVC HD transfer is literally nothing short of perfection.  From the vast deserts to the little beads of sweat to being able to single out the little strands of O’Toole’s blond hair – it’s magnificent.  Colors are rich and bold, the contest between the azure sky to the off-white of the desert only lends itself to the fact that this is one of the best-looking transfer on Blu-ray.  Period.  If you’re like me and had never seen the film, I assure you that there’s no other way to experience it than in HD.  Truthfully a work of art.

Audio: How does it sound?

You might think that with the transfer looking so pristine that the audio might take a backseat.  You would be mistaken.  Not to be outdone, the DTS HD Master Audio soundtrack is just as rich and robust as we might expect.  From the motorcycle purring in the opening sequence to the train crash sequence later on (only to be outdone by the one in The Fugitive thirty years later), there’s really no easy way to say how good this sounds.  Bear in mind that the film is half a century old and it keeps pace with some of today’s modern soundtracks.  Dialogue sounds very crisp and sharp and Maurice Jarre’s score has never sounded better.  Surrounds chime in quite often to add some depth or additional sounds, like the wind in the desert or the trample of horses.  Stunning.  For those that think a film of this age can’t sound good – think again.

Supplements: What are the extras?

There are a couple versions of this movie out there, but this is the standard two disc edition here.  There’s a four disc version with some more supplements, but this version has more than enough to keep a fan occupied.  On the first disc we find a picture-in-picture (graphic) track.  While not the full on immersive experience that some of these are, this shows a map in the corner of the screen with some text from T.E. Lawrence’s book and we get some explanation as to his journeys.  When not in use, the movie plays as usual.  It’s a good way to learn some more about the film and a welcome addition to the movie.  The second disc is where the remainder of the supplements remain.  Based on our reviews for the previous editions of this film, it seems that the only new supplement is “Peter O’Toole Revisits Lawrence of Arabia” in this the actor tells of his “role of a lifetime”, how he prepared for the part and his experiences with the cast and crew.  He shares his thoughts on the film as a whole, looking back and his Oscar snub though he did lose to Gregory Peck in To Kill a Mockingbird which was arguably one of the better performances of cinema.  Next up is the included documentary “The Making of Lawrence of Arabia” and running at just over an hour, we get pretty much every angle covered from the initial discussions to David Lean’s involvement in the work.  Essentially anything you want to know about the film can be found here.  “A Conversation with Stephen Spielberg” is just that as the director tells of us his love for the film and how his involvement with the restoration of the film is something he’s oh so proud of.  “Maan, Jordan: The Camels are Cast” takes a look at the life of a movie camel.  Fascinating.  “In Search of Lawrence” is just the troubles of shooting in the desert and “Romance of Arabia” that looks at the region and showcases the natural beauty within.  “Wind, Sand and Star: The Making of a Classic” is another interesting piece in which the cast reflect on the success of the film as well as the difficulties encountered while shooting.  We get a brief “New York Premiere” of the tim as well as some of the advertising for the film.

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