Lawrence Of Arabia

Lawrence of Arabia may be the last extravagant blockbuster that was also a great film. It’s nearly four hours long, much of it consisting of men galloping on camels through the desert, shot on location with a cast of hundreds, no sex, almost no women—yet this is riveting, heart-pounding stuff, and witty, to boot. It’s based on the true story of T.E. Lawrence, the romantic British officer who led a gaggle of bedouin armies against Turkish strongholds in World War I, helped bring down the Ottoman Empire, came to believe his own myths and see himself as a demigod—and thus became a delusional monster. The film has the feel of a grand epic and an intimate psychodrama. It’s an adventure, a clash of cultures, and a tragedy.

Director David Lean imposed the vision, nearly as ambitious as Lawrence’s, except that Lean succeeded. Screenwriter Robert Bolt supplied the seamless structure and witty dialogue. Cinematographer Freddie Young harnessed the desert’s light, heat, and vast, magical, desolate terrain into a 65mm viewframe. And the cast is perfect, especially Peter O’Toole, a near-unknown at the time, who captured the bravery, brilliance, naivete, and downfall of Lawrence with near-matchless panache.

Sony’s 1080 transfer is taken from its 4K digital restoration, which had a brief theatrical run this past fall, and it is one of the best Blu-ray Discs I’ve ever seen. Colors are rich and natural, textures are palpable, blacks are super-black; there’s a sense of depth and dimension in every scene; there are, as far as I could tell, no digital artifacts. (Occasionally, white vertical lines shimmer across the screen, but this is the result of heat damage done to the original negative, and the restoration has wiped away about 90 percent of it.) It’s not as jaw-dropping as the 4K master, which I saw projected in 4K at Sony’s New York screening room (how could it be?), but it’s a lot closer than I’d imagined possible. The sound quality, including Maurice Jarre’s score, is excellent (though a bit bright to my taste).

The special features—two discs’ worth in the Collector’s Edition—are a mixed bag. Best of all is a featurette on the restoration and a delightful, new, 25-minute interview with O’Toole.

Lawrence of Arabia has had a checkered home theater history, with one flawed transfer followed by an only slightly less flawed transfer. But this one takes you as close to the real thing as someone on a couch is likely to get.

Studio: Sony, 1962
Aspect Ratio: 2.20:1
Audio Format: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Length: 227 mins.
MPAA Rating: PG
Directors: David Lean
Starring: Peter O’Toole, Omar Sharif, Alec Guinness

malvrich's picture

Great, now to get my hands on some Memphis Minnie on DSD.

Spock's picture

malvrich - I have no idea what you are trying to say.

LoA is an incredible movie and fully deserving of the attention it received during this restoration. And, the inherent quality of the original film stock made it a great source for a 1080p Blu-ray transfer.

I ran to to the store to buy this as soon as it was released. The excellent transfer made me feel like I was witnessing the events in person. This is as flawless a transfer as we are likely to see in our lifetimes. At least until someone invents a time machine and brings back the original pristine film stock from 1962.

brucewar's picture

You don't seem to get it malvrich, many of the old Technicolor films, particularly those filmed in high-end processing for the time like Cinerama for Lawrence of Arabia, are excellent sources for high-end digital copying. Not everything great in human history was developed in the last ten years.