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Lawrence of Arabia(1962)
The dramatic portrait of the famed British officer's journey to the Middle East, Lawrence of Arabia is one of the most critically acclaimed and beloved films of all time. Assigned to Arabia during World War I, Lawrence courageously unites the warring Arab factions into a strong guerrilla front and leads them to brilliant victories in treacherous desert battlefields, where they eventually defeat the ruling Turkish Empire.
For more about Lawrence of Arabia and the Lawrence of Arabia Blu-ray release, see Lawrence of Arabia Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on October 31, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.5 out of 5.
Director: David Lean
Writers: Robert Bolt, Michael Wilson (I)
Starring: Peter O'Toole, Alec Guinness, Anthony Quinn, Jack Hawkins (I), Omar Sharif, José Ferrer
» See full cast & crew
Lawrence of Arabia Blu-ray Review
Spielberg said it best: 'Lawrence of Arabia' is a 'miracle,' and so it also is on Blu-ray.
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, October 31, 2012
He was the most extraordinary man I ever knew.
Looking back and writing on a film like Lawrence of Arabia with anything other than some form of pointed criticism seems almost an exercise in futility; it's been praised and praised some more, but few -- rare, extremely rare -- are the films that can withstand so much acclaim and actually live up to that level of hype and hold up under so much micro-scrutiny, all over the course of decades, through countless viewings, and beyond all the wordy discussions. Rightly regarded as one of the finest movies ever made and a picture that leaves behind a legacy that speaks to the power of perfect filmmaking and the lasting impact that is the filmed marriage of faultless craftsmanship and enthralling story, Lawrence of Arabia is the movie that typifies cinema greatness, that is arguably the epic that defines epics, the picture that remains the textbook answer for the question of why movies are made and how a medium so influenced by external sources and so inundated with mediocrity, disappointments, and disasters remains a legitimate canvas for the most serious artists. It's a film that absolutely encapsulates everything that's so wonderful about motion pictures, a demonstration of the entire process completed with faultless execution, and at about double the runtime of most pictures at that. It's one of the top few in the same vein as Gone with the Wind, The Godfather, and Star Wars, films that should immediately spring to mind as the cream of the crop amongst cinema-defining classics. Yet Lawrence of Arabia does perhaps lack the immediate name recognition, the popular culture infusion, the instantly recognizable cast, and the flash of those others, but it's certainly the film that purists, enthusiasts, students, educators, and casual viewers alike should approach when in search of a motion picture that embodies the total amassed perfection of drama, action, acting, photography, music, and everything that together makes a great movie or, in this case, a legend.
It is the height of World War I. A middling British Lieutenant by the name of T.E. Lawrence (Peter O'Toole) may be the most enigmatic man in the entire military. He works diligently and with exacting precision on map detail. His is a rather quirky sense of humor and slightly odd way of carrying himself. He's a very highly educated man, an expert on Arabic culture and letters, and he's about to embark on a quest that will rise his star within the army ranks and the general public alike. He's sent on a lengthy mission of personal information gathering to assess the progress, or lack thereof, concerning the Arab uprising against the formidable Turkish Army. He's to meet with the noted Prince Faisal (Alec Guinness) and is escorted by Sherif Ali (Omar Sharif), a man who murders Lawrence's first guide and companion for drinking well water without its owner's -- Ali himself -- permission. Lawrence impresses the Prince a great deal with his honesty, intelligence, grasp of Arabian culture, and respect for the Arabs' ways. He speaks out against a plan of retreat from the Turks and instead proposes a dangerous cross-desert raid on the Turkish coastal stronghold of Akaba, the capture of which would yield political, strategic, and morale-boosintg victories all. As Lawrence proves himself a friend of the Arab, understanding of and embracing their ways, a strong military strategist, and a man of impeccable courage, he works his way into the hearts of his Arab comrades and morphs into a man fully ingrained in their ways. As he leads the Arabs in battle, unites warring tribes, and settles difficult disagreements, he becomes a hero to the Arab people, a respected military figure, and a curiosity around the world. As victories mount and Lawrence's star rises, he comes to realize the weight of the burden he bears and begins paying towards the inward price for his outward successes and transformation.
Lawrence of Arabia is the inward story of a single man set against the sweeping outward wrappings of an epic. It's a film that fashions an intimate tale on a grand scale, making use of countless emotions and actions to assemble a captivating journey across deserts, through war, and from mind to soul. Director David Lean (The Bridge on the River Kwai) manages what seems nearly impossible in any artistic medium, and that is conveying so much personal drama through such strong character development in a movie so broad in physical scope, so visually dazzling, so audibly captivating, so absolutely immersive in every way. The story of T.E. Lawrence is one of the most intimate yet in many ways peculiar in film history. His tale is one defined by deeds but not through an abundance of physical actions. He's a man of odd manners and ambiguity but a strong stature and high intelligence. He's a man of conviction and courage but prone to wild swings of emotion and folly. He's respected but not always understood, held in high regard but at some expense to his own well-being, moral compass, and overall stability. His is a tale that's timeless though set in a certain place and time. His story is deeply personal though spread far and wide. It speaks to the man that his life is shaped by surrounding himself with those unlike him and distant from his culture, never mind the vastness of the desert and the inhospitable terrain in which Lawrence not only finds life, but thrives. But then comes the downward half of the arc. His rise from obscurity to stardom, journey from cockeyed personal confidence to delusions of divineness, and the inevitable fall make for a splendid inner story that takes shape from within the gruel of war and the harshness and expanse of the desert. It's a uniquely fascinating character study, though sometimes a bit obscured by what is an almost overpowering sense of grandeur that is the rest of the filmmaking story.
Indeed, Lawrence of Arabia remains an awe-inspiring spectacle of the finest variety. The movie absolutely dazzles across every square inch of bold cinematography, each stroke of Maurice Jarre's unforgettable score, and every second of Lean's impeccable direction, from his handling of fast action scenes to lingering distance shots of desert expanse and the slow reveal of characters approaching from the horizon. The movie is inspired filmmaking and inspiring to all who watch it. It's a film grand in scope and grander in its display of the Middle East's geographic splendor. Every scene yields a sense of awe and breadth quite unlike anything else. The film promises and provides an unforgettable cinema journey in which the audience practically accompanies Lawrence across uncrossable deserts, joins him in battle, and experiences his character arc alongside him, whether in army fatigues or traditional Arab dress, whether atop the world or beaten down by inner chaos. Better, Lean's direction and Freddie Young's cinematography effortlessly and effectively convey the size of the desert, the perils of the journey, the heat under the sun, the dangers of war, and the seeming impossibility of it all with amazing precision. Arguably no film before has so realistically brought its canvas to life, and it's all due not to razzle-dazzle but rather sensible photography, bold choices, superb source material, grand shooting locales, and perhaps even an invisible helping hand, for as Steven Spielberg said of the film, it's truly a "miracle" of filmmaking that has not been -- and will never be -- duplicated or improved upon. Truly, this is cinema beyond belief.
Of course, any review of Lawrence of Arabia would be remiss without a note on the cast. In short, it's spectacular, so good, in fact, that the actors slip away and the characters instantly appear, from Lawrence and Sherif Ali and on down the line to the most insignificant background player. Certainly, the performances owe quite a bit to the combination of direction, cinematography, scriptwriting, and even costuming, set design, and shooting locales -- all create an authentic backdrop and canvas on which the players may finely shape their characters -- but at the end of the day they're another part of the "miracle" filmmaking process in which every element works in harmony and to unimaginable perfection. Peter O'Toole's breakout performance in the lead part is a revelation; O'Toole finds a unique cadence for the character and so fully absorbs the role from the most insignificant mannerism to the most performance- and film-defining arc elements that he embodies Lawrence to startling perfection at any point in the film and under any conditions, whether covered in sand or squeaky-clean in his resplendent white robes, whether toiling away in cartography or in the midst of torture or battle. It's one of the finest performances in film, faultlessly seamless and completely enveloping through every frame. The supporting cast boasts name actors who also fall effortlessly into character, including Omar Sharif, Anthony Quinn, and Alec Guinness, none of whom enjoy the sort of career-defining performance as Peter O'Toole but all of whom inhabit their characters with the sort of faultless precision expected of an epic of this scale, a film of this grandeur, a story this sweeping, a film this memorable, and an experience to be cherished, a work of art that defines its medium better than any of its peers.
Lawrence of Arabia Blu-ray, Video Quality
To be sure, no rose-colored glasses are required to see the greatness in the look back at Lawrence of Arabia, and now through the high scrutiny lens of Blu-ray comes an image that today requires only the gift of sight to see in all of its filmic glory. Sony's meticulous 4K restoration is not just a treat, it's a revelation and perhaps the definitive Blu-ray catalogue release, if not the format's finest presentation. It's a beautiful picture, to say the least, every frame lovingly cared for and displayed on Blu-ray with the sort of attention to detail and, indeed, flawlessness that a film of this magnitude commands. Sony's picture dazzles from the opening shots of Lawrence speeding down very well-defined pavement and past sharp and accurate foliage. Detail remains exacting throughout the film; whether fine grains of sand, sweeping desert vistas, intricate clothing lines, or complex facial textures, there's never a frame in which the picture doesn't dazzle with its perfect film-like elements. Light grain remains over the image, and there's a natural sharpness, unsurpassed clarity, and startling accuracy that will impress even the most demanding viewer. The image is absolutely clean, showing no signs of wear and succumbing to no unwanted artifacts or digital tinkering. Colors are equally resplendent. There are many instances of the sandy earthen terrains contrasting with the bright blue sky overhead; both are picturesque in hue and the balance is beyond words. The image handles everything from white flowing robes to black costumes with equal precision. Gold trim, bright reds, lush natural greens, and all variety of colors simply dazzle in every scene. Black levels are perfect, as is shadow detail. Flesh tones never betray natural appearances. In short, this is everything the transfer needed to be. It's the sort of timeless image that transfixes and immerses, one that is so precise that viewers will become absolutely lost in the beauty of the film. Many will want to watch twice in succession, once for the transfer and once for the movie.
Lawrence of Arabia Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Lawrence of Arabia makes its long-anticipated Blu-ray debut with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless soundtrack that's up to the task of sonically carrying the film and supporting its splendid visuals. The prologue music plays with superb clarity, excellent separation and distinctive notes, natural heft, effortless balance, and fine spacing, including a prominent but natural surround element. Music is certainly the sonic highlight throughout the film and a necessary ingredient in dramatically shaping the Lawrence of Arabia experience. Maurice Jarre's stunning score has never sounded better on a home video release; the level of pinpoint detail and the way the track naturally immerses the listening area is a true asset to the film. The presentation is every bit as rousing as it should be, and it's the perfect dynamic compliment to the faultless visuals. The track implements sound effects with ease and precision, too. Lawrence's bike hums down the roadway with excellent power, the effect naturally filling the stage and practically placing the listener on its seat. Aircraft move about the stage with efficiency, natural tone, seamless spacing, and perfect placement. There's a good power and rhythm to machine gun fire, a steady accuracy to single shots, and perhaps the most intense listening moment comes as horses stampede through the soundstage during an assault sequence in chapter 16. Ambient effects are handled quite well, including subtle environmental effects and more potent elements alike, the former things like light chatter in an encampment and the latter demonstrated by heavy, gusty wind as heard in chapter 17. Dialogue is perhaps a hair shallow at times but clarity is natural and placement remains firmly in the middle, save for a few instances of reverberation both light and heavy, the latter exemplified by a wonderfully cavernous echoing heard as Lawrence travels alone early in the film, his singing voice bouncing off various rock faces. This is a high quality vintage soundtrack that's the perfect compliment to a classic film and its first-class video transfer.
Lawrence of Arabia Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Lawrence of Arabia's two-disc Blu-ray package contains a nice assortment of extras, most of them located on a dedicated second disc. The larger, more expensive four-disc set contains more supplements as well as some added goodies; that set will be reviewed on or around street date. As for this set, disc two subtitle options include English, Chinese traditional, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish, and Thai. This release also includes an Ultraviolet digital copy.
Lawrence of Arabia Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
In short, film just doesn't get better than Lawrence of Arabia. This is an epic masterpiece if there ever was one, the cinephiles' film, the picture that defines everything that's great about its medium. The film boasts perhaps the finest direction and cinematography ever to shape a film, never mind its outstanding score and exacting acting. It's an unforgettable viewing experience that's only lessened on smaller screens where the impact of the vast desert expanse and the sheer size of the story aren't quite done the justice they deserve. Fortunately, the film may now be viewed at home the way it was meant to be seen -- big -- thanks to Sony's meticulous restoration. In short, the results are breathtaking. This is everything fans could have wanted from the Lawrence of Arabia Blu-ray in terms of visual presentation. The audio soundtrack is superb, too, as is the quality assortment of extra content. No surprise that this is perhaps the best Blu-ray release of the year -- save, perhaps, for the larger collector's edition set with added supplements and incentives -- and one to which I proudly assign my highest recommendation.
Lawrence of Arabia: Other Editions
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• Lawrence of Arabia 50th Anniversary Event - October 1, 2012
Sony Pictures Entertainment is debuting the newly digitally restored presentation of Lawrence of Arabia in select U.S. theaters for a special one-night event Thursday, October 4 at 7:00 p.m. local time. Presented by NCM® Fathom Events and Sony Pictures Entertainment, ...
• Lawrence of Arabia Blu-ray (Updated) - August 8, 2012
In November, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment will bring Lawrence of Arabia to Blu-ray. Director David Lean's epic drama focuses on the military career of T.E. Lawrence (Peter O'Toole, Becket), a lieutenant in the British Army who makes a profound impact on the ...
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