DVDizzy.com | DVD and Blu-ray Reviews | New and Upcoming DVD & Blu-ray Schedule | Upcoming Cover Art | Search This Site

Lawrence of Arabia Blu-ray Review

Lawrence of Arabia (1962) movie poster Lawrence of Arabia

US Theatrical Release: December 21, 1962 / Running Time: 227 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: David Lean / Writers: Robert Bolt, Michael Wilson

Cast: Peter O'Toole (T.E. Lawrence), Alec Guinness (Prince Feisal), Anthony Quinn (Auda Abu Tayi), Jack Hawkins (General Allenby), Jose Ferrer (Turkish Bey), Omar Sharif (Sherif Ali), Anthony Quayle (Colonel Brighton), Claude Rains (Mr. Dryden), Arthur Kennedy (Jackson Bentley), Donald Wolfit (General Murray), I.S. Johar (Gasim), Gamil Ratib (Majid), Michel Ray (Farraj), John Dimech (Daud), Zia Mohyeddin (Tafas), Howard Marion Crawford (Medical Officer), Jack Gwillim (Club Secretary), Hugh Miller (R.A.M.C. Colonel)

Buy Lawrence of Arabia from Amazon.com:
Blu-ray • Blu-ray Gift Set • 2008 DVD • 2001 DVD • 1-Disc DVD • Superbit DVD • Instant Video

Lawrence of Arabia is as epic as movies get. It runs nearly four hours with an intermission, overture, and exit music. There are multiple scenes with hundreds of extras atop hundreds of camels or horses. And I'm not sure any other narrative film's cameras have captured as much area with certain distant shots. The second of the three grand films for which David Lean is best known, Lawrence cemented the British director's association with and mastery of the epic drama.
Echoing the success of his The Bridge on the River Kwai five years earlier, this 1962 film won the Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director, and five additional categories (art direction, cinematography, editing, sound, and original score). It is considered the magnum opus of one of the most outstanding filmmakers who has ever lived. It has twice cracked the top ten of the American Film Institute's 100 Years...100 Movies lists, without clearly being an American film. It ranked third overall on the British Film Institute's 1999 top 100 films countdown.

Lawrence takes a British officer involved in World War I and turns him into one of cinema's greatest figures (AFI ranked him tenth among film heroes in 2003). In the first and still most famous protagonist role of his long career, Peter O'Toole plays T.E. Lawrence, an Army mapmaker who is transferred from Cairo, where he is perceived as eccentric and faintly insubordinate, to the Arabian Peninsula. There, he is to track down Prince Feisal (Lean good luck charm Alec Guinness), assess his character, and determine his intentions regarding an Arab revolt against the rival Turks.

T.E. Lawrence (Peter O'Toole), a.k.a. El Aurens, admires his new white clothes in the reflection of his dagger.

In the Arabian desert, Lawrence, or "El Aurens" as the natives come to call him, discovers his high threshold for pain. To the local Bedouins' surprise, this fair-skinned, blue-eyed blonde can withstand the harsh elements with little trouble. Much of the film explores this relationship of man against nature, the strong-willed underdog mostly triumphant. Lawrence takes pride in his powers of endurance and pleasure in pushing himself to his limits.

En route to Feisal, Lawrence encounters Sherif Ali (Egyptian actor Omar Sharif, later Lean's Doctor Zhivago, in his English debut), who guns down his fellow Arab, Lawrence's guide, for drinking from his well. There are different values and more rigid prejudices in the desert, but Lawrence doesn't bat an eye. We already know from the opening scene that he will meet his maker not at the hands of another man but by a freak motorcycle accident.

Giving the political climate in the Middle East some thought, Lawrence comes up with a plan for Feisal's army to attack the well-fortified city of Aqaba by land. That requires crossing the uncrossable Nafud desert, which Lawrence vows to do along with Ali and fifty other men. The group also comes to team up with Auda Abu Tayi (Anthony Quinn), a leader reluctant to lend his services for less than he sees fit.

The politics and military strategies may have made Lawrence and earned him promotion to Major. But while the film gives them thought and appropriate treatment, it excels much more as the portrait of a determined man "with no tribe" who comes to find himself more at home in the desert than back among his fellow British Army officers.

With some help from skin-darkening make-up David Lean regular Alec Guinness shows off his range as the Arab prince Feisal. Making his English language debut, Egyptian actor Omar Sharif was thrust to stardom with his Oscar-nominated supporting role as Sherif Ali ibn el Kharish.

Despite its nearly overwhelming length, Lawrence is quite easy to watch. It is very long and not particularly full of plot points worth detailing here, but it isn't slow. How can it be in the hands of Lean,
whose contributions to the epic are as significant as any director's work in any other genre.

This is not your typical film. There is no romance, nor even one credited actress (though you'll spot a few non-speaking female extras in passing). Lawrence's sexuality has been the subject of speculation, but there's nothing more than a hint in the film that he might be gay. There is a big climactic battle scene, which may seem fairly conventional, but it is among the film's least consequential segments, a one-sided massacre that only serves to illustrate that Lawrence's passion is waning.

When forced to describe its plot, Lawrence of Arabia sounds somewhat underwhelming and dull, but the execution is far from it. Lean's film is full of life and intrigue, a character study that plays out on a huge scale in long-maintained shots carefully composed for maximum impact.

At 29, O'Toole gives one of the medium's great performances. He just had the misfortune to do it the same year that Gregory Peck did the same in the less ambitious yet more moving To Kill a Mockingbird, which was responsible for two of Lawrence's three Oscar losses (Peck's portrayal of Atticus Finch endures; it was ranked #1 on the AFI's aforementioned heroes list). O'Toole has since earned seven additional Best Actor nominations, most recently for 2006's Venus, but his only win was an honorary award in 2003. Shortly before turning 80 this summer, O'Toole announced his retirement from acting.

Though I personally prefer Bridge on the River Kwai among Lean's epics, it is impossible not to recognize the extraordinary cinematic achievements of Lawrence of Arabia. This is a film you don't need to see many times to appreciate and thoroughly remember. Epics are a tough thing to pull off, many of them either thinking too big or not big enough. Lean got it just right, though. He took his time, allowing several years to pass in between each release, which only seemed fair based on how much he poured into them. With just seventeen films to his name, his one of the slighter résumés of any director considered one of the all-time greats. And yet in the three successive mid-century epics of Bridge, Lawrence, and Zhivago, he said all he needed to and demonstrated his rare genius in grandiose, unforgettable fashion.

Lawrence turns fifty this year, the perfect occasion for it to be given a new restoration and Blu-ray Disc debut. Sony made the film available this week in a two-disc Blu-ray and a four-disc limited edition gift set. We review the former and the coffee table book from the latter here.

Lawrence of Arabia Blu-ray Disc cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

2.20:1 Widescreen
5.1 DTS-HD MA (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (French, Japanese)
Subtitles: English, English for Hearing Impaired, Arabic, Dutch, French, Japanese
Not Closed Captioned; Most Extras Subtitled in English, Chinese Traditional, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish, Thai
Release Date: November 13, 2012 / Suggested Retail Price: $26.99
Two single-sided discs (BD-50 & BD-25)
Blue Keepcase with Side Snap in Cardboard Slipcover
Also available in 4-Disc Limited Edition Gift Set ($95.99 SRP); Still available as 2-Disc Collector's Edition DVD ($24.96 SRP; June 10, 2008) and on Amazon Instant Video
Previously released as 2-Disc Limited Edition DVD, 1-Disc DVD (April 3, 2001); and 2-Disc Superbit DVD (September 9, 2003)

VIDEO and AUDIO

Living up to the high expectations a film of this stature inspires, Lawrence of Arabia is treated to stunning picture on Blu-ray. The 2.20:1 transfer shows off this hugely-canvased production in all its splendor and glory. From the vivid sky and desert sand to a beach at sunset, the film is full of dazzlingly photographed natural beauty that the 1080p picture shows off in perfect detail. Somehow, even the night scenes are shot to maintain their visual clarity and also remain untroubled. It all looks magnificent, with almost no shortcomings (I noticed a small number of missing frames in a scene of Prince Feisal being interviewed by the Chicago reporter). The detail is terrific enough for Anthony Quinn's prosthetic nose to look glaringly inadequate. The nearly 4-hour movie has no trouble fitting on a single Blu-ray Disc and doesn't seem to require excessive compression as a result.

The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio is not quite on par with the first-rate picture. The dialogue and music is clearly aged, with the former at times sounding hollow. Some of the issues may stem from the blend of materials employed for the 1989 restoration. There is strong bass to the mix and Maurice Jarre's powerful score, which does much of the film's work for it, is nicely presented. The movie gets fewer subtitle choices than most Sony films, although oddly Disc 2's extras are translated in three times as many languages as the film itself.

Peter O'Toole revisits "Lawrence of Arabia" in a hi-def, apparently brand new 2012 interview. A not yet 70-year-old Omar Sharif is among the more prominent subjects of the hour-long 2000 making-of documentary.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Disc One's lone bonus feature is one of the set's two newly-produced supplements. "Secrets of Arabia: A Picture-in-Graphics Track" displays fun facts, behind-the-scenes photos, and excerpts from T.E. Lawrence's autobiography Seven Pillars of Wisdom, while shrinking the film to occupy around one-third of the screen.
When there are no facts, the movie returns to full size, though you can skip to the next tidbit. It's a nice and seamless presentation, full of somewhat screen-specific information on the real Lawrence, this film, its settings, and desert living. If you utilize the navigation options, you could get through this content in much less time than the movie's 227 minutes, though a new insight pops up around every minute.

The bonus Blu-ray's extras begin with the other new addition: "Peter O'Toole Revisits Lawrence of Arabia" (21:07, HD). The actor is much more lucid and articulate opening up about his experience than recent performances and appearances would suggest. His vivid reflections on his first big movie are quite enjoyable, even if some of them seemingly repeat stories already told, based on what is written online. This certainly makes up for his absence from the set's biggest supplement.

That would be the plainly-titled, thorough "The Making of Lawrence of Arabia" (1:01:29), which hails from 2000. It interviews Anthony Quinn, Omar Sharif, Lean's associate Norman Spencer, assistant director Roy Stevens, production designer John Box, costume designer Phyllis Dalton, prop master Eddie Fowlie, second unit director Peter Newbrook, and film historians. Even David Lean is represented in footage from an interview for the 1989 reissue. O'Toole is a glaring nearly no-show, seen only re-recording lines for the restoration and commenting upon that process. The subjects recall the experience at large and certain key sequences in particular. It's a fine documentary, though one that seems much more ordinary now than it did when it was first released. Also, the shortcomings of the 1.33:1 presentation are apparent, with the widescreen footage being windowboxed to a small size.

Director Steven Spielberg expresses his admiration for "Lawrence of Arabia" in this 2000 conversation. A Maan, Jordan camel gets his close-up in this vintage featurette. While making movie history, David Lean shouts direction in "Wind, Sand and Star."

"A Conversation with Steven Spielberg" (8:49) gathers thoughts from one of the film's most distinguished fans. The accomplished director recalls the impact Lawrence had on his teenaged self, who could relate to the settings as a resident of Phoenix, Arizona, and getting the chance to later talk with Lean about the movie while working on the 1989 restoration.

Four short, worn promotional pieces on the film's making appropriately fall under the heading Vintage Featurettes.

The black & white "Maan, Jordan: The Camels Are Cast" (2:00) discusses not only the animals but the men who ride them for the production. The color, more polished, and randomly HD "In Search of Lawrence" (5:00) deals not with O'Toole's casting, instead talking up the sweltering desert filming conditions.

Also presented in HD, "Romance of Arabia" (4:37) focuses on the film's setting, considering the Middle East's history and geography before announcing the cast and celebrating the crew's hard work. From 1970, "Wind, Sand and Star: The Making of a Classic" (4:32) plays audio of then-new O'Toole reflections over otherwise more officially narrated color making-of footage.

A dapper, young, bow-tied Peter O'Toole attends the New York Premiere of "Lawrence of Arabia." A poster and print ad talk up Lawrence of Arabia's Best Picture Oscar win in "Advertising Campaigns."

"New York Premiere" (1:08) gives us a short, old-fashioned black & white newsreel report on the film's Manhattan premiere with clips of celebrity red carpet arrivals.

"Advertising Campaigns" (4:51) is a short featurette displaying and describing marketing artwork from the film's different engagements of varying runtimes. Sadly, this set doesn't even include a single Lawrence trailer, despite some retailers' information to the contrary.

Occupying just 9.03 GB of a disc that could hold up to 50 GB, the bonus platter could have easily accommodated many and probably all of the additional extras that were kept exclusive to the Gift Set.
It's unfortunate that to get that content, you need to buy a big, pricey box set you may very well not have space to display.

WHAT'S MISSING?

A few bonus features from Lawrence's two 2-disc DVD editions do not resurface here. The DVD-ROM feature "Archives of Arabia" and corresponding bibliography can be considered a precursor to this set's "Secrets of Arabia" viewing mode. Less clearly succeeded are the interactive map "Journey with Lawrence", the once-standard "talent files", trailers for Lawrence and other classic Sony movies, and a souvenir booklet reproduction.

The Lawrence of Arabia: Limited Edition Collector's Box Set includes three Blu-rays, a soundtrack CD, a film frame, and a coffee table book.

GIFT SET and BOOK

I did not receive the Limited Edition Gift Set for review. With a $96 list price ($69 more than the two-disc edition I'm reviewing here), that deluxe set adds a third Blu-ray Disc with over 2 hours of bonus features (including a new Martin Scorsese interview, a never-before-released deleted scene, the 80-minute documentary "In Love with the Desert", trailers and TV spots), the soundtrack CD (featuring two previously unreleased tracks), a numbered and mounted 70mm film cell, and a large hardcover coffee table book. The last of those items, simply titled Lawrence of Arabia, was the only component sent by Sony for this review.

The snazzy 90-page book, apparently not available on its own, opens with a retrospective paragraph from Steven Spielberg and closes with one from Martin Scorsese. In between those, we get tons of high-quality photos, a preface by Leonard Maltin, and text by Jeremy Arnold making good use of production quotes and surviving cast reflections. Arnold's information -- on the long journey to get Lawrence's story told on film, the long filming in various trying locations, the finishing touches applied in post-production, and what went into this year's digital restoration -- is revealing and well-researched.

Employed as cover art the last time around, this iconic Lawrence close-up now settles for featuring in the Blu-ray's menu montage backed by vibrantly tinted scenery swatches.

MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The discs' common main menu plays 16:9 screen-filling clips, sometimes in layers, to strands of the iconic Oscar-winning Maurice Jarre score. Like other Sony Blu-rays, this one allows you to place bookmarks on the film, although it is less adept at resuming playback.

The discs are packaged in a standard side-snapped keepcase and topped by an ordinary cardboard slipcover. The one insert supplies a unique code for accessing the complimentary UltraViolet stream/download.

T.E. Lawrence (Peter O'Toole) watches a match burn down in his fingers, setting up one of cinema's great transitions to a desert sunset.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Lawrence of Arabia is nothing if not spectacular. David Lean's epic continues to resonate fifty years later as cinematic expression of the most ambitious order. Sony's Blu-ray offers an extraordinary feature presentation and a strong collection of extras. It's not the definitive release; the Gift Set seems closer to that, but will set you back around $50 more. If you like the movie enough to want to own it on Blu-ray, the two-disc set will do the job just fine. The trick is not minding the missing extras.

Support this site and classic cinema when you buy Lawrence of Arabia now from Amazon.com:
Blu-ray / Blu-ray Gift Set / 2008 DVD / 2001 DVD / 1-Disc DVD / Superbit DVD / Instant Video


Buy from Amazon.com

Related Reviews:
New: Rosemary's Baby • Sunset Boulevard • Brave • The Muppet Christmas Carol • Pete's Dragon
Directed by David Lean, Written by Robert Bolt, and Featuring Omar Sharif & Alec Guinness: Doctor Zhivago
Peter O'Toole: Venus • Ratatouille • Stardust • Kidnapped | Written by Michael Wilson: Planet of the Apes
Best Picture Oscar Winners: The Apartment • The Sound of Music • The Godfather • The King's Speech
1960s Best Picture Nominees: Mary Poppins • America America • The Graduate • A Thousand Clowns • The Hustler
1960s Cinema: 2001: A Space Odyssey • La Jetée • For a Few Dollars More • Barbarella • Once Upon a Time in the West
AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies: Raiders of the Lost Ark • Titanic • Chinatown • Jaws • It's a Wonderful Life • Taxi Driver
The Ten Commandments • The Adventures of Tintin • Up • The Last Temptation of Christ • The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

DVDizzy.com | DVD and Blu-ray Reviews | New and Upcoming DVD & Blu-ray Schedule | Upcoming Cover Art | Search This Site

Search This Site:

DVDizzy.com Top Stories:

Reviewed November 15, 2012.



Text copyright 2012 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1962 Columbia Pictures and 2012 Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.
Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.