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Although it occupies the number 5 position on the AFI list of the 100 Greatest American Movies Of All Time, every time I watch LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, I become more and more convinced that David Lean’s masterpiece should occupy the top spot. Without question, LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, the multi Academy Award winning Best Picture of 1962, is a completely captivating and completely mesmerizing motion picture, thanks largely to Lean’s monumental vision that earned him the Academy Award for Best Director. Additionally, every frame of this film is a majestic work of art thanks to Freddie Young’s glorious Oscar winning cinematography, plus Academy Award winner Anne V. Coates has so beautifully assembled LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, that her work may be the finest editing job in the history of the cinema. Of course, there is also Maurice Jarre’s haunting Academy Award winning score, which sticks in the viewer’s mind long after the film has ended.

Set during WWI, LAWRENCE OF ARABIA recounts a portion of the military career of one T.E. Lawrence (in a superb portrayal by Peter O'Toole), a seemingly non-descript British officer, who is bored by his duties in the military headquarters in Cairo. However, Lawrence’s knowledge of the desert, the Arab people and their customs has caught the attention of Mr. Dryden (Claude Rains) of the Arab Bureau, who sends the young officer out on a special diplomatic assignment to confer with Prince Feisal (Alec Guinness) and assess their efforts against the Turks, as well as their intentions for the region. Lawrence’s diplomatic mission quickly becomes something much more, as his assessment of the situation entails him leading a small band of Prince Feisal’s army across the supposedly uncrossable Nafud Desert, thus allowing them to attack the unfortified side of Turk stronghold in the port of Aqaba- the side from which no one should be able to launch such an attack.

Sherif Ali (Omar Sharif) considers Lawrence's plan to cross Nafud Desert to be a fool's errand, but goes along because should they survive, the taking of Aqaba would help to turn the tide in the war against the Turks. While the taking of Aqaba is a monumental achievement, Lawrence finds his greatest challenge during his time in the desert to be uniting the various Arab tribes, who would just as soon make war on each other, as they would the Turks. This brief introduction to the plot barely scratches the surface of LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, but those who have never seen this complex film really need to experience it first hand and not through a review. The absolutely outstanding cast of LAWRENCE OF ARABIA also features Anthony Quinn, Jack Hawkins, José Ferrer, Anthony Quayle and Arthur Kennedy.

Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment has made their Superbit DVD edition of LAWRENCE OF ARABIA available in a 2.20:1 wide screen presentation that has been enhanced for 16:9 displays. For the Superbit release, Robert A. Harris, who undertook the complete restoration of LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, was consulted on the final color corrections applied to Columbia’s high definition master of the film, which was then down converted to create a new DVD master. This new master is more in keeping with David Lean’s intentions for the movie’s look, and I must say, this presentation offers a more film like appearance than the previous DVD master. The image seems sharper and definition the definition better on this incarnation, plus on my big screen display, LAWRENCE OF ARABIA looks a lot more like the restored print I saw at New York’s Ziegfeld Theater.

Colors are very rich in appearance and incredibly vibrant. In fact, the desert sequences almost seem to pulse from the heat of the yellow sun beating down on the golden sands. The stark blues of the desert skies are effectively rendered and contrast nicely against the warmer tones of the desert landscapes. Gone is the slightly red tinge applied to the color correction of the previous incarnation of the film, which affected everything, including the blueness of the skies. Flesh tones can run a little warm, due to the fact that just about every character is dark skinned or sporting a desert sun induced tan. Blacks appear absolutely perfect, as do the whites. Contrast is truly excellent, as is the level of shadow detail running through this forty-plus-year-old large format film. The restored film element used for the transfer has some minor blemishes and other visible anomalies, but is otherwise in excellent condition. This being the Superbit title, the increased bit rate of the process keeps digital compression artifacts well concealed. However, the necessities of the Superbit process do move the film’s intermission point about twenty-seven minutes into the second disc, instead of the end of the first.

LAWRENCE OF ARABIA comes with 5.1 channel soundtracks in the varieties of Dolby Digital and DTS. For this release, the original six track masters created for the film’s 1988 restoration are used as the source for the digital soundtracks. Right away I have to say that this is an astonishingly good vintage soundtrack, with plenty of power and presence. It may not be up there with today’s jaw dropping fully digital track, but man, LAWRENCE OF ARABIA does indeed sound great on this Superbit release. The track has that cavernous quality that I remember from its engagement at the Ziegfeld, with plenty of ambient sound and musical fill going to the rear channels. Additionally, sound effects are exceedingly well deployed in the surround channels.

The forward soundstage has a very broad and spacious quality, which not only enhances the sound effect, but Maurice Jarre’s music. There are some limitations in the overall fidelity of these vintage recordings, which does affect the music somewhat, but the overall quality is still impressive. The bass channel is solid and does get a few licks in during the course of the film, but isn’t anywhere near to modern levels. Dialogue is always completely understandable, although anything looped in postproduction is somewhat obvious. As for the differences between Dolby Digital and DTS, there are fairly inconsequential, due to the age and overall fidelity of the forty-year-old recordings. DTS offers a bit more musicality and spaciousness, but probably not enough for average listeners to notice. Subtitles are provided on the DVD in English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, and Thai. No supplements are provided on this Superbit title, since all of the storage space on the DVD has been allotted to the bit rate for both the video and audio.

LAWRENCE OF ARABIA is truly one of the greatest, if not the greatest motion pictures of all time. The Superbit DVD is as close as anyone will get to seeing a restored print of LAWRENCE OF ARABIA this side of high definition. If seeing and hearing the absolute finest edition of LAWRENCE OF ARABIA is important to you, then this is a must own DVD. Absolutely recommended.


Lawrence of Arabia (Superbit Collection) (1962)


DVD reviews are Copyright © 2003 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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