LAWRENCE OF ARABIA
Having been fortunate enough to see director David Lean's epic LAWRENCE OF ARABIA ($40) in New York's Ziegfield Theater after it's restoration, I know that the film historians and critics are absolutely right about this amazing motion picture. LAWRENCE OF ARABIA is undeniably one of the greatest films ever made. There is something about seeing LAWRENCE OF ARABIA on the big screen that convinces one that there is indeed a power and a majesty, which certifies filmmaking as a genuine art form. One would never think that a movie containing vast amounts of sand, hundreds of camels and no women could be something truly great, but LAWRENCE OF ARABIA has the key ingredients required for greatness- a script with well-defined characters, actors who bring those characters to life and a director who can tell a story with a series of superb visuals. These are three areas where LAWRENCE OF ARABIA truly excels.
Set primarily during the First World War, LAWRENCE OF ARABIA dramatizes the life of British officer T.E. Lawrence, beautifully played by Peter O'Toole in his screen debut. Bored by his usual duties, Lawrence gladly accepts a special diplomatic assignment offered to him by Mr. Dryden (Claude Rains) of the Arab Bureau. Lawrence is sent out into the desert to confer with Prince Feisal (Alec Guinness) and assess the progress of the Arab revolt against the Turks. Quickly becoming more than a mere observer, Lawrence's assessment of the situation entails leading the Arab forces across the uncrossable Nafud Desert and attacking the Turk stronghold in the port of Aqaba, from the side from which no one should be able to launch such an attack. Of course, Sherif Ali (Omar Sharif) considers Lawrence's plan to be a fool's errand, but goes along because if the plan were successful, it would turn the tide in the war in North Africa. During his time in the desert, Lawrence accomplishes much more than simple military victories- Lawrence finds his greatest success with his ability to unite the rival Arab factions, who would just as soon make war on one another, as they would the Turks. Certainly, this simple plot summary doesn't do justice to LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, but I'd rather just whet one's appetite for this marvelous film, instead of giving away the entire thing.
Every frame of LAWRENCE OF ARABIA is magnificent to behold thanks to Freddie Young's amazing cinematography and the restoration done by Robert A. Harris. I also have to commend the work of Anne V. Coates because LAWRENCE OF ARABIA could quite possibly be one of the most beautifully edited film of all time. There is something truly powerful about the way that certain shots come together in the film. Of course, there aren't enough accolades that one could heap upon director David Lean, it is his vision that we see up on the screen and it is truly awe inspiring. The first rate cast of LAWRENCE OF ARABIA also includes Anthony Quinn, Jack Hawkins, Josť Ferrer, Anthony Quayle and Arthur Kennedy.
Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment has made LAWRENCE OF ARABIA available on DVD in a wide screen presentation that has been enhanced for playback on 16:9 displays. The new transfer frames the film quite close to its 2.20:1 theatrical aspect ratio and looks mighty impressive. In general, the transfer provides a sharp finely detailed image that should be exceedingly pleasing to those with large displays. Of course, after seeing LAWRENCE OF ARABIA in 70mm, viewing it on a smaller monitor doesn't have the same impact. For this reason, epic films like LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, CLEOPATRA and BEN HUR should be re-issued theatrically every few years. Colors are vividly rendered on the DVD, but I seem to remember that the hues present in the theatrical print offered a bit more oomph and depth. Still, this remains a truly excellent home presentation of the film. Additionally, flesh tones are always appealing and stand out quite well against the desert backgrounds. There are no signs of chromatic distortion or bleeding anywhere in the image. Blacks are solid, plus the picture delivers a good level of shadow detail, as well as marvelous contrast and depth. The restored film elements are impressive, with the only overt flaws being individual missing frames that occur a few times during the presentation. LAWRENCE OF ARABIA is presented on two dual layered DVD, with the break between discs coming logically at the intermission. Neither disc shows any signs of digital compression artifacts.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack is a very good representation of the film's restored soundtrack. I don't think that LAWRENCE OF ARABIA has sounded quite so good in the home venue as it does here, and the track certainly comes close to recreating the cavernous sound that I remember from the theatrical presentation. The inherent frequency limitations that one associates with forty-year-old audio recordings do remind one of the film's age, but the soundtrack is still quite good and helps to make the breathtaking visuals even more involving. It is in Maurice Jarre's classic score where the age of the recordings are most noticeable, but the music still holds its own, sounding very respectable at modestly loud listening levels. As for the bass channel, it is more than adequate to the task, but one isn't going to find anything ground shaking on this track. The forward soundstage has very good channel separation, which is utilized for directional sound effects, as well as creating a stereo image for the film's score. Dialogue is cleanly reproduced and maintains full intelligibility throughout. Voices do sound a bit flat at times, but this it due to age of the recordings and that fact that that they are being reproduced at a level of resolution beyond the wildest dreams of 1962 sound engineers. The surround channels do provide some interesting effects during the course of the film, but are not at the level of activity that one finds in a modern soundtrack. An English Dolby Surround soundtrack is also encoded onto the DVD, as are French, Spanish, and Portuguese language tracks. Subtitles are provided in English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, and Thai.
Full motion video, animation and sound all serve to enhance the interactive menus. Through the menus, one has access to the standard scene selection and set up features. Supplements are also accessible through the menus and are contained on disc two. The Making of Lawrence of Arabia is a very enjoyable documentary that runs slightly over an hour. Covering the production and the film's subsequent restoration, the documentary will appeal to fans, as well as those experiencing LAWRENCE OF ARABIA for the very first time. A Conversation with Steven Spielberg features the director talking about his involvement with the restoration of LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, as well as having the opportunity to talk about how the film affected him, plus his meetings with David Lean, whom Spielberg obviously idolized.
Four short featurettes from the film's original release are also included on the DVD. Wind, Sand and Star: The Making of a Classic, Maan, Jordan: The Camels Are Cast, In Search of Lawrence and Romance of Arabia are all 1960's puff pieces designed to stir up interest in the epic film, but are fun to watch now because they have become a bit creaky. Newsreel footage from New York premiere is also present on the DVD, as is a theatrical trailer, bonus trailers, an animated gallery of advertising materials and talent files. Both disc one and disc two offer a number of DVD-ROM supplements that include Archives of Arabia and the Journey With Lawrence interactive map. Both of these features are excellent and worth checking out for those with a properly equipped computer.
LAWRENCE OF ARABIA is truly one of the greatest motion pictures of all time. Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment has produced a winning DVD presentation of the film that film buffs will most assuredly want in their possession. Absolutely recommended to them and anyone else building a DVD collection of classic films.
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