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David Lean
Peter O'Toole, Alec Guinness, Anthony Quinn, Jack Hawkins, Omar Sharif, Jose Ferrer, Anthony Quayle, Claude Rains, Arthur Kennedy
Writing Credits:
T.E. Lawrence (writings), Robert Bolt, Michael Wilson

Director David Lean follows the heroic true-life odyssey of T.E. Lawrence (Peter O'Toole) in this dramatic portrait of the famed British officer's journey to the Middle East. 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.

Box Office:
$12 million.

Rated PG

Aspect Ratio: 2.20:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English Dolby Surround 2.0
French Dolby Surround 2.0
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 227 min.
Price: $39.95
Release Date: 4/3/2008

• “The Making of Lawrence of Arabia” Documentary
• “A Conversation With Steven Spielberg” Featurette
• Four Original Featurettes
• Advertising Campaigns
• New York Premiere Newsreel


Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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Lawrence of Arabia: Collector's Edition (1962)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (October 15, 2012)

Back when I was a shallow, callow youth - as opposed to the shallow, callow adult I became - I tried hard to cultivate an appreciation for the so-called “classic” films. Periodically I gave some of these famous flicks a look, but they never did much for me. Oh, I enjoyed movies like Casablanca and Citizen Kane, but nothing about them made me truly appreciate why they merited such legendary status. They were well-made but at the time, I thought they seemed a bit stilted and lifeless compared to newer films.

My impressions of older movies changed for good in 1992, however, when I borrowed my Dad’s laserdisc copy of 1962’s Lawrence of Arabia. I had never seen the film, and frankly, I only bothered with it due to boredom. I had nothing better to do, so I figured I’d give this alleged classic a whirl. Based on the movie’s extremely long running time and my Dad’s favorable opinion of it - he and I frequently disagree about films - I fully expected to be bored out of my gourd.

How wrong I was! Instead of the plodding snooze-fest I anticipated, Lawrence presented one of the most visceral and compelling films I’d ever seen. This was no static and conservative epic bore. Lawrence swirled and swooped and provided a grand, imaginative vision that made the hours pass quickly. My Dad isn’t often right about films, but I owed him one on this occasion; if I hadn’t been bored enough to borrow the LD, I may never have experienced the joys of this winner.

No level of praise for Lawrence can be excessive, for it really is one of the rare films that deserves all of its accolades. Frankly, movies don’t get any better than this. No, I can’t claim that it’s my favorite picture of all-time - there are a few other flicks that I enjoy more - but I believe it makes a strong claim as the best movie ever made.

Lawrence functions as a semi-biography of British office TE. Lawrence (Peter O’Toole), but it focuses solely on his experiences during World War I. At that time he worked in the Middle East - as indicated by the title - and made quite a name for himself with his organization of an Arab army. Lawrence covers the beginnings of his involvement with this group and shows what feats they accomplished.

Admittedly, that’s an excessive oversimplification of the storyline, but plot isn’t the emphasis during Lawrence. Instead, the film works more as a psychological study of a great man, and it also provides an interesting look at the Arabs as a whole. In both regards, the movie succeeds swimmingly.

I’m always struck at the depth given to the portrayals of the Arabs. They aren’t shown as simple “camel jockeys” or solely in the stereotypical manners in which we’ve grown accustomed. We see them shown “warts and all”, with both positive and negative aspects of the culture on display. I thought the film gave a rich and varied look at them.

We also get a fine view of Lawrence himself, wonderfully portrayed by O’Toole. The character occupies an extremely high amount of screen time, and O’Toole must experience and embrace a wide variety of emotions. He does so terrifically well as he shows the many dimensions of Lawrence as he goes through different experiences. In O’Toole’s hands, Lawrence becomes a genuinely multi-dimensional figure. Others could have turned him into some sort of cardboard hero, but that thin fate never befalls Lawrence here.

Actually, the entire cast of Lawrence seems excellent, and it’s hard to pick out any specific talents. However, in the category of “making the most of little screentime” fall Claude Rains and Jose Ferrer. The former plays British civil servant Dryden and provides a marvelously droll and circumspect performance as the elusive little politician. Although I also liked Rains in leading roles, he seems to have been at his best with supporting parts, such as during Casablanca. He makes the otherwise-drab character of Dryden much more lively and interesting and he creates an indelible impression.

As for Ferrer, his character doesn’t even get a name; he plays the “Turkish Bey”. TB appears only during one brief segment of the film, but he has a strong impact, largely due to Ferrer’s impeccably understated performance. He makes the character powerful but not overwhelming and his work sticks with the viewer long after TB vanishes from the screen.

Although the excellent acting makes Lawrence strong, it was the amazing direction of David Lean that led the movie to be so perfect. Despite the film’s length, it truly flies by with ease. When the first version of Lawrence hit DVD, a slew of “epics” had recently appeared on the format. I grew impatient with each of them at times, though some more than others. Cleopatra, Ben-Hur and The Greatest Story Ever Told all had more than a few plodding moments.

That isn’t the case with Lawrence, even though it seems the most likely candidate to inspire boredom since I’ve already seen it a number of times. Back in 2001, I’d never watched Cleo or Greatest Story, and I’d only viewed Ben-Hur once. Despite my familiarity with Lawrence, though, I continue to find it to be captivating. If anything, the movie has become even more fascinating with repeated viewings.

One of the main reasons Lawrence so impressed me and overcame my skepticism back in 1992 stemmed from the sumptuous visual style. Lawrence presents consistently gorgeous images, but that’s not the reason why it works so well. After all, plenty of other movies - including the epics I already mentioned - look terrific.

However, the manner in which Lawrence differs relates to the vivid and fluid camerawork and the impeccably composed shots. The film abounds with vibrant and memorable visuals. From the famed “match” transition early in the movie to Ali’s entrance to Lawrence’s rescue of Gasim to the dance on top of the train to... Well, just suffice it to say that Lawrence offers some wonderfully visceral shots that will stay with you long after the film ends.

It’s really the cinematography that makes Lawrence stand out from the other classic films I’ve seen, and it’s the visual aspects that make it truly timeless. Lawrence is one of exceedingly few older movies that looks like it could have been made yesterday. As I watched it, I tried to determine what scenes looked dated or lacked flair, and I really couldn’t find any. I suppose a 2012 version of Lawrence would probably offer more graphic violence and profanity, but otherwise I can think of nothing that would be changed. It’s nearly perfect as it is.

I could go on and on about Lawrence of Arabia, for it’s about as good as a movie can get. However, I’ll stop here. If you’ve already experienced its wonders, you don’t need more babbling from me, and if you haven’t seen it, I’d prefer to leave most of its delights to be fresh for you. Lawrence of Arabia is the epic for people who hate epics and the classic for those who think anything made before 2000 is “old”.

The DVD Grades: Picture A-/ Audio A-/ Bonus C+

Lawrence of Arabia appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.20:1 on these single-sided, double-layered DVDs; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. This was a consistently positive presentation.

Sharpness seemed solid at all times. The original DVD exhibited notable softness on occasion, but those concerns never appeared here. Instead, the image came across as tight and well defined. Jagged edges also failed to manifest themselves, and none of the previous disc’s minor shimmering popped up here either. Unfortunately, some light edge enhancement still seemed to mar the picture. This seemed lessened from what appeared on the previous DVD, but occasionally I saw some small examples of haloes.

Print concerns remained about the same. I noted occasional specks and nicks, and some odd vertical white bars danced in the center of the screen during a number of scenes. The latter were very light and could easily be missed, I suspect, but I saw them at least 10 times throughout the film. (Apparently these are stuck in the original negative and resulted from the heat on location, which makes them totally unavoidable without undesirable digital tampering.)

I also witnessed some minor “pulsing” in some images during the first scene at Feisal’s tent; this only affected three-shots in which we saw Lawrence, Ali and Brighton, and while it was light, it remained pretty noticeable.

Throughout Lawrence, I was treated to consistently rich and accurate colors. Due to the setting, sandy tones dominated the proceedings, and since most of the clothes were either white or black, one might think that the film would be a bust in regard to brighter hues. However, this was not the case, as more vivid colors popped up on many occasions. The hues always appeared clear and vibrant, and they lacked any concerns related to bleeding or noise.

Black levels seemed consistently deep and rich, and contrast levels appeared strong. These areas were important given the many extremely bright desert scenes and the darker objects that appeared in those shots. The various tones of white were clean and accurate, and shadow detail usually seemed appropriately heavy without excessive opacity.

The only significant exceptions were examples of “day for night” photography. Like many films of the period, Lawrence used a fair amount of this style, a method that usually renders the image more dark than it should be. The DFN shots were less attractive than the rest of the movie, but they seemed acceptable.

When I decided on my grade for the picture quality of Lawrence, I debated whether or not it merited the “A-” it eventually got. Usually I reserve a grade that high for a virtually flawless image, and Lawrence included a few minor flaws. However, I believed those issues remained quite minor, and the rest of the package seemed so solid that I felt it really did earn that “A-”.

To be sure, it rectified most of the problems with the 2001 DVD of the film. That presentation suffered from notable edge enhancement, a lot of softness and occasionally incorrect color timing. This was a consistently pleasing presentation.

Though not without flaws, the film’s Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack appeared generally good, especially for its age. I wasn’t ready for such a fine auditory experience. Lawrence offered a wonderfully active and involving mix. Across the front spectrum I heard clearly delineated music throughout the film, and the side channels also boasted quite a lot of ambient sound. Sometimes I found the speech that came from the right or left to seem too localized - occasionally it sounded like a mono recording that had been artificially made stereo - but most of the dialogue appeared to emanate from fairly natural spots in the field. Effects were placed neatly, and they blended together well to create a vivid and lively impression.

Surround usage seemed terrific as well. Most films of this vintage simply offer mild reinforcement of the forward channels, but Lawrence went far beyond that. The score appeared so actively from the rears that it seemed to provide a distinct personality of its own, and effects also presented unique audio. The latter generally appeared to be monaural, but I thought I detected some stereo surround indications at times. In any case, the rear speakers added lots of engrossing effects, especially during battle scenes. On those occasions, the surrounds became very involved in the process and they created a surprisingly convincing and rich environment that made the action even more exciting.

Audio quality appeared inconsistent and occasionally showed its age, but for the most part I thought the film sounded very good. Dialogue generally seemed nicely clear and natural, without many signs of edginess. Due to problems with the original audio stems, some lines were re-recorded when the restoration was performed in the late Eighties. These instances usually seemed pretty obvious, with the most glaring example taking place soon after the intermission. When Bentley and Feisal first chat, not only do some of the latter’s lines not match his lip movements well, but I also saw some abrupt cuts right before the audio changed.

Nonetheless, these problems only appeared during a few scenes. Otherwise speech was pretty warm and distinct. A little edginess interfered with a few louder scenes - particularly in the parliament toward the end of the film - but again, these were minor, as were any concerns related to the movie’s effects. Actually, I expected a fair amount of distortion from these elements, but I didn’t really hear any. Even during explosions or gunfire, the track remained clean and accurate. The effects showed their age, as they lacked the dynamics we’d expect from modern efforts, but they still sounded very clear and accurate for their age.

As with the speech, music seemed moderately inconsistent, but for the most part the score appeared very well rendered. At its worst, these aspects of the track appeared typical of movies from the era. The music could be a bit thin and lifeless at times, though it never seemed poorly reproduced. However, during most of Lawrence, the score came across as wonderfully bright and dynamic. Highs appeared nicely clear and distinct, and bass response could be warm and tight. When I heard drums beat, they appeared bold and offered the appropriate thump. Inevitably, the soundtrack for Lawrence of Arabia betrayed some flaws; these are inevitable for a movie that’s at its 50th birthday. However, I thought it sounded well above average for the era, and I found it to provide a very satisfying mix.

As I mentioned, the picture of this 2008 Collector’s Edition offered substantial improvements over those found on the original 2001 DVD. I thought both discs provided virtually identical audio, as did the 2003 Superbit release; I’ve not observed any auditory differences among the three.

In terms of picture, though, I thought the 2008 CE and the Superbit seemed very similar. I’d guess that both came from the same transfer, honestly, as they displayed comparable visuals. And that’s a good thing. The Superbit made Lawrence look nice but it lacked supplements. As we’ll see, the CE helps change that situation.

The CE mostly repeats the elements from the 2001 Limited Edition. DVD One opens with some ads. We get promos for “The David Lean Collection” and A Raisin in the Sun. These also appear in the Previews domain on DVD Two.

The main components on DVD Two revolve around video programs, the most significant of which is a documentary produced by Laurent Bouzereau. Creatively named The Making of Lawrence of Arabia, this 61-minute and 25-second show offers a good look at the creation of the film. It combines film clips, a few production shots, and interview snippets from a variety of participants; we hear from actors O’Toole, Sharif, and Quinn, director Lean, director of photography Freddie Young, production designed John Box, property master Eddie Fowlie, editor Anne V. Coates, costume designer Phyllis Dalton, second unit director Peter Newbrook, Lean’s assistant Norman Spencer, film historian Adrian Turner, and assistant director Roy Stevens. O’Toole and Lean were interviewed in 1989, but the other participants seem to have been filmed more recently.

Although this program doesn’t compare with the stunning documentary found on Cleopatra, it nonetheless provides a fairly solid impression of the production. I’ve seen many features produced by Bouzereau - he also did those found on the Hitchcock DVDs from Universal - and they’re uniformly fine. The show doesn’t try to offer a thorough chronological examination of the production; instead, it starts with the basics of the film’s beginnings - how Lean and company got interested in the subject and how the actors were cast - and then jumps about other subjects with little rhyme or reason. Although the presentation doesn’t seem disorganized and messy, it does feel as though it could have come about in a more logical progression.

Nonetheless, there’s a lot of good material to be found in the program. We hear a nice mix of facts and anecdotes as the participants give their impressions of various aspects of the shoot. I wasn’t overwhelmingly impressed by this documentary, but I thought it seemed largely compelling.

A separate interview appears in A Conversation With Steven Spielberg. That director’s fondness for the works of David Lean is well-known, and one can even find obvious homages to Lawrence and other Lean works in some of Spielberg’s films. With obvious enthusiasm, Spielberg discusses his experiences with Lawrence and comments upon the reasons for his fascination for the movie in this eight-minute and 48-second bit. It’s a solid little piece that was fun to watch; Spielberg provides some good information, and it was fun to see the delight Lawrence continues to inspire in him.

In addition, the DVD includes four original featurettes. Three of these appear to have come from the time of the movie’s first theatrical appearance. “Maan, Jordan: The Camels Are Cast” provides a two minute look at the four-legged stars of Lawrence, while “In Search of Lawrence” wastes five minutes with pompous declamations about the heat. “Romance of Arabia” offered a little more material about the film, but that four-minute and 40-second piece also seemed a bit thin.

“Wind, Sand and Star: The Making of a Classic” appears to come from a re-release of the movie, as it discusses the awards won by Lawrence; however, I couldn’t determine the exact timeframe. Anyway, this was probably the best of the four featurettes. While it still lacked depth, it provided some nice production material plus voice-over snippets from O’Toole during its four minutes, 34 seconds.

A few other video pieces also appear. We find a fairly dull 68-second newsreel from the film’s New York premiere, and in Advertising Campaigns, we get a four-minute and 51-second run-through the various print promotions used for the movie. That program includes a nice voice-over that discusses the campaigns.

Does this CE drop elements from the original 2001 release? Yup, and some of them were significant. We lose “Talent Files”, trailers, a good booklet, and a collection of very interesting DVD-ROM pieces. I miss most of these and they should have reappeared here.

The plaudits Lawrence of Arabia has received over the years are completely appropriate, as this stunning epic fully deserves as much praise as can be heaped upon it. Lawrence is an amazing piece of work that never fails to entertain and delight. As for the DVD, it provides generally solid picture with very good sound and some decent extras. Put simply, movies don’t get any better than Lawrence of Arabia, and this flick belongs in the library of every collector.

On its own, this Collector’s Edition of Lawrence of Arabia stands as the film’s best release to date. It mixes a few good extras with the high quality movie presentation found on the Superbit DVD. Unfortunately, big Lawrence fans who own the original 2001 disc won’t be able to replace it. While the 2008 disc looks much better than that version, it drops some good extras. Nonetheless, the 2008 CE gives us the best combination of movie presentation and supplements to date.

To rate this film, visit the original review of LAWRENCE OF ARABIA

Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main