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Lawrence of Arabia: 50th Anniversary Edition (Blu-ray Review)

8 Nov, 2012 By: John Latchem

Street 11/13/12
Sony Pictures
$26.99 2-disc Blu-ray, $95.99 3-disc limited-edition Blu-ray set
Rated ‘PG.’
Stars Peter O’Toole, Omar Sharif, Alec Guinness, Anthony Quinn, Jack Hawkins, José Ferrer, Anthony Quayle, Claude Rains.

Most epic films of the 1950s and 1960s followed a rather predictable formula, invariably focusing on some aspect of Biblical or ancient history. Director David Lean’s classic Lawrence of Arabia strayed a bit from the paradigm, in that it focused on a flawed protagonist of modern times and featured an ambiguous ending. The film did, after all, begin by depicting the motorcycle accident that killed T.E. Lawrence in 1935 before flashing back to his efforts to unite the Arabs against the Ottoman Empire during World War I.

Historical significances aside, the film's subplots of Muslim tribal warfare give it an eerie resonance today.

Peter O’Toole manages to capture all the facets of Lawrence’s journey as a bored young officer seeking an adventure in the desert, only to discover a vast chasm between romanticism and reality.

The 1962 film ended up winning seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director.

It’s a testament to the increased capacity of Blu-ray that they fit not only the complete restored movie on a single disc, but also a “Secrets of Arabia Picture-in-Graphics” viewing mode that displays biographical information, production notes, photographs and trivia during the film.

The restoration seems like a minor miracle given the way the film had been butchered over the years. For re-releases in the 1960s and 1970s, producers bowed to the requests of theater owners and began trimming the film until it was closer to three hours. A restoration in 1989 brought the film back closer to its original form, with Lean labeling the result a director’s cut.

The Blu-ray version runs three hours and 47 minutes, including overture and intermission, aided by a lush new 4K transfer and digital makeover to remove dirt and damage to the original negatives. The stunning desert landscapes of Freddie Young’s Oscar-winning cinematography are so pristine you may as well be looking out a window.

Most of the extras on the Blu-ray bonus disc are holdovers from the DVD version, including an hour-long making-of documentary, an interview with Steven Spielberg and four vintage featurettes. The disc also includes a featurette about the film’s advertising campaigns through the years, which details when the film was cut for length, leading to the restoration in 1989.

New to disc is an interview with O’Toole reflecting on the film and sharing stories about his relationship with his co-stars.

The deluxe collector’s edition includes another bonus disc, which may peeve some collectors who were hoping not to have to buy an expensive and bulky boxed set to get their hands on some of this material.

The centerpiece is the full version of a deleted balcony scene between Lawrence and Gen. Allenby, which wasn’t restored because the audio elements were missing and they couldn’t quite get the redubbing to work (especially since the late Jack Hawkins’ voice has been noticeably replaced by Charles Gray).

This disc also includes a featurette about how the film was converted to HD, a fascinating subject for techno-geeks. The other new extra is an interview with Martin Scorsese called “The Lure of the Desert,” which was recorded recently enough for the director to name drop Prometheus and how Michael Fassbender’s character was influenced by Lawrence.

Rounding out the disc are more archival materials, including newsreels, old featurettes and AFI interviews with William Friedkin, Sydney Pollack and Spielberg.

As an added treat, the deluxe set includes a soundtrack CD containing 42 minutes of Maurice Jarre’s Oscar-winning musical score.

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