Home Video Review: 'Lawrence Of Arabia' On Blu-Ray

Dec 4, 2012
Originally published on December 4, 2012 6:50 pm

Time now for some home-viewing advice from our movie critic, Bob Mondello. This week, a 50th-anniversary Blu-ray release of the ultimate sand-and-sandals picture: Lawrence of Arabia.

Sand dunes for days, armies astride camels, and 29-year-old newcomer Peter O'Toole as British Army Lt. T.E. Lawrence, leading Bedouin warriors on a charge that would shake the Ottoman empire and shake up moviemaking for decades.

Movies don't get bigger than Lawrence of Arabia. Today a director would do the most expansive shots with digital effects, but they didn't exist in 1962, so David Lean used hundreds of real camels — and thousands of real men — in a landscape so vast it beggars description.

And this film is not just about spectacle. It's a literate epic, witty and spare from the moment young T.E. Lawrence is pulled from his regiment for a diplomatic assignment.

"I'm the man for the job," he insists brightly. "What is the job, by the way?"

A stunningly gorgeous lesson in Middle East politics, the film also has plenty of modern-day parallels. British commanders' reluctance to give the Arab rebels heavy artillery, for instance, mirrors the reluctance of contemporary commanders to give Syrian rebels sophisticated weaponry. And back in 1918, the same city was the prize: Damascus. The more things change, no?

Lawrence of Arabia was gorgeously restored for a 50th-anniversary theatrical run using a process that produced more than four times the sharpness of high-def TV. (Eight times really, since the 65 mm image — roughly twice as big as a normal 35 mm film frame — had to be dealt with in two pieces).

So the new Blu-ray version looks pretty stunning, with all the familiar images — shimmering mirages, men staggering across an uncrossable desert, the attack on Aqaba — and then, more than two hours in, at about the point you think you've seen everything you remember, the word "Intermission" filling the screen.

The four-disc anniversary package also includes a never-before-released sequence, restoration documentaries, a soundtrack album, an original frame from a 65 mm print, even a coffee-table book. It's a big package — entirely befitting Lawrence of Arabia, a movie big enough that Hollywood couldn't even consider making it today.

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And it's time now for some home viewing advice from our movie critic Bob Mondello. This week, a 50th anniversary Blu-ray release of the ultimate sand-and-sandals picture, "Lawrence of Arabia."

(SOUNDBITE OF THEME MUSIC, "LAWRENCE OF ARABIA")

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Twenty-nine-year-old Peter O'Toole astride a camel, leading Bedouin warriors on a charge that would shake the Ottoman Empire and shake up moviemaking for decades.

Movies don't get bigger than "Lawrence of Arabia." Today, a director would do the most expansive shots with digital effects. But they didn't exist in 1962, so David Lean used hundreds of real camels, thousands of real men in a landscape so vast it beggars description. And this film's not just about spectacle. It's a literate epic, witty and spare from the moment young T.E. Lawrence is pulled from his regiment for a diplomatic assignment.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "LAWRENCE OF ARABIA")

PETER O'TOOLE: (as T.E. Lawrence) I'm the man for the job.

CLAUDE RAINS: (as Mr. Dryden) I just wonder about that.

O'TOOLE: (as T.E. Lawrence) Of course, I'm the man for the job. What is the job, by the way?

MONDELLO: There are some startling modern-day parallels too. Once Lawrence is leading the Arab uprising, the British commanders worry about giving him sophisticated weapons.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "LAWRENCE OF ARABIA")

JACK HAWKINS: (as General Allenby) I'll give you a lot of money.

O'TOOLE: (as T.E. Lawrence) Artillery?

HAWKINS: (as General Allenby) I can't.

MONDELLO: Much as world powers now worry about giving Syrian rebels sophisticated weapons. And back in 1918, the same city was the prize.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "LAWRENCE OF ARABIA")

O'TOOLE: (as T.E. Lawrence) They won't be coming for money - not the best of them. They'll be coming for Damascus, which I'm going to give them.

HAWKINS: (as General Allenby) That's all I want.

O'TOOLE: (as T.E. Lawrence) All you want is someone holding down the Turkish right, but I'm going to give them Damascus. And when we've got it, we'll keep it.

MONDELLO: The more things change, no? Gorgeously restored using a process with more than four times the sharpness of high-def TV, the new Blu-ray version has all the familiar images - shimmering mirages, men staggering across an un-crossable desert, the attack on Aqaba. And then, more than two hours in, at about the point you think you've seen everything you remember, the word intermission fills the screen.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MONDELLO: The four-disc package also includes a never-before-released sequence, restoration documentaries, a soundtrack album, an original frame from a 65-millimeter print, even a coffee table book. It's a big package, entirely befitting "Lawrence of Arabia," a movie big enough that Hollywood couldn't even consider making it today. I'm Bob Mondello.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.