Lawrence of Arabia (SE) /A,B-
Columbia/1962/212/ANA 2.20

      Countless specs of sand cover the desert from end to end; try finding a single specific grain. That's like hunting for the faults of Lawrence of Arabia. the brilliant epic vision realized with consummate skill by methodically driven director David Lean.

A waterhole poisoned by hatred and tradition. ©Columbia

   For the initiated, Lawrence of Arabia chronicles the rise of a legendary desert warrior from the ranks of the British Army in Saudi Arabia during World War I. T. E. Lawrence, swept from Lieutenant to Colonel on the winds of his desert campaign against the Turks. The enigmatic character and his exciting adventures are revealed with unique vision through the brilliant script of Michael Wilson and Robert Bolt and the uncompromising vision of director Lean.
    There are so many remarkable aspects to the sweeping Lawrence of Arabia.  In many ways, Lawrence is the story of a man you don't come to know. Nobody really comes to know him. He barely knows himself. On a script level, Lawrence evolves so naturally, one never questions the veracity of the depiction. The enigmatic nature of the character is thoroughly fascinating.
    Visually, Lawrence is one of the greatest. It's not just Freddie Young's breathtakingly brilliant cinematography, but its director David Lean's combinations that burn Lawrence onto your memory with the searing power of direct sunlight. Lean is like a great prizefighter finding that moment of perfection in the ring. The left jabs set up the straight right, endless body punches accumulate like so many grains of sand. There are many of those special moments in Lawrence. The most classic image is Lawrence blowing out a match that turns to a magic desert sunrise. How many editors have been inspired to find such a moment. The miraculous mirage as Sherif Ali's introduction.  Lawrence's return to the desert at the head of a troop of bounding camel riders as the desert fills with the chant of "Awrence." Feisal's first glance of Lawrence revealed through the bomb swept desert dust. The incredible invasion of Aqaba.
    Can you separate the majesty of Maurice Jarre's score from indelible images?  Jarre captures the blowing sand of the desert in the resonant fanfare that represents Lawrence, the jangling saddle bags that bounce in a camel's gait and excitement of battle, all with thrilling chords.  
    David Lean is the real general of the desert, commanding stunning performances across the board. There's ice in Peter O'Toole. His cold, somewhat off-center, depiction of Lawrence is often amazing. Omar Sharif imbues Sherif Ali with a princely dignity. His watery eyes reflect the various moods of the desert and the film. Anthony Quinn, the bigger than life Anthony Quinn, is wonderfully cast as Auda abu Tayi, ferocious desert warrior. The fire of Auda emphasizes the ice of Lawrence. Alec Guinness supplies an extraordinary intellect for his portrayal of Prince Feisal. while Jack Hawkins represents another side of pragmatism in the role of General Allenby. Veteran Claude Raines is given some excellent scenes as wily diplomat Dryden.
    The special edition is packaged in a 2 DVD set. Disc one concludes at the film's intermission. The second disc begins with the Entr'acte music. Well, almost: in fact, one must first suffer through the Columbia logo and a new FBI warning, Not a happy intrusion on the flow of the film.
    The transfer is not up to standard for a film of this stature. Images against the desert sky are consistently outlined with edge enhancement. True, Lawrence of Arabia has more than its share of these difficult peak transition scenes, so more care should have been taken in minimizing this artifact. There are several desert scenes in which the sky is broken by broad white vertical bands down the center of the screen. Are they int he original elements or artifacts of the transfer MPEG chain? At any rate, they are significantly intrusive, even disturbing the perfection of the mirage sequence. The desert night shot which should provide a deep black blanket highlighted by twinkling stars is washed out and grayish with flashing image. Overall, the image is sharp and color saturation very goods. There are a number of scenes which play slightly soft and some reds lean slight to orange. Contrast is strong and black fabrics achieve good density. I thought I caught a couple of jumpy splices. The Dolby Digital 5:1 mix is okay. It seems to play at lower than reference level. Dialogue is clear and the ambience of the desert is adequately captured.
    The heart of this special edition is the documentary cut together by Laurent Bouzereau, which includes some behind the scenes looks at Lawrence's desert shoot and interviews with cast members Anthony Quinn and Omar Sharif, as well as clips from a 1989 interview with David Lean. Property master Eddie Fowlie shares some memorable Lawrence moments as well. Editor  Ann V. Coates and production designer John Box also add their insights of Lawrence. Assistant producer Norman Spencer  Choice details of the shoot are shared, such as the memorable moment when Lawrence returns from the desert rescue and one of his servants races on camel to meet him, only to run right past him and must circle around on his camel for the reunion. How about the quicksand as told from the perspective of Eddie Fowlie. It's an entertaining addition to the great film experience.
     Steven Spielberg contributes a ten minute filmed interview discussing the inspirational effect Lawrence of Arabia had on him as a young man growing up in the desert community of Phoenix, Arizona.
    Unhappily, restorationist Robert A. Harris was not consulted for input on this DVD transfer. Lest we forget, Lawrence of Arabia exists on film in its definitive form through the efforts of Harris's Lean-like perfectionism. Thanks, Robert.



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Robert A. Harris

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