Sunday, November 18, 2012

Video review: "Lawrence of Arabia: 50th Anniversary Edition"

“Nothing is written,” T.E. Lawrence famously says. But almost from the moment “Lawrence of Arabia” hit theaters in 1962, it seemed destined to become one of the most iconic films ever made.

It is by most reckonings the pinnacle of the epic movie-making impulse that surged in the 1950s and ‘60s – a grand, lush drama filled with exotic foreign trappings and a history-making tale to tell. It won a slew of awards, including the Best Picture Oscar, and deserved them all.

A restoration of director David Lean’s masterpiece was released in theaters in 1989 – one of the last films distributed in a 70mm print. Now, a new digital remastering from the original film negative has been completed for the movie’s 50th anniversary. After a brief theatrical run, it debuts in two Blu-ray collections.

The story is familiar to any serious film-lover: an oddball British lieutenant (Peter O’Toole) is plucked from obscurity during World War I to act as liaison to the disparate Arabic desert tribes, and ends up forging them into a united army that helps take down the Turkish Empire. As he becomes a famous and charismatic figure, Lawrence finds his sanity crumbling as his lust for power grows.

“Lawrence” has seen a number of video editions, but this represents its first time on Blu-ray. For comparison, I popped in my copy of the film from its 2001 DVD edition and then watched the same scenes on the new Blu-ray. The gap between the two was simply astonishing.

Of course, the image was much crisper and cleaner in the higher-resolution Blu-ray based on Sony’s 4K remastering. But what really struck me were the colors, which were dazzlingly vibrant in the new edition.
If you thought the golden sands and aching blue skies of the desert looked good before, you won’t believe how much they leap off the screen of the Blu-ray. When Lawrence first dons his white Arabic robes, it seemed like O’Toole was standing right before me.

Of course, it comes with a host of extra features – some seen before in previous editions, and some all-new. The highlight is a new graphic-in-picture track that allows the viewer to learn about the customs and rituals of the desert tribes. There is also a featurette featuring O’Toole looking back on the film, newsreel footage of its New York premiere, and more.

The 50th Anniversary Edition is available as either a two-disc version or the four-disc Gift Set. Opt for the latter, and you’ll receive several more featurettes, a never-before-seen deleted scene and conversations with Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese.

The Gift Set also comes with a handsome 88-page coffee table book, a CD of Maurice Jarre’s unforgettable musical score (including previously unreleased tracks) and an authentic 70mm film frame (newly printed and numbered).

“Lawrence of Arabia” has never looked so good.

Movie: 4 stars out of four
Extras: 4 stars

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