Today: April 9, 2024

Lawrence Of Arabia

By Edward Boff – Lawrence Of Arabia truly is a product of a different age of filmmaking; the age of the EPIC!

By Edward Boff

Lawrence Of Arabia
truly is a product of a different age of
; the age of the
In the silver screen’s
ongoing battle with the small, cinema’s first tactic was to make everything as
BIG as possible. They brought in
WIDESCREEN, had HUGE sets, casts of THOUSANDS and running times that demanded
an INTERMISSION for the sake of the audience’s bladders. This was the age that gave us such
massive titles as The Ten Commandments,
Spartacus and what’s still
considered the biggest film production ever, Cleopatra. It also
gave us Lawrence Of Arabia, which has recently received a very shiny
restoration. But how well has this
title from the age of cinematic colossi aged?

In terms of story, Lawrence
differs a lot from other epics of the time in regards to setting and time
period. The titular character is
Lieutenant T.E. Lawrence (Peter O’Toole
in his first starring role), a misfit British officer who, during the First
World War, is sent into Arabia to assess potential allying against the Turks’
Prince Feisal (Alec Guinness). He goes one better though; with the aid
of Sherif Ali (Omar Sharif) he makes
several previously considered impossible raids against the enemy and forms new
alliances, swiftly becoming the figurehead of a full-scale Arab uprising. But Lawrence’s greatest challenges soon
come from his own army superiors and his belief in his own legend…

In the titular role, the whole weight of the production was
definitely upon Peter O’Toole’s shoulders. The pressure must have been great, not only because it was
his first leading film role but also for the task of portraying a key figure of
the First World War. To say he
rose to the challenge is something of an understatement, as his performance
truly is one for the ages. From
the word go he and the film establish Lawrence as a man apart, an eternal
outsider and his whole character arc is based on this premise. His experiences in the desert give him
a chance to reinvent himself, we see him fall into a whole new culture and
role. We follow his eagerness, his
determination, his pride but also his discovery that the new him may not be
exactly someone he’s thrilled to be.

This raises one of the film’s strengths; it doesn’t forget
that this is a war story and, that ultimately, war is hell. For most of the film it’s a big rolling
adventure that focuses on an epic journey where friendships and alliances are
forged. But, as the actual fighting is about to start, things begin to get a
bit more complicated, as Lawrence is forced to commit some less than heroic
acts in the war and comes to question his own motivations. By the end, as we see the rise and fall
of Lawrence’s aid of the people of Arabia, and the behind the scenes politics
at work, questions are definitely raised about what it was ultimately all
for. It can be jarring; the
sweeping hopeful feel of the first few acts juxtaposed to the final battles and
how one really feels about Lawrence by the end; the film deconstructing both
the war hero and the concept of a “war hero”.

The notion of a British war hero leading an Arabian army to
victory is potentially controversial; the concept of the lone white man going
native and leading another culture in rebellion (which has been termed Minority
Warrior by some) has echoed through cinema (from Dances With Wolves to Avatar). It’s also a politically iffy concept,
as it can be seen to be at times condescending to other cultures, even outright

The different cultures at play (the Bedouin, the Howeitat)
are for the most part treated with respect and the film does make overt
criticism of British colonialist attitudes of the time. Plus, it does earn points for having
the Egyptian Omar Sharif play Lawrence’s closest confidant, Sherif Ali. However, a modern audience may cringe
at other casting choices, such as Alec Guinness as Feisal (especially when his
native accent starts slipping through).
That being said, the character is very well written, and the subplot
involving the British plans for the area after the rebellion do show that the
story is far from clear cut “good guys vs. bad guys”. On the whole, Lawrence, despite a few faults, comes across pretty well in its
portrayal of the Middle East, though mainly because there have been far worse
in this regard.

But the big question in this particular context is the
restoration. Given that Lawrence was filmed in Super Panavision
(wide angle lenses and 70mm film), the print has plenty of detail to it and
it’s all up on screen to behold.
Even though there is still quite a bit of grain and a few moments where
the picture is faded, it looks spectacular, with sections that could have been
filmed yesterday. There is not a
speck of dust, scratch or hair on the print to be seen and it brings the desert
backgrounds to life, especially in moments like the celebrated jump cut of a lit
match to the rising sun. Also, the
sound mix is well restored, immersing you in Michael Jarre‘s Oscar-winning and beautiful soundtrack. This restoration of David Lean‘s preferred cut truly is
something that must be experienced on the biggest screen available.

Bottom line, Lawrence
is still as bold an experience from the age of epics as when it premiered fifty
years ago. The nearly four-hour
running time may feel excessive to a modern audience (thankfully there is an
intermission) but the film definitely holds your attention and respect for the
running time and beyond. So to get
a taste of how BIG the movies were back in the day and to understand what Michael Fassbender was watching in Prometheus, definitely give this a

To find where Lawrence Of Arabia is screening near you click HERE

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