The arrival of “Lawrence of Arabia” on Blu-ray demands more than just the film itself, even if David Lean’s masterpiece stands as tall as any epic ever brought to the big screen.
The three-disk 50th anniversary edition release available this week features not just a gorgeously restored edition of the film but a crush of extra features old and brand new. Those willing to pony up for the comprehensive package can enjoy a coffee table book that doubles as an essential viewing guide, the film’s soundtrack complete with two previously unreleased tracks and a mounted 70mm film cell.
Peter O’Toole stars at T.E. Lawrence, one of the most enigmatic figures of the 20th century. The British officer was admired by both his country’s military and the rag-tag Arabian soldiers smitten by his willingness to defy the odds.
Nothing is written, indeed.
Lt. Lawrence initially seeks out Prince Feisal (Alec Guinness) to gain his help with a British assault on Turkish forces. The inspired soldier winds up forming a guerilla army, defying conventional expectations and forging a legend that eventually consumes him.
O’Toole’s performance catapulted him to fame, and not in the way those “Twilight” stars find insta-fortune through six pack abs and tabloid romances. His Lawrence, or “Aurens” as the Arabs affectionately call him, re-imagines the cinematic war hero. Lawrence is both bold and self-delusional, a man making up his fortunes as he moves along. He’s fey and fearless, a sexually ambiguous character who believes mere bullets can’t touch him.
Lean’s epic includes everything that overused term demands, from expansive vistas to a cast worthy of the director’s ambitions. Modern audiences, weaned on CGI majesty and desensitized to spectacle, will be shocked by the scope and grandeur of Lean’s vision. It’s a masterwork on so many levels, from the technical brilliance brought to every composition to the plotting that weaves political cynicism with the tale of a man who thought he could rise above it.
Pick a scene, any scene, and you’ll find a blast of movie magic, be it Omar Sharif’s dramatic entrance or O’Toole’s shadow dancing across the top of a series of trains.
“Lawrence of Arabia” casts the European powers as imperialistic to the core, moving the Arabian pieces across the chess board while imagining how they’ll carve up the region once the shooting stops. The Arab warriors often fare just as poorly, racked by in-fighting and a simplistic view of war and peace.
Lawrence’s famous change of heart that powers the film’s second half remains stubbornly incomplete, and it’s hard not to miss the man’s sprightly nature as “Lawrence of Arabia” draws to its final, sobering moments.
The Blu-ray edition carries over special features from previous home video incarnations, including “The Making of ‘Lawrence of Arabia,'” a conversation with “Arabia” admirer Steven Spielberg (the famed director says the film “pulverized” him), newsreel footage from the movie’s New York premiere, “In Search of Lawrence” and “Romance of Arabia.”
The 89-page book offers so many valuable nuggets from the film shoot it begs to be read along with the film. Actor Jose Ferrer was initially insulted by the size of his role – he played the Turkish official who orders Lawrence to be whipped – but quickly embraced the part.
“If I had to be judged as a film actor by only one performance, I would want to be judged by the five minutes in ‘Lawrence of Arabia,'” Ferrer once said.
The new material features a “pictures in graphics” track to enhance the viewing experience as well as “Peter O’Toole Revisits ‘Lawrence of Arabia.'”
The actor says Lean called him out of the blue to audition for the part after the director’s wife’s spiritual guru recommended him. The actor is also bloody honest about spending so many days astride a camel.
“It is the most uncomfortable, strange feeling,” he says, although he adds he used a sponge cushion to make his posterior hurt a little less.
The copious carryover material may appear dated, but watching “Arabia” footage untouched by the wizards who brought the print back to its current life makes one marvel at the high-def release all the more.