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.