It was pretty awesome to have my first experience with Lawrence of Arabia be on the big screen, thanks to a bring-back event. Wow, this film is the true definition of a sprawling epic. Director David Lean is a mastermind, adapting the remarkable true story of British war hero Thomas Edward Lawrence with stroke after stroke of mastery.
The Ultra Panavision 70 MM cinematography, with a wide, expansive aspect ratio of 2.20:1, was absolutely breathtaking. The shot selection and framing fully displayed the majestic grandeur of nature; yet just as impactful were the raw human themes explored through the dynamic story. Peter O’Toole’s portrayal of Lawrence earned him the first of his eight Academy Award nominations, and deservedly so. The progression and arc of his character is worthy of hours upon hours of scrutiny and analysis. The intense struggles he faces physically, mentally, and emotionally put him in a place of personal desolation comparable to the desert in which he finds himself for the majority of the film. Lawrence is conflicted by opposing allegiances to his country, and to humanity in general. The corruption of politics, the injustices of prejudice and racial profiling, and the brutality of war are all examined with striking realism and conviction. Even over the course of the runtime of approximately 220 minutes, the methodical pacing is handled with great virtuosity. The transcendent scope of the narrative deserved every second of the runtime. Each situation, plot point, and character is developed with noteworthy craftsmanship and creative passion. The audience is placed in the story along with the characters, palpably connecting and reacting to every single emotion, action, and condition of the chronicle. Viewing this film was not a simple leisurely trip to the movies, but a tangible, moving experience.
The fact that, in 1962, they pulled off production design and costume design this magnificent is astounding. Some of the massive set pieces contain hundreds of extras and were likely logistical nightmares. The practical visual effects were also stellar for the time period, and I applaud every individual that made these dazzling sequences a reality. Even still, it would be ignorant of me to disregard the glorious musical score from Maurice Jarre. From the energetic overture in the opening of the film, to the subtler ambiance and foundational material throughout the rest of the runtime, the music undoubtedly lives up to the standards of the epic story.
As I am indeed about 57 years late to the party, there is nothing that I can say about Lawrence of Arabia that has not been said countless times over the decades. But, I will mention that if you have never had the opportunity to view it on the big screen, make that an absolute priority. The grand nature of this film is second to none.
Director: David Lean
Writers: Robert Bolt and Michael Wilson
Producers: Sam Spiegel and David Lean
Starring: Peter O’Toole, Alec Guinness, Anthony Quinn, Jack Hawkins, Omar Sharif, Jose’ Ferrer, Anthony Quayle, Claude Rains, Arthur Kennedy, Donald Wolfit, I.S. Johar, Gamil Ratib, Michel Ray, John Dimech, and Zia Mohyeddin