"Lawrence of Arabia" Throwback Review
*Seen in 70mm with overture and intermission*
It's easy to see why David Lean was interested in telling the story of T.E. Lawrence. Both men were told their tasks would be impossible. For Lawrence, it was trekking across the vast deserts of Arabia. For Lean, it was making a nearly four-hour film with no box office stars, no love story, and little action, all at an exorbitant cost. But just as it said in the film: For some men, nothing is written unless they write it.
Despite my love for biopics and historical epics, as well as the film's overwhelming praise as one of the best of its kind, I've waited years to watch Lawrence of Arabia. I knew watching it on anything less than 70mm would be an insult to the work of Lean and cinematographer Freddie Young. And my god what great work it is!
This is pure spectacle and scale. From the opening match-to-desert cut, my eyes widened with disbelief at the imagery, which has been pristinely restored to near 4K quality.
There is a shot later in the film where the shimmering desert heat conceals a distant character to only a speck on the horizon. The shot holds until this figure begins to take form, revealing itself as the savior in the desert. As I rewatch the scene on my computer, it looks terrible. The speck cannot be distinguished on such a small screen, nor does the horizon appear as vast and harsh. But as I watched it on 70mm, I leaned forward and, just like the character, strained to see through the heat towards the figure. Once the figure became clear, and Maurice Jare's score began to swell towards that illustrious theme, you truly appreciate the power of cinema.
By seeing the 8-hour version of War & Peace and this within the same year, I have witnessed two movies whose scale can never be replicated again, especially in this age of computers, which sacrifice boldness for practicality.
Make no doubt about it, seeing this in theaters with the proper setup should be treated as a required pilgrimage for all cinephiles.