Lawrence Of Arabia

(Larry Of The Desert)

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Details At A Glance

Category Drama Main Menu Introduction
Menu Audio and Animation
Dolby Digital Trailer - City
Scene Selection Audio and Animation
DVD-ROM Extras
Documentary - The Making Of (61:29)
Notes - Journey With Lawrence
Theatrical Trailer - 1.85:1, 16x9, Dolby Digital 2.0 (4:42)
Featurette - A Conversation With Steven Spielberg (8:27)
Featurette - Maan, Jordan: The Camels Are Cast (2:01)
Featurette - In Search Of Lawrence (5:00)
Featurette - Romance Of Arabia (4:39)
Featurette - Wind, Sand and Star: The Making Of A Classic (4:34)
Featurette - New York Premiere (1:10)
Featurette - Advertising Campaigns (4:51)
Biographies - Cast and Crew
Year Released 1962
Running Time 218:47 minutes
RSDL/Flipper Disc 1: RSDL (59:06)
Disc 2: RSDL (66:26)
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region 2,4 Directors David Lean
Columbia Pictures
Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment
Starring Alec Guinness
Anthony Quinn 
Jack Hawkins 
Jose Ferrer
Anthony Quayle
Claude Rains
Arthur Kennedy
Omar Sharif
Peter O'Toole
Case Transparent Double Soft Brackley
RPI $36.95 Music Maurice Jarre

Pan & Scan/Full Frame No English (Dolby Digital 5.1, 448 Kb/s)
German (Dolby Digital 5.1, 448 Kb/s)
Spanish (Dolby Digital 5.1, 448 Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.15:1
16x9 Enhancement
Theatrical Aspect Ratio 2.20:1
Macrovision Yes Smoking Yes
Subtitles English 
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits Yes, exit music

Plot Synopsis

Short Version

    For those who do not want to indulge in my ramblings about this film and the DVD, let me say this: just go out and buy it. Lawrence Of Arabia is brilliant, superb, magnificent, and awe-inspiring. It is an essential inclusion in every DVD collection and it has been given the kind of treatment that this classic deserves.

Long Version

    Okay, let us just continue with the superlatives for now. At the 1963 Academy Awards, Lawrence Of Arabia was nominated for ten Oscars. If it were not for the competition being pretty strong that year, notably To Kill A Mockingbird and The Longest Day (now when are we getting that film on Region 4 DVD?), it may well have walked away with more than the seven Oscars it garnered. Its modest haul, at least in comparison to that over-bloated and significantly less accurate piece of rubbish, only comprised: Best Art Direction - Set Decoration, Colour; Best Cinematography - Colour; Best Film Editing; Best Sound; Best Music, Score - Substantially Original; Best Director, and the big one; Best Picture. Even by today's standards, that is an impressive haul.

    But then again, the film had a lot going for it. For a start, at the helm was the magnificent David Lean, then in the middle of a purple patch of films: Summertime, The Bridge On The River Kwai, Lawrence Of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago. The first and last of these four film garnered him Oscar nominations for Best Director. The middle two won him those Oscars. And yet this was not the first purple patch he had: In Which We Serve, This Happy Breed, Blithe Spirit, Brief Encounter, Great Expectations and Oliver Twist represent an exquisite opening to a directorial career that few directors could boast. There have been very few filmmakers who could boast the kind of attention to detail, character and story that David Lean brought to a film and at the end of the day, that is precisely why his films will remain treasured for a long time to come - and why they are the films that the great directors such as Steven Spielberg turn to for their inspiration today.

   But even getting past the man at the helm, there is quality everywhere you look. The cast assembled for this epic might not have been household stars in the United States at the time, but there are more than enough Oscar winners and nominees here than you can poke a stick at, and many must have had great opinions for the man at the helm, for their names appear regularly in his films. Alec Guinness survived The Bridge On The River Kwai with a reputation so enhanced that he was elevated to the very highest echelon of actors and followed up that epic with this epic. Jack Hawkins also came from Kwai, but the two standouts here are naturally enough Peter O'Toole and Omar Sharif. Whilst endless arguments have raged in the past and will again in the future, it is doubtful that many would really dispute that this film represented the very best of these two gentlemen. However, it is not only the people in front of the camera in which we see excellence, but also in the quality of the people behind the scenes that we don't see who all combined under the most difficult circumstances possible to realize this magnificent vision of the life of Lawrence Of Arabia.

    After all, rarely has a more sweeping vision of the hell that is the desert been brought to the screen with such mastery. This really is magnificent cinematography of the highest order, and if you have never seen this film in all its widescreen glory, like me funnily enough, then prepare yourself for an experience. This is the sort of stuff that the likes of George Lucas wish they could even come within cooee of, for they simply lack the ability to match it (and as for excelling at it...). This is the sort of stuff that clearly demonstrates how third rate a significant proportion of even the name directors are nowadays. They certainly don't make films like this anymore, for the simple reason that they don't make directors like this anymore. But then they took the raw film, gave it to editor Anne Coates and she proceeded to make a masterpiece out of the raw film. I mean, how iconic is the scene of Peter O'Toole blowing out the match and the sharp cut straight to the desert sunrise? But then again, the film is full of such moments. The coup de grace as far as other films were concerned was to then bring in Maurice Jarre who put together a truly memorable score, based around one of the greatest film themes ever composed. Little things they may be by themselves but when they are brought together in the final finished product, the result is a masterpiece.

    And this is a masterpiece, of that there is no doubt whatsoever. This is the restored version of the film that reinstates a lot of the footage cut out of the film in its earlier years. The final theatrical cut of the film, completed so soon before the premiere, was 222 minutes long, a very long film by any standard - and one theatre owners complained about as it restricted the number of sessions per day. David Lean and producer Sam Spiegel with Anne Coates got together and lopped 20 minutes out of the film for a revised theatrical cut. Then television reared its ugly head and aside from creating a Panned & Scanned abomination of the film, a further 15 minutes were lopped from the film. Then in 1989 the restored version of the film was released, with financial assistance from Steven Spielberg for the restoration, and this restored much of the lopped footage, which had been found in an archive. However, whilst they had the film, the soundtrack was nowhere to be found and so David Lean and Anne Coates undertook a re-recording of the dialogue, bringing back into the studio all the cast involved. The result is the magnificent epic that we have on this DVD.

   So, who was Thomas Edward Lawrence? Depending upon who you are talking to, you will get many answers (and a few of them are revealed in the opening sequences of the film). However, I shall indulge in my impressions of the man. I first was introduced to the man during history lessons at school as a young child in England and was almost besotted with the story of this man who went into the desert and waged a personal war against the Turks during World War One with little backing but a group of Arab followers. He was a well-educated man, having studied at Oxford and worked as an archaeologist with the British Museum prior to joining Army Intelligence during the Great War. His escapades during the war formed the basis of his book Seven Pillars of Wisdom, and should you ever have the chance to read this tome, take it. It is a fascinating read. Mind you, his life after the war was almost as fascinating as his life during it, and makes you wonder about this man who truly was bigger than a mere mortal. The book forms the basis of the film.

    The film, for those who have never seen it, starts in Cairo and broadly charts the life of Lawrence as he is seconded to the Arab bureau with the task of finding Prince Feisal and organizing the Arabs against the Turks. Obviously this is a task well-performed, as he convinced them to attack the key point in the Suez region - Aqaba. Only problem was that Aqaba was heavily fortified to seaward with 12 inch guns able to blast any shipping out of the Red Sea. So to attack Aqaba, a land assault was the only way - which meant an unheard-of trek across the Nefud Desert, an inhospitable tract of land where water was limited and the distances pushed both man and beast to the limit of their endurance. Despite the fact that no one said this was possible, not only did Lawrence lead the Arabs across the desert but they took Aqaba with relative ease. From there, little could stop Lawrence and his Arab army as they fought for the dream of an independent Arab nation - and a legend was born.

    If you want a really detailed look at the film, then there are plenty of books available, many of which are detailed in the bibliography on the DVD. They no doubt do a far better job than I in this regard.

    Superb performances, superb story, superb characters, brilliant cinematography, magnificent score. Anything else you want from a film? Entertainment? Well there is plenty of that too, and this is one film that does not outlast its three hour and thirty odd minute welcome. We have been waiting for Lawrence Of Arabia to make an appearance on DVD for far too long. One only has to note that the ID number for the film on this site is 141 - that is how long this title has been rumoured for. Was it worth the wait? You betcha it was! All is forgiven Columbia TriStar for making us wait this long for the film on DVD, for what you have come out with is superb.

Transfer Quality


    Over the past couple of years, we have seen some truly wonderful restorations of classic films from the 1950s and 1960s brought out on DVD. You can add another one to the list. All that money that was put into the restoration effort in the late 1980s, culminating in the theatrical release of the restored film, was money well-spent as far as I am concerned and whilst this is not quite perfection, it is not too far away from it and there is no way the film has looked as good as this since the original premiere in 1962.

    The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.15:1, and it is 16x9 enhanced. The theatrical presentation of the film was 2.20:1, so the DVD is pretty close to the mark.

    Okay, lets throw those superlatives around again! This wonderfully restored effort demonstrates consistently high sharpness throughout, with barely any noticeable drop-off in focus at all. Certainly there is nothing here that approaches diffuseness and this is as sharp as this transfer will ever look. Indeed, it may be too sharp at times as it highlights a couple of not-quite-right edits in the film, during Disc Two especially. As for detail! Even bearing in mind that it is approaching forty years old, the detail is very good throughout and the shadow detail is generally very good too. The only let down is a few of the night scenes, as is typical of films of this age. If you want to complain then go right ahead but I doubt that you have seen the detail any better before - and I doubt that we will see it any better in the future. Obviously a film of this age usually demonstrates some problems with grain, and there are certainly segments here that do display the problem. However, the extent of the problem is not great and really is much better than I was expecting. Certainly the extras indicate how much worse this could have been in a non-restored form! Overall, the grain is quite mildish and I would rate this as a quite clear transfer. There did not appear to be any significant problems with low level noise in the transfer.

    Apart from the magnificent cinematography being seen in all its widescreen glory, the real standout here is actually the colours. Now you would expect a film based predominantly in the desert to demonstrate all the muted hues of sand and dust and dirt, and that is precisely what we get here in abundance in many scenes. However, what you also get is some superb definition to the colours. You will probably be thrilled by the depth and brilliance of the brighter, more vibrant colours here and things like the famed sunrise really stand out. Since Peter O'Toole's costume is predominantly white and Omar Sharif's is predominantly black, solid depths to these colours are vital to the film. There are no problems with the black and white tones here and overall this is a wonderfully realistic and very natural-looking transfer - just what David Lean aimed for in the film. The desert really comes to life in this transfer. There is nothing in the way of oversaturation of colours here and colour bleed is not an issue at all.

    Considering that this is a restored film incorporating some long-deleted footage, it has to be remembered that there would have been some likely source material problems that could not be overcome. There is evidence of this in two ways. At times during the middle part of Disc One, there is a pulsation in the transfer, a rapid lightening and darkening that whilst barely noticeable is mentioned for completeness' sake. There is also, during the same period predominantly, a noticeable blurred white light line down the middle of the film. This is especially noticeable during the famed mirage scene and would seem to be a film problem as it seems to affect only those scenes shot in similar locations. There did not appear to be any significant MPEG artefacts in the transfer. There is a consistent, albeit relatively minor, problem with aliasing at various times during the transfer and this really is the only sour note to the transfer, even though it really is not that bad. Amazingly, the restoration job has left this a quite clean film and this is far better than I was expecting in this regard.

    The film runs for a seriously long time and in its theatrical format there was an intermission - during which apparently there was plenty of demand for cold drinks from thirsty patrons. Accordingly, the film has been spread across two DVDs using the natural break of the intermission as the point to get up and change the DVD. Whilst some might complain about this formatting, I doubt that the entire film could be successfully accommodated on a dual layer DVD given the relatively high bit rate used throughout, and it is after all exactly the same format as the theatrical release. Both DVDs are RSDL formatted, with the layer change on Disc One coming at 59:06 and on Disc Two at 66:26. The Disc One layer change is superbly handled and is barely noticeable and certainly not disruptive to the flow of the film. The Disc Two layer change is not quite so good, since it is more noticeable but again is placed at a scene change and not really disruptive to the flow of the film.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-to-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    Demonstrating the attention to detail that Columbia TriStar have lavished on this release, the film has been blessed with three full 448 Kb/s bitrate Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtracks. These came in the somewhat unusual combination of English, German and Spanish. Whilst I stuck with the English soundtrack in general, I also sampled the two other soundtracks. Funnily enough there are some differences between the three soundtracks. The English has noticeably more bass in the music and effects, and has a slightly more expansive surround channel usage, but with a slightly more focused and strident dialogue track. The German and Spanish soundtracks are much less blessed with bass and surround channel use and sound much more like 2.0 soundtracks. However, the trade-off is that the dubbed soundtracks are not quite so centrally focused and are more natural-sounding in the overall mix.

    The dialogue comes up very well in the soundtracks and is generally clear and easy to understand, even allowing for the Arabian accents. There did not appear to be any audio sync problems in the transfer at all.

    As mentioned earlier, the score comes from Maurice Jarre. How good is it? Well put it this way, he has won three Oscars for Best Score, and all three have been David Lean films: Lawrence Of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago and A Passage To India. It therefore seems logical to suggest that one of these scores represents the best that he has ever done, even allowing for the fact that the Academy is notorious for making bum decisions. For my money, this is the one. This is his best. Apart from an utterly magnificent theme tune, he has infused a magnificent musical support to the film that is very difficult to ignore. It is for this reason that the absence of an Isolated Music Score is almost inexcusable, and the fact that someone like Steven Spielberg can almost rave over the soundtrack album should surely convince you that I am not just talking through the top of my hat here!

    Whilst this is a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, the remastering has been done such as to enhance the original Oscar-winning soundtrack without going all-out for all the repercussive bells and whistles. However, it should be said that this is a soundtrack with some inherent faults. As mentioned, at times there is something of a strident, almost mono-sounding feel to the dialogue at times, which gives the soundtrack a slightly unnatural sound. This is contrasted to certain sections which seem to be distinctly different in tone and I am guessing that these are the sections restored to the film and that were re-recorded by the talent in 1989. The surround channel use is a tad restrained and again perhaps this adds just a little bit of unnaturalness to the overall soundscape. I would perhaps have expected a little more action through the rear channels in particular, but overall this is not an unlikeable remaster of a near-forty year old soundtrack. There is nothing in the way of distortion in the soundtrack, and in general blemishes in the sound are non-existent. The bass channel gets a rather limited work out, but when called upon it does its job well enough.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    And if you want to know where the time has been spent in putting together this package, look no further than here! Whilst lacking some obvious inclusions owing to the passing of much of the talent, they would merely have elevated a superb package into a stratosphere that few if any have gone before.


    These are very nicely done: apart from the fact that they are 16x9 enhanced, they feature some good audio and animation enhancement. Perhaps the only issue that could be raised is the fact that the highlighter at times could have done with being a little more prominent.

Dolby Digital Trailer - City

    There has to be something to really complain about so it may as well be this. Apart from the fact that the trailer is crap, and has far outstayed its welcome, we have to suffer it not once but twice - at the start of the DVD when you access the film and then again when you access the film after swapping the DVD over at the intermission. Making it even worse is the fact that there are two Dolby Digital trailers that would have been totally apt choices to partner this film: the Train trailer (since David Lean's infatuation with trains is well-documented) or the Egypt trailer (and if you need that one explained...). Personally, I would take whoever is responsible for this appalling selection and throw them off the top of the CN Tower in Toronto, Canada.

DVD-ROM Extras

    I hate DVD-ROM content. It is a blight upon DVD that should be specifically banned by the specification book. I mention this for good reason - so that you fully comprehend what I am about to reveal. This selection is utterly superb!

    Okay, I did have some problems with PCFriendly again, but when it finally worked, things looked up. Firing up PCFriendly takes you to the main menu which has some reasonable audio and animation enhancement when you highlight the two choices: Play Movie or DVD-ROM Features. Selecting the latter is what I was there to check out, and that is where I went. Things would have looked up much earlier if I had been able to avoid the obligatory web links to various Columbia TriStar and Sony related sites on the DVD-ROM features page. As a side note, if distributors are going to put these damn things on DVDs, at least make sure that the Online Events site is up-to-date - this one looked to be a good six months out of date.

    Once past the shameless promotion, things improve. There is a bibliography, comprising five pages detailing books about the man, web sites about the man (with clickable links) and books about the film. There is also a credits section, providing five pages of credits for the film and thank-yous. But the main attraction is Archives of Arabia. This is utterly superb stuff that really rewards the time it takes to wander through it. And wander through it I did, as I played around with this for near-on three hours after work! But it is worth it.

    This provides what amounts to a detailed synopsis of the film, chapter by chapter, with written notes, as well as some background and behind-the-scenes information, too. The notes are accompanied by photographs, film stills and sketches (of which there are very few, since apparently there were very few storyboards done for the film) relative to the chapter. The notes are displayed at the bottom right of the screen, with the photographs and so on displayed in the half screen above this. So what is on the bottom left hand side? Well actually, you can watch the film in a rather smallish screen! This is one of the most imaginative uses for DVD-ROM functionality I have yet seen on a DVD and whilst I confess to having not sat through it all, the three hours I spent playing were very informative and entertaining. The only downer I can see to the whole thing is the fact that on a 17 inch monitor, you really cannot see the film section too well. My guess is that this requires watching on at least a 19 inch monitor. The other bummer is that this would have been even better had it been presented as ordinary content on the DVD and was accessible during film playback by the angle feature. That would really have been cool.

Documentary - The Making Of Lawrence Of Arabia (61:29)

    Made last year, this extensive documentary is both fascinating and informative and is well worth watching. It has recent interview material with main crew members, as well as with Omar Sharif and Anthony Quinn. It also features interview material recorded with David Lean and Peter O'Toole in 1989. It includes a fair bit of archival behind-the-scenes footage as well as photographs taken during the filming. It is presented in a Full Frame format, with film excerpts in their correct aspect ratio, and is not 16x9 enhanced. It comes with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. The archival material is a little ropey at times and very grainy but overall the quality is good.

Notes - Journey With Lawrence

    An interesting inclusion (which on the Region 1 DVD is part of the DVD-ROM content). This provides a map of the region where Lawrence Of Arabia operated. You can then select one of four dates (1917, 1917A, 1917B and 1918) which presents a slightly more detailed map showing the journey taken by Lawrence Of Arabia and with some towns highlighted. Select these towns and you get short notes about the activity and then some photographs of the real life journey - many of which are photographs that were taken by the man himself. Excellent stuff.

Theatrical Trailer (4:42)

    One of those longish efforts that were indulged in during the 1960s! The technical quality here is not good, suffering from shimmer, plenty of film artefacts and being very dark in colour. The best description I could come up with is "raw". Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, it is 16x9 enhanced (it needs all the help it can get) and comes with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound.

Featurette - A Conversation With Steven Spielberg (8:27)

    Basically an eight minute explanation of how much the film means to him (which is not unexpected given the wads of money he spent financing the restoration of the film), this is interesting for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the man does not usually do this sort of stuff so it is a rare enough opportunity to hear his views on films. Secondly, it shows how even the best fail to think ahead! Why? Well, I bet that he now regrets not taping the running commentary that David Lean gave at the preview viewing of the completed restored version of the film. As Steven Spielberg describes it here, it would have been an essential inclusion on the DVD, with loads of fascinating insights to the film! Presented in a Full Frame format, this is not 16x9 enhanced and comes with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound.

Four Original Featurettes:

Featurette - Maan, Jordan: The Camels Are Cast (2:01)

    Falling into the category of cute, this forms part of the promotional hype that went into the film. Interesting enough, even if the technical quality leaves a deal to be desired. Presented in a Full Frame format, this is not 16x9 enhanced and comes with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. The transfer certainly shows its age, with a grainy and diffuse image at times.

Featurette - In Search Of Lawrence (5:00)

    A slightly more substantial piece that fills in some more background information to the film. Presented in a Full Frame format, this is not 16x9 enhanced and comes with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. The audio transfer is very hissy and takes a bit of getting used to, whilst the video transfer demonstrates plenty of grain, shimmer and film artefacts.

Featurette - Romance Of Arabia (4:39)

    Another slightly more substantial piece that again fills in some more background information to the film. Presented in a Full Frame format, this is not 16x9 enhanced and comes with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. The audio transfer this time is a bit muddy and lacks distinction. The video transfer again demonstrates plenty of grain and especially film artefacts, as well as being a little lacking in detail.

Featurette - Wind, Sand and Star: The Making Of A Classic (4:34)

    The only one of the four original featurettes in colour, it also duplicates a fair bit of footage from the other three efforts. The colour has the usual rich-toned feeling of early 1960s Technicolor films about it, but makes a nice contrast nonetheless to the other featurettes as well as the main feature. Presented in a Full Frame format, this is not 16x9 enhanced and comes with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. The video transfer also demonstrates plenty of grain and plenty of film artefacts.

Featurette - New York Premiere (1:10)

    This is newsreel footage taken at the New York premiere. If you are familiar with this sort of material, the appalling quality will be expected. With virtually no definition whatsoever, its inclusion here is only for completeness sake. Presented in a Full Frame format, this is not 16x9 enhanced and comes with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound.

Featurette - Advertising Campaigns (4:51)

    A recent effort, this details the various ways the film has been promoted over the years and is quite interesting. Presented in a Full Frame format, this is not 16x9 enhanced and comes with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound.

Biographies - Cast and Crew

    All too brief efforts for the main cast and crew members. Should have been a lot better than this given the classic nature of the film.

R4 vs R1

    As far as I can ascertain, the Region 1 version in broad terms appears to be the same as the Region 4 version. The only real difference, apart from the soundtrack and subtitle options, is that the one extra, Journey With Lawrence, would appear to be a part of the DVD-ROM content on the Region 1 DVD as opposed to ordinary content on the Region 4 DVD. The only locatable review of the Region 1 DVD at this time (since it is released the day after the Region 4 release remember) suggests a very similar quality transfer to the Region 4 (and therefore Region 2). Accordingly, other than the really crappy case the Region 4 DVD comes in, the preferred version would be the Region 4: PAL formatting and cheaper cost (RPI of the Region 1 version is USD 39.95, so even preorder prices would be slightly dearer than the Region 4), plus we get it a day earlier!


    Lawrence Of Arabia has been awaited with bated breath by film fans for far too long. Its imminent arrival should be a time of great joy for those people, as this has been worth the wait. A classic film and a masterpiece in every sense of the word, one of those very rare films where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Nothing more needs to be said other than to say: get it! And if you get in early, you might get one of those first 10,000 Limited Edition copies in the special cloth case.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Ian Morris (have a laugh, check out the bio)
3rd March, 2001.

Review Equipment
DVD Pioneer DV-515; S-video output
Display Sony Trinitron Wega 80cm. Calibrated with the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Audio Decoder Built in
Amplification Yamaha RXV-795. Calibrated with the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Speakers Energy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right C-2; rears EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL