Lawrence of Arabia (Superbit) (1962)

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Released 2-Dec-2003

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Dolby Digital Trailer-City
dts Trailer
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1962
Running Time 219:17 (Case: 218)
RSDL / Flipper RSDL
Dual Disc Set
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By David Lean
Studio
Distributor

Sony Pictures Home Entertain
Starring Peter O'Toole
Alec Guinness
Anthony Quinn
Jack Hawkins
Omar Sharif
Josť Ferrer
Anthony Quayle
Claude Rains
Arthur Kennedy
Case ?
RPI $44.95 Music Maurice Jarre


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
English dts 5.1 (768Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.20:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.20:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
Dutch
Hindi
English for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits Yes, exit music

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

††† It is a little ironic that, just like Bad Boys (Superbit), these review DVDs arrived within days of me having just watched the Region 2 Superbit release of the film. Ironic for a number of reasons, other than just the timing of the arrival - which was ironic enough when it happened the first time, and now, not just once but for it to happen twice... It is also ironic for the simple reason that yet again the Region 2 release preceded the Region 4 by nearly three months and for the fact that the Region 4 release has a fair old slug of a retail price indicator at $44.95.

††† It is also rather interesting that whilst watching the film the most recent time in all its Superbit glory, I was actually pondering whether or not this might be the greatest film ever made. Okay, I might be a little bit biased, for if pushed to name my favourite director it would be a choice between David Lean and Frank Capra, and on consideration of the relative merits of their lexicon I would have to say that David Lean comes out on top. Where he scores is in the superb visuals that he used in his films, and this is perhaps no better illustrated than by Lawrence Of Arabia. After all, there are very few films of well over three hours in length that can bear repeated viewings as well as this film. And each time you watch it there is something else that you pick up on that you have not noticed before, or else have forgotten. How many directors living or dead could make films of this length and still make them engrossing from start to finish? And as for the superb score contributed by Maurice Jarre, is this the finest film score ever? The more I watch the film, the more I am tempted to suggest that I recall hearing none better than this one. So basically we have two versions of the review...

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 this film. Brilliant, superb, magnificent, awe inspiring. An essential film that must be in every collection. The only question is which version. If you simply have to have dts sound, then the choice is simple: you buy the Superbit version and suffer forever the appalling changeover point between the two discs. If on the other hand you just want a d*** good soundtrack, and which proprietary system be damned, along with an excellent collection of extras and a changeover point that is both logical and sufferable, then perhaps you best head back to Lawrence Of Arabia: Collector's Edition. That's where I will be heading when next I watch the film.

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, it might well have walked away with more than the seven Oscars it garnered. So 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 enough 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 could 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. But it is not only in the people in front of the camera where 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 realise 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 surpassing 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 any more, 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 sun rise? 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. And 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 a day. And so 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 Pan and Scan 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 a studio all the cast involved. The result is the magnificent epic that we have on this DVD.

†† And so who was Thomas Edward Lawrence, the 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 of reading 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 make 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 organising 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. The 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. 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. A superb film, one of the very best, if not the best, ever made. A superb film that should be in every collection. Unfortunately, this new Superbit release is blighted by that changeover point...

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality

Video

††† It is going to be mentioned at some time so I might as well lead off with it. One of the big marketing pushes with respect of Superbit is that it creates a new benchmark with respect of resolution by tossing away the extras and using the space for higher compression rates, which in theory produces a better viewing. Now this should be a good thing, right? Well, it is - as evidenced by the number of Superbit titles that have made the Top DVDs of 2003 list - but that does not mean that the dopey buggers who actually do the work have any clue about what constitutes an improved viewing experience. In this instance, it is an idiotic and deplorable changeover point between disc one and disc two.

††† This rather lengthy film is correctly presented over two DVDs. However, checking the actual data on the two DVDs tells us that disc one contains about 6.37GB of data for its 112:07 running time whilst disc two contains about 6.25GB of data for its running time of 107:10 minutes. Since both discs are RSDL formatted, they have a capacity for somewhere between 8GB and 9GB of data each. So basically we get two partly filled discs with plenty of space on them. To achieve this remarkable scenario, those responsible for the mastering have given us a completely unnatural and grossly disturbing changeover point. The film after all provides a natural break in order to do this - it is called the intermission and the end of the intermission titles and the start of the black screen occurs at about 134:50. Now my ropey math suggests that to have the changeover point at its obvious place it would have required a disc containing about 7.8GB of data - still within the capacity of the disc. Divide the total data contained on the disc by the running time of the disc and then multiply the result by 134:50 and tell me that my simplistic view on the situation is materially out.

††† So given that disc one could apparently contain the entire first half of the film up to the intermission, why the bloody hell have we been given a disc changeover 22-odd minutes before the intermission? This creates one of the most disruptive interruptions to the film imaginable and frankly makes the disc almost unrecommendable when we already have a terrific two DVD set (with extras) that does provide a changeover point at its logical place. I will never understand the apparent idiocy of this, which basically throws sanity out of the window in order to get two discs of relatively similar data quantities. The disc changeover point is a bit abrupt and occurs during the Sinai crossing just after the dust storm during which the compass was lost.

††† A pity indeed, for as we all know from the original Region 4 DVD release, the restoration job on the film is wonderful stuff and the transfer is of generally fine quality throughout.

††† The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.20:1, and it is 16x9 enhanced. The theatrical presentation of the film was 2.20:1. It appears to be very much the same quality video transfer as we had on the original Region 4 DVD release, with little to distinguish between them. A direct run through of a couple of scenes from both this release and the earlier release indicate that there is subtle improvements throughout in this new Superbit release and it is thus the better of the two from the transfer point of view.

††† We already know that this wonderfully restored effort demonstrates consistently high sharpness throughout, with barely any noticeable drop off in focus at all. 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 slightly awry edits in the film, such as at 11:08 on Disc One and 29:20 on Disc Two. As for detail? Even bearing in mind that it is over forty years old, the detail is very good throughout and the shadow detail is generally very good too. The only let down is in a few of the night scenes, as is typical of films of this age. 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 indeed was completely minor in nature. As a result of this very minor level of grain, the overall transfer is quite clear indeed. There did not appear to be any problems with low level noise in the transfer.

††† No matter how many times I watch the restored version of the film, I am always impressed by the colours. In particular, all those muted hues of sand and dust and dirt come up so well. What we 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 are some likely source material problems that cannot be overcome. There is evidence of this in one very obvious way: at times there is a noticeable blurred light white 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 again a relatively minor problem with aliasing at various times during the transfer, most notable during scenes involving buildings (St Paul's at 7:54 on Disc One and the British Headquarters at 8:31 on Disc Two). Even though this remains quite a minor problem, its presence does start to make you wonder about the validity of the Superbit concept. After all, the original release was not that much worse at all and if Superbit is representing a superior approach to DVD, then why is it not a lot better than that earlier release? As we already know, the restoration job has left this a quite clean film and there are few concerns with respect of film artefacts.

††† 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. As already indicated, the film has been spread across two DVDs but the changeover point was not in the logical place - the intermission. Both DVDs are RSDL formatted, but as usual for Superbit releases it is virtually impossible to detect them. As such, they are not in the least bit disruptive to the film.

††† There are limited subtitle options on the DVDs and I stuck to sampling the two English varieties. Whilst there appears to be some minor dialogue that has been clipped, there really is nothing much wrong with the subtitles at all. Of note is the fact that there is one spelling error in the subtitles - balmy instead of barmy is used twice, the first time at 18:40 and the second shortly thereafter.

††† Having spent some time doing consecutive sampling of portions of the film, I have to say that I don't see an awful lot of difference between the original Region 4 transfer and this new Superbit transfer. Indeed, at times I would be hard-pressed to be able to reliably say which I was watching other than for the fact that I know which I have in the player. All in all, this is not a great demonstration of the supposedly superior benefits of the Superbit concept - although to be fair the original release was bloody good anyway.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

††† Since this is a Superbit release, we get the usual choice in soundtracks - Dolby Digital 5.1 and dts 5.1. The language choice is of course English in both cases. Not wishing to miss anything, I listened to both soundtracks in their entirety. This naturally enough demonstrates how engrossing a film this is - watching the film in its entirety three times in two weeks was certainly no chore at all. The Dolby Digital soundtrack is at the full 448 Kb/s bitrate whilst the dts soundtrack is at the half bitrate of 768 Kb/s. After comparing the original release with the Superbit release, I am pretty certain that they feature the same Dolby Digital soundtrack.

††† 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, 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 infused a magnificent musical support to the film that is very difficult to ignore. The more I listen to the soundtrack, the more I am convinced that it might well be the best film score ever composed. It did not hurt having the London Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Sir Adrian Boult playing the magnificent score either!

††† The Dolby Digital soundtrack has been remastered in such a manner 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. There is at times something of a strident, harsh and almost mono sounding feel to the dialogue, which gives the soundtrack a slightly unnatural sound. This is contrasted by 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. A little more action through the rear channels in particular would have been nice, 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.

††† The dts soundtrack is a rather nicer proposition overall, even though it still has a slightly unnatural sound to it at times. It is a smoother sounding effort, without the slight harshness of the Dolby Digital soundtrack. It is also a slightly lighter sounding effort, which probably suits the film a little more than the Dolby Digital. There are some stand-out moments with the surround encoding, such as around 35:00 on Disc One with the echoes through the rear channels being quite pronounced. This is immediately followed by the panning of the aircraft noise from the front to rear surrounds as they move away from the immediate vicinity. The second disc features perhaps the best indication of the quality that can be found in the soundtrack: at 27:30, the sound of the armoured car moves from the front surrounds to the rear surrounds as it passes out of view of the camera, then moves from the rears to the fronts as the camera angle turns 180 degrees to catch the armoured car moving away from the camera.

††† Whilst there is no doubt that the dts soundtrack is better than the Dolby Digital, the overall difference is not really huge and the soundtrack is of course subject to the same imposed constraints as the Dolby Digital: it is very sympathetic to the original soundtrack and does not engage in unnecessary flashiness.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

††† Well, it is a Superbit release so there won't be any will there? If you want extras, you better be buying Lawrence Of Arabia: Collector's Edition.

Menu

††† The bog standard minimalist menu setup common to all Superbits that I am aware of.

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 piece of selection and execution and throw them off the top of the CN Tower in Toronto, Canada. You might recognise the preceding from my review of the original Region 4 release of the film. Well the stupid buggers have done it again (although thankfully we don't have to suffer the trailers a second time when inserting Disc two). I mean just how do you make such ridiculous decisions regarding trailer choice, to compound the ridiculous change point from disc one to disc two? Utter crap

dts Trailer

††† More crap.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

††† The Region 2 Superbit release is the same as this Region 4 release but cheaper, even with delivery, if you know the ropes on the Internet. The Region 1 Superbit release has the same basic package, with the only substantive difference being in the subtitle options. Call this one even. Oh, and I am about the only bugger who seems to have a problem with the placing of the disc changeover for what it is worth. If dts sound is not a necessity and you don't need extras, you might want to consider the one disc version of the film released in Region 1. By all accounts it is very good and can be obtained at quite a reasonable price.

Summary

††† Lawrence Of Arabia is one of the great films of all times and certainly is in the class of essential films that should be in every collection. However, it has to be said that it is by no means the most obvious choice for the Superbit treatment. The fact that there is very little difference between the two soundtracks on the Superbit release, and no difference between the Dolby Digital soundtrack on the original Region 4 release and this new Superbit release, is indicative of the lack of obviousness for this release. This is further compounded by the fact that the video transfer is hardly any better in the Superbit release when compared to the original release. When all this comes at the cost of the loss of one of the better extras packages seen on Region 4 DVD, as well as a ridiculous disc change-over point, there really does not seem to be a lot of purpose to this Superbit release. Certainly after watching the two DVDs consecutively, I really would be hard-pressed to recommend this Superbit release as opposed to the original release. It simply does not represent enough of an improvement to warrant the loss of extras or the rather hefty purchase price. Sure, if dts sound is absolutely essential for you, then it is a no-brainer of a decision. However, if you already own the excellent original Region 4 release, don't bother wasting your time and money on upgrading. An excellent release it may be but then again so was the original release.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ian Morris (Biological imperfection run amok)
Saturday, January 17, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-515, using S-Video output
DisplaySony Trinitron Wega (80cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationYamaha RXV-795
SpeakersEnergy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right C-2; rears EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL

Other Reviews
DVD Net - Jules F

Comments (Add)
R1 Superbit is a different restoration - Jace
Very indepth review.....agree with you about the change over point - horrible - Zinzan (This is my.... bio)
Is the R4 superbit really a different transfer? - penguin
SUPERBIT or not? - Ain
RE: SUPERBIT or not? - Dave R