Mercy is a Passion

Few films convey such hope, even sure purity, only to tear it all down in political gamesmanship and territorial squabbles. Headlines tout T.E. Lawrence’s heroism in joining Arab tribes and defeating the Turkish army. Yet he leaves Lawrence of Arabia dejected, lost, confused, angered, and robbed of his intellectual idealism. To claim his story a tragedy is to undersell the shock.

Released in 1962 but set in the 1920s, in both ways Lawrence of Arabia appears as a time capsule. It’s a film giving Arab nomads dignity, celebrating – even understanding – a desert culture, and putting them on the opposite end of gunpowder as opposed to today’s cinema. Lawrence (Peter O’Toole) joins and respects them. He uses words to bond rivals, avoiding violence. It’s clear, even after decades of war, they want peace; Lawrence’s objection to weapons shows them a way forward. Compelling, and gorgeous cinema.

Lawrence of Arabia, as with any great war film, despises conflict and the men who force it

At its intermission, Lawrence of Arabia forcibly breaks its hero. British command undercuts Lawrence’s method. When first seen after the break, he blows up a Turkish train. He watches as troops massacre Turkish forces, and loot goods. For a moment, he’s God-like. Bullets miss or graze his arm. And then violence begets violence.

Peter O’Toole’s performance conveys mastery. His convincing rebellious phase and excited glimmer in the beginning erode by the second half. There, Lawrence is a man defeated, the hope tortured from his body, still bleeding days later as a reminder. What was once a confident soldier whose charisma and intuition led thousands weakens the closer war comes near. Eventually, war’s cruelty is on his hand. Worse, the death is for nothing, emotions dulled to an ugly routine. Lawrence doesn’t physically die in battle, but he’s still dead; Lawrence is no more until his final day.

While focused on a single man, Lawrence of Arabia, as with any great war film, despises conflict and the men who force it on a population. While glamorous, rich, and expensive, Lawrence of Arabia is more than big studio money. It finds villains in celebrated heroes – the British who helped suppress Germany, yet created another calamity in the Middle East, worsened over time by other western nations. Imagine in this post-9/11 reality a studio spending millions to film in Morocco, Spain, and Jordan, with hundreds of camels and horses in frame, all to blame a war’s victors for upsetting a potentially history-altering truce. The adage “they don’t make them like this anymore” is truthful, but for more than the expansive production value.

Lawrence of Arabia 4K UHD screen shot

Video

No hyperbole intended – Lawrence of Arabia contains the finest imagery ever pressed to disc. The glorious 70mm source, likely the same 8K master from a few years ago, shines at 4K. Other than slight (super, super slight) mosquito noise and equally slight chroma noise, this is flawless. Again, no hyperbole. There’s simply nothing wrong in this exquisite, jaw-dropping imagery.

Such detail is guaranteed to leave even the hardened, spoiled videophile speechless. Individual sand grains and rock texture provide scenery its intended scope. Immaculate facial texture graces the entire runtime, spread across two discs to maximize compression parameters. In close, look for visible threads on O’Toole’s costume, or the finest stitching in the design. Camel coverings and beads stick out whether covered by blowing sand or at great distance.

Dolby Vision grading renders color at marvelous levels, evident in O’Toole’s blue eyes and deeply tanned skin. Orange sands separate from a deep blue sky, both hues at their peak. To focus on costumes again, gold trims shining under the sun. Reds pop from British uniforms. Brightness accurately represents desert skylines, undoubtedly richer than any release prior, and black levels nail their end refusing to crush detail yet still providing depth.

Audio

Low-end response is potent in this new Dolby Atmos mix. Bombs drop, explosives rumble, and a train derailment pushes enough air to place the event live in your home. Wind storms extend deep. While marching in great number, horses hit the ground to deliver awesome shaking. The score likewise demonstrates range.

From 6-track 70mm, surrounds regularly engage. Both ambiance and scale stretch into discreet channels, active enough to hardly believe this stems from 1962. Now, overheads find purpose, accentuating echoing voices and gunfire, then pushing planes into the heights. Said extensions are naturally integrated.

If there’s anything to fault, fidelity holds a mildly digital tinge. It’s noticeable in certain dialog, dubbed lines more so than others. That’s minor.

Extras

If purchased at release, Sony’s Columbia Classics Collection omits a bonus disc. Contact customer service (consumer@SPHECustomerSupport.sony.com or 1-800-860-2878) to receive the missing disc. We’ll update when the disc arrives.

On the UHD, Sony includes an international prologue, leaving the remaining space for the movie. Other extras extend to the Blu-ray, the movie disc featuring a picture-in-picture track. On a separate bonus disc, Peter O’Toole revists his work and the shoot for 21-minutes. An older making of lasts an hour. Steven Spielberg joins William Friedkin and Sydney Pollack in sharing thoughts in individual interviews. A segment including vintage featurettes includes a ‘70s era making of and other shorter bonuses. Premiere footage and promo materials follow.

Lawrence of Arabia
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras
5

Movie

Grandiose, lavish, and meticulous, Lawrence of Arabia’s anti-war stance celebrates its hero as much as resenting his defeat.

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User Review
4 (1 vote)

The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 43 full resolution uncompressed 4K screen shots grabbed directly from the UHD: