Return of the Definitive Epic

I’ve made it no secret that I believe David Lean’s epic masterpiece, Lawrence of Arabia, to be the finest motion picture in history. It is the very definition of epic. I have had the privilege of seeing it no less than four times on the big screen. Tonight, to promote its 50th anniversary and November 13th release on Blu-ray, Lawrence of Arabia will play on more than 600 theatres across the country.

 

'Lawrence of Arabia'

A pivotal moment from Lawrence of Arabia that illustrates David Lean’s mastery of film framing.

This is the first time that Lawrence will play in a digital format theatrically and Sony Pictures is utilizing a 4K process to deliver the sharpest and cleanest picture the movie may have ever enjoyed. I’ve been fortunate enough to see it in several formats, including reel-to-reel (my first awe-inspiring viewing), 70mm and at the Hollywood Cineramadome, all of them single-screen movie theatre experiences. This will be the first time I’ve ever watched Lawrence in a multi-plex.

The movie itself is an astonishing spectacle. Lean had a particular knack for knowing how to fill the frame, whether it be a boundary-breaking closeup of Lawrence blowing out a match or the exquisitely excruciating long take of the sun rising over the dunes of Arabia. A sense of scale and geography is always present. The attack on Aqaba is especially breathtaking as a legion of men plow through the Turkish garrison in one glorious shot from the desert all the way to the Red Sea. Very few filmmakers knew how to stage such spectacle even then and even fewer can do so now. As an historical epic, the movie’s political themes are as relevant today as they ever were.

Lawrence of Arabia screens for one night only this evening. If you have never had the opportunity to see it, this is the best and most appropriate way to do so.

UPDATE: As with Raiders of the Lost Ark last month, the digital print of Lawrence was breathtaking, rivaled only by its proper 70mm presentation. This restoration does great justice to Lean’s sweeping vistas. If the Blu-ray looks anything like this, it will be an essential purchase indeed.