One of the greatest epics of all time, Lawrence of Arabia epitomizes all that motion pictures can be. Ambitious in every sense of the word, David Lean’s Oscar-grabbing masterpiece, based loosely on the life of the eccentric British officer T.E. Lawrence and his campaign against the Turks in World War I, makes most movies pale in comparison and has served as an inspiration for countless filmmakers, most notably technical masters like George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. The latter eventually helped restore Lawrence to its proper length and luster alongside fellow enthusiast Martin Scorsese. From Maurice Jarre’s sweeping score to Robert Bolt’s literary script to Freddie Young’s gorgeous desert cinematography to the literal cast of thousands, the film deserves and demands to be seen and heard on the big screen.
Designed for 7omm projection, the format enhances the film’s minute details, from star Peter O’Toole’s piercing blue eyes to the sun beaming down on the constantly shifting sand. Lawrence of Arabia’s famous images and set pieces, such as Omar Sharif’s appearance out of a desert mirage, the famed cut from a lit match to the sunrise, and the mind-boggling assault on Akaba, look spectacular and, indeed, unrepeatable. They were especially impressive for a picture made in the days before computer-generated special effects. Spielberg, for one, estimates the cost of making Lawrence today at around $285 million, and he would know, but the truth of the matter is that no filmmaker would dare attempt to outdo Lean, a superb director and storyteller at the top of his game.
That substance runs parallel to the spectacle only enhances the stature of Lawrence of Arabia and the reputation of Lean. The follies of colonialism and the hypocrisies of war are cast into stark relief, as Colonel Lawrence lets the success of his Arab-fought campaign against the Turks go to his head. Yet his larger-than-life persona is cut down to size once he realizes that bloodlust has replaced honor and arrogance has replaced courage. It’s a sad fall from grace shown with subtlety, literacy, and craft—a true epic with the scope and scale of great literature.
Cast and Production Credits
Year – 1962, Genre – War, Country – U.S.A, Language – English, Producer – Sam Spiegel, Director – David Lean, Music Director – Maurice Jarre, Cast – Peter O’Toole, Alec Guinness, Anthony Quinn, Jack Hawkins, Omar Sharif, Jose Ferrer, Anthony Quayle, Claude Rains, Arthur Kennedy, Donald Wolf it, I.S. Johar, Gamil Ratib, Michel Ray, John Dimech, Zia Mohyeddin