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Lawrence of Arabia: 50th Anniversary Limited Edition Blu-ray Review



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#1 of 42 OFFLINE   Richard Gallagher

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Posted November 08 2012 - 04:29 PM


If you look up the word "epic" in a dictionary you will not see a picture of David Lean's film, Lawrence of Arabia, but if you did see such a photo it would be entirely appropriate. It is as grand, exquisite, and breathtaking as any film ever made. Following years of anticipation Sony has now released Lawrence of Arabia on Blu-ray, and the results are nothing less than magnificent. A classic film which had fallen on hard times due to age and neglect was restored by Home Theater Forum's own Robert A. Harris in 1988. Utilizing the latest technology, Sony has now improved upon that restoration, enabling viewers to see Lawrence of Arabia in all of its glory by essentially re-creating the way it looked and sounded in theaters 50 years ago. And, given the tumultuous events in the Middle East in recent decades, the film has never been more relevant.













Lawrence of Arabia: 50th Anniversary Limited Edition Blu-ray



Studio: Sony
Year: 1962
Rated: PG
Program Length: 227 minutes        Aspect Ratio: 2.20:1 1080p
Languages: English 5.1 DTS-HD MA; French, Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles: English, English SDH, Arabic, Dutch/Nederlands, French, Japanese, Spanish

The Program

Truly, for some men nothing is written unless they write it.

If you look up the word "epic" in a dictionary you will not see a picture of David Lean's film, Lawrence of Arabia, but if you did see such a photo it would be entirely appropriate. It is as grand, exquisite, and breathtaking as any film ever made. Following years of anticipation Sony has now released Lawrence of Arabia on Blu-ray, and the results are nothing less than magnificent. A classic film which had fallen on hard times due to age and neglect was restored by Home Theater Forum's own Robert A. Harris in 1988. Utilizing the latest technology, Sony has now improved upon that restoration, enabling viewers to see Lawrence of Arabia in all of its glory by essentially re-creating the way it looked and sounded in theaters 50 years ago. And, given the tumultuous events in the Middle East in recent decades, the film has never been more relevant.

"The story I have to tell," T.E. Lawrence wrote shortly after the end of World War I, "is one of the most splendid ever given to a man for writing." Lawrence was referring to the Arab Revolt against Turkey which occurred during the war. A highly unorthodox British officer, Lawrence found himself in the center of the revolt and he eventually became its leader. In 1919 he began writing his memoir of the revolt, which eventually was published as "Seven Pillars of Wisdom." Lawrence also edited an abridged version, "Revolt in the Desert," which was published in 1926 for a general audience. The screenplay for Lawrence of Arabia, by Robert Bolt and Michael Wilson, is based largely upon Lawrence's writings.

When World War I broke out the Ottoman Empire, which controlled most of the Middle East, was allied with Germany. From the standpoint of the British, the most important asset in the region was the Suez Canal, and defending it was essential. This required the British Army and Navy to have a strong military presence which was headquartered in Cairo, Egypt. It is in Cairo that we first meet T.E. Lawrence (Peter O'Toole), a highly-educated and intellectual officer who is bored by his mundane duties. By 1916 the British had encouraged a disparate group of Arab tribes to fight the Turks, but the revolt is disorganized and the rebels, equipped only with rifles, camels and horses, are outgunned by Turkish troops which have artillery and air support.

The British commander in Cairo has no sense of what is happening in the desert, so Lawrence is sent out with the stated objective of getting a handle on the situation. He is, as thing turns out, uniquely qualified for the job. Unlike most British officers, Lawrence has studied the culture of the region, he is able to identify and differentiate among the various nomadic tribes, and he has studied Islam. In fact, he had already spent several years in Arabia as an archaeologist when the war broke out. His initial objective is to find and meet with Prince Feisal (Alec Guinness), who is the closest thing the Arabs have to a single leader. Along the way Lawrence has an unpleasant and unforgettable encounter with Prince Feisal's principal warrior, Sherif Ali (Omar Sharif). When Lawrence speaks to them of uniting the Arabs to fight the Turks, he is greeted with perplexed looks. They do not think of themselves as Arabs. They are tribesmen who have different interests and ambitions. Indeed, Lawrence's most profound challenge may well be finding ways to get the Arabs to fight together.

The war against the Turks is a daunting task, but Lawrence develops strategies which lead to success and gain him acceptance among the Arab rebels. He is able to placate such powerful figures as Auda Abu Tayi (Anthony Quinn), who has no allegiance to Prince Feisal but who is convinced to help oust the Turks. A pivotal point occurs when Lawrence has a particularly brutal encounter with a Turkish officer (Jose Ferrer) in the city of Daraa, an event which causes him to doubt himself and to reassess his involvement in the war.

Some critics have complained that Lawrence of Arabia falls short because it does not do an adequate job of explaining the motivations and essence of the principal character. These criticisms seem to me to be misguided. We must remember that the source material for this film is Lawrence's book, and he did not write the book to explain himself. He wrote the book to tell the story of the revolt and of his efforts - which ultimately were thwarted by politicians and his superiors - to give the Arabs their independence. The film also is the story of the magnificent and expansive desert, extending from Sinai to what is now Jordan, Israel, Lebanon and Syria. Lawrence came to love the region and the people who lived there. It is true that at the conclusion of this beautiful and riveting film T.E. Lawrence remains something of an enigma, but even his subsequent biographers have had a difficult time explaining precisely what made him tick. Perhaps his own words from "Seven Pillars of Wisdom," which strongly suggest that he did not want to reveal all of himself, and which conclude with more than a twinge of regret, will help:

Damascus had not seemed a sheath in my sword, when I landed in Arabia; but its capture disclosed the exhaustion of my main springs of action. The strongest motive throughout had been a personal one, not mentioned here, but present to me, I think, every hour of these two years. Active pains and joys might fling up, like towers, among my days; but, refluent as air, this hidden urge re-formed, to be the persisting element of life, till near the end. It was dead, before we reached Damascus.

Next in force had been a pugnacious wish to win the war; yoked to the conviction that without Arab help England could not pay the price of winning its Turkish sector. When Damascus fell, the Eastern war - probably the whole war - drew to an end.

Then I was moved by curiosity. "Super flumina Babylonis," read as a boy, had left me longing to feel myself the node of a national movement. We took Damascus, and I feared. More than three arbitrary days would have quickened in me a root of authority.

There remained historical ambition, insubstantial as a motive in itself. I had dreamed, at the City School in Oxford, of hustling into form, while I lived, the new Asia which time was inexorably bringing upon us. Mecca was to lead to Damascus; Damascus to Anatolia, and afterwards to Bagdad; and then there was Yemen. Fantasies, these will seem, to such as are able to call my beginning an ordinary effort.


Lawrence of Arabia is a towering achievement. It launched Peter O'Toole into the upper echelon of film actors, and his exceptional performance makes it impossible to now imagine anyone else in the role. He is ably supported by the wonderful performances turned in by Alec Guinness, Omar Sharif, Anthony Quinn, Jose Ferrer, Jack Hawkins, Claude Rains, and Anthony Quayle. David Lean's direction is one of the great achievements of his career, and the unforgettable score by Maurice Jarre is one for the ages. Anyone interested in the ongoing violence in the Middle East will certainly gain some insight into the anti-Western sentiments which seemingly pervade the region, as well as hints as to why Arabs continue to turn against Arabs. Sony his given this film the loving care which it so clearly deserves, and no film library can be said to be complete without it.

The Video
The 2.20:1 1080p image is awe-inspiring. The exteriors were beautifully filmed by cinematographer Freddie Young on location in the Middle East and Spain, and the expansive scenes in the desert will take your breath away. For an expert's take on the way Lawrence of Arabia looks, I strongly suggest that you read the comments of our resident expert, Robert A. Harris.

Questions have been raised about the "vertical striping" which is occasionally noticeable in the desert scenes. Mr. Harris has informed me that this is not a transfer problem. Rather, it is a consequence of what happened to the OCN prior to the 1988 restoration. The original negative cracked due to heat damage, and the problem was exacerbated during further printing over the years. The cracks have been repaired as much as possible with currently available technology, and Mr. Harris opines that there is nothing more that can be done to make Lawrence of Arabia look better.

The Audio
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is incredible. Every word of dialogue is crisp and clear, and the soaring score by Maurice Jarre has been given a wide and enveloping soundstage. Jarre's theme to Lawrence of Arabia is one of the most recognizable in film history, and the London Philharmonic Orchestra could hardly sound better. The surround channels and subwoofer have been effectively utilized to provide realistic sounds of horses and camels racing across the desert, of a Turkish air attack, and of gunfire and explosions. I cannot believe that Lawrence of Arabia has ever sounded better.

Although the film's credits state that the London Philharmonic Orchestra is conducted by Sir Adrian Boult, it appears that he had little or nothing to do with it. Boult reportedly had difficulty keeping the music synchronized with the images on the screen, so he withdrew and Jarre conducted the orchestra. Whether any of the final soundtrack was actually conducted by Boult is still a subject of debate.

The Supplements
The limited edition box set contains a plethora of extras, some of which are also included on the stand-alone Blu-ray.

First of all, there is the box. It measures 12"x12"x1 3/4". The box is enclosed in a clear plastic outer sleeve. There is some writing on the front of the sleeve and the back contains photos of the discs, photos of the book, a list of the extras, and the usual information about the audio, languages, subtitles, running time, etc.

The box itself has a slipcase cover with a die-cut window, so the drawing of Lawrence which you see is actually the front cover of the book. The book contains 88 pages (92 if you include the unnumbered end pages). The book is well-written and has a glorious mix of color and black & white photos, as well as a helpful map of the area. It was written by Jeremy Arnold and has a preface by Leonard Maltin. Included are quotes from Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, Peter O'Toole, Robert Bolt and others.

Included with each box set is an authentic 70 mm film frame from Lawrence of Arabia. My film frame is a shot of Prince Feisal in his tent. The prints are numbered, mine being 10704.

Disc One contains the feature and one extra, a picture-in-graphic track called "Secrets of Arabia." Historical factoids and insights into the making of the film pop up while the film is playing. Alternatively, the viewer can use the remote control to jump from factoid to factoid.

Discs Two and Three are entirely comprised of extras (Disc Three is available only in the box set). Disc Two contains the following bonus material:

1. "Peter O'Toole Revisits Lawrence of Arabia" is an informative and hugely entertaining featurette in which the actor expounds upon how he got the part and his relationships with David Lean and his fellow members of the cast. O'Toole is 80 years old but his memory is impeccable and his comments are incisive and often humorous. One gets the sense that it would be delightful to spend an evening with him. The running time of the featurette is 21 minutes.

2. "Making of Lawrence of Arabia" is the same standard-definition featurette which was made in 2000 has appeared previously on DVD. It has a running time of 61 minutes and covers everything from the filming to the editing to the 1988 restoration.

3. "A Conversation with Steven Spielberg" is a standard-definition featurette in which Spielberg talks about such things as how his childhood in Arizona contributed to his affinity for Lawrence of Arabia. When Spielberg watched the 1988 restoration, he sat next to David Lean and was treated to a live, impromptu, unscripted scene-by-scene commentary by the director. What an experience that had to have been! This featurette was made in 2000 and has a running time of 9 minutes.

4. Next is a series of four vintage featurettes:

Maan, Jordan: The Camels are Cast
In Search of Lawrence
Romance of Arabia
Wind, Sand and Star: The Making of a Classic (1970 version)

5. "New York Premiere" is a brief black and white newsreel. It has a running time of slightly more than a minute, which is sufficient to get glimpes of celebrities such as Harry Belafonte and Lauren Bacall.

6. "Advertising Campaigns" contains a series of movie stills, a look at the original souvenir book, publicity photos, movie posters, photos of the seven Oscars which the film won, and material created for subsequent re-releases. It is interesting to see how the promotional materials for the film changed over the years. This featurette was made in 2000 and runs for 5 minutes.

Disc Three contains the following extras:

1. The first bonus feature on Disc Three is also the most anticipated - the restored balcony scene with Peter O'Toole and Jack Hawkins. The scene is introduced by film editor Anne V. Coates, who explains that the entire scene was reconstructed visually but the soundtrack could not be located. Unfortunately, Jack Hawkins had developed throat cancer in the sixties and his larynx was removed during surgery. He continued to make films, but his lines had to be dubbed by actors who were able to mimic his voice. Attempts were made to dub his lines for the excised balcony footage, but as viewers will see the results were not satisfactory. Consequently, David Lean made the decision to leave the previously-deleted footage out of his Director's Cut. The introduction and the balcony scene have a combined running time of 7 minutes, and the scene is shown in high-definition for the first time.


2. "The Lure of the Desert: Martin Scorsese on Lawrence of Arabia" is an all-new interview with the famous director. It is shown in high-definition and has Scorsese commenting on many of the scenes in the film. This featurette has a running time of 8 minutes.

3. "Lawrence at 50: A Classic Restored" has Sony executives Chris Cookson and Grover Crisp discussing how 4K technology was used to improve upon the 1988 restoration of the film in an effort to make Lawrence of Arabia look as good as possible. This featurette also goes into some detail about the "vertical striping" which is referenced elsewhere in this review. Robert A. Harris' contributions to the restoration of the film are referenced several times. It is apparent that Sony spared no expense on this project.

4. "King Hussein Visits Lawrence of Arabia Set" is a vintage black & white promotional short which chronicles the visit to the set by the King of Jordan. King Hussein was the great-nephew of Prince Feisal. This short has a running time of 2 minutes.

5. "Wind, Sand and Star: The Making of a Classic" is the original 1963 version of the featurette which appears on Disc Two. This version takes a closer look at the creative process and focuses more on Peter O'Toole's acting. It has a running time of 5 minutes.

6. "In Love With the Desert" is a documentary, made in 2000, which returns to many of the film's locations nearly 40 years after Lawrence of Arabia was filmed. It is letterboxed in standard definition and is well worth viewing. It has a running time of 84 minutes and is hosted by Eddie Fowlie, the property master on Lawrence of Arabia.

7. Next is a series of archival interviews with film directors William Friedkin, Martin Scorsese, Sydney Pollack and Steven Spielberg.

8. The extras on Disc Three conclude with four trailers and two television spots.

The remaining extra which comes with the box set is the CD of the film's original soundtrack. It includes two tracks which were not included in the original soundtrack album. The CD credits Maurice Jarre as the conductor of the soundtrack recording. The sound is superb.

The Packaging
The four discs which are included in the box set are secured in a standard-height flipper Blu-ray case, so the discs are not overlaid. This of course helpfully gives the owner the ability to store the discs on a shelf with other Blu-rays while the box is stored elsewhere. I have not seen the two-disc Blu-ray version, but I assume that there is one disc on each inside cover. The cover art appears to be the same on both sets.

The Final Analysis
I originally saw Lawrence of Arabia when my high school took the entire student body to view it at the Criterion Theater in New York City in 1963. I was a bit young to fully appreciate the film at the time, but I never forgot how stunning it looked and sounded. Now, for the first time, I feel as if I have been able to approximate that experience from nearly 50 years ago.

The box set of Lawrence of Arabia is a wondrous thing to own, and I strongly recommend it. Of course, box sets are not for everyone so it is nice to see that Sony has also released the film in an affordable two-disc Blu-ray set. Either way you cannot go wrong.

Equipment used for this review:

Panasonic DMP-BD50 Blu-ray player
Panasonic Viera TC-P46G15 Plasma display, calibrated to THX specification by Gregg Loewen
Yamaha HTR-5890 THX Surround Receiver
BIC Acoustech speakers
Interconnects: Monster Cable

Release Date: November 13, 2012





Rich Gallagher

#2 of 42 OFFLINE   Robin9

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Posted November 08 2012 - 05:31 PM

A good summary of the movie. Thank you.

#3 of 42 OFFLINE   benbess

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Posted November 08 2012 - 10:58 PM

Great review! Many thanks.

#4 of 42 OFFLINE   Robert Harris

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Posted November 08 2012 - 11:30 PM

Nicely done! As promised, you'll find a little thank you in the mail. Was that a twenty? An interesting side note about the score. Many people mistake the main Lawrence theme for that of Born Free -- the latter comes mighty close. RAH

"All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible. This I did." T.E. Lawrence


#5 of 42 OFFLINE   Richard Gallagher

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Posted November 09 2012 - 02:31 AM

Originally Posted by Robert Harris 

An interesting side note about the score. Many people mistake the main Lawrence theme for that of Born Free -- the latter comes mighty close.
 


Now that you mention it, John Barry's theme for Born Free does have some similarities.


I was speaking with a friend who was a singer with a major symphony chorus for most of her adult life and I remarked about how amazing it is that Jarre could compose such a memorable score under a deadline and in a very short period of time. "That's genius," she replied.


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#6 of 42 OFFLINE   dendodd

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Posted November 09 2012 - 04:37 AM

A Tantalising look at what we can anticipate when we each receive our copies. Thank you so much. Nice, clear well organised review, you know your stuff...

#7 of 42 OFFLINE   Virgoan

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Posted November 09 2012 - 04:37 AM

All right! Now I'm REALLY EXCITED!

#8 of 42 OFFLINE   Aaron Silverman

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Posted November 09 2012 - 05:23 AM

What, no coasters?!?!?! :) On a more serious note, does anyone know why so many of the extras are in SD?
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#9 of 42 OFFLINE   SD_Brian

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Posted November 09 2012 - 07:08 AM

does anyone know why so many of the extras are in SD?

Many are carried over from the original DVD release way-back-when. They weren't HD then, they aren't HD now.

#10 of 42 OFFLINE   DustinPizarro

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Posted November 09 2012 - 08:10 AM

Eagerly awaiting this release. But I may have to wait til Thanksgiving (days off from work) to give this disc my full attention.

#11 of 42 OFFLINE   John Hodson

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Posted November 10 2012 - 10:57 AM

I have to wait until Christmas; still, something to look forward to...
So many films, so little time...
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#12 of 42 OFFLINE   zoetmb

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Posted November 10 2012 - 12:34 PM

Now that you mention it, John Barry's theme for Born Free does have some similarities. I was speaking with a friend who was a singer with a major symphony chorus for most of her adult life and I remarked about how amazing it is that Jarre could compose such a memorable score under a deadline and in a very short period of time. "That's genius," she replied.

I always thought that the main themes for "Lawrence...", "Born Free" and "Star Wars" sounded very similar, with "Star Wars" sounding incredibly close to "Born Free".

#13 of 42 OFFLINE   dendodd

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Posted November 14 2012 - 02:28 AM

Unboxing the 50th Anniversary set:

#14 of 42 OFFLINE   Carlo Medina

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Posted November 14 2012 - 12:55 PM

Just got mine from Amazon, what an amazing packaging and set! I just started watching and am stunned by the quality of the picture. It looks as if it was shot yesterday, it's so clear, clean and crisp. I've always wondered about opening credit sharpness of old films, so many of Hitch's films have unreadable small font in the opening credits (usually MPAA stuff) but even the small text in Lawrence is crisp and legible--to the point where I wondered if they recreated the text digitally! Anyway I felt compelled to ask something, just so I know if I got a defective copy or not. Does anyone else see a dropped frame or two at the 11:34-11:35 mark when Lawrence says "I've got for a chat with the general" and turns to sprint to the stairs? Right at the turn there's an odd stutter in his movement as if one or two frames are missing. If that's just the way they all are I can certainly live with that, but if mine is defective I'll ask for an exchange because I didn't pay $70 for a non-perfect copy. Thanks! (oh I'm running this on an Oppo BDP-93 with latest firmware as of today)

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#15 of 42 OFFLINE   MattAlbie60

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Posted November 14 2012 - 01:19 PM

Just picked up the two disc version at Best Buy. It was their last copy, so either they didn't get very many in or it's selling really well. Probably a combination of both. Regardless, I'm super pumped to watch it in a few minutes :)

#16 of 42 OFFLINE   benbess

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Posted November 14 2012 - 02:07 PM

Just got mine from Amazon, what an amazing packaging and set! I just started watching and am stunned by the quality of the picture. It looks as if it was shot yesterday, it's so clear, clean and crisp. I've always wondered about opening credit sharpness of old films, so many of Hitch's films have unreadable small font in the opening credits (usually MPAA stuff) but even the small text in Lawrence is crisp and legible--to the point where I wondered if they recreated the text digitally! Anyway I felt compelled to ask something, just so I know if I got a defective copy or not. Does anyone else see a dropped frame or two at the 11:34-11:35 mark when Lawrence says "I've got for a chat with the general" and turns to sprint to the stairs? Right at the turn there's an odd stutter in his movement as if one or two frames are missing. If that's just the way they all are I can certainly live with that, but if mine is defective I'll ask for an exchange because I didn't pay $70 for a non-perfect copy. Thanks! (oh I'm running this on an Oppo BDP-93 with latest firmware as of today)

When I saw the new restoration at a theater a month ago or so, there were maybe 3-4 places in the film where there seemed to be a few missing frames. In other words, the PQ is close to perfect, but there are still those small flaws. It's not your copy. It is what it is.

#17 of 42 OFFLINE   Robert Harris

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Posted November 14 2012 - 04:02 PM

When I saw the new restoration at a theater a month ago or so, there were maybe 3-4 places in the film where there seemed to be a few missing frames. In other words, the PQ is close to perfect, but there are still those small flaws. It's not your copy. It is what it is.

Those are not "flaws." Merely personality. DL. Considered them the marks of what we had created, and akin to a Navajo blanket. RAH

"All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible. This I did." T.E. Lawrence


#18 of 42 OFFLINE   Carlo Medina

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Posted November 15 2012 - 04:32 AM

Perfect - that's all I wanted to hear, especially from The Man himself! :D It's a marvelous restoration and what frame or two is dropped here and there (out of hundreds of thousands) is a small price to pay for a 50 year old film. The end product speaks for itself. I just wanted to make sure I didn't get a defective disc for the price I paid for it (which happened to me a couple of times in the days of DVD but luckily hasn't yet happened on Blu Ray). Awesome, awesome work. :tu: :tu:

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#19 of 42 OFFLINE   Jonathan Perregaux

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Posted November 15 2012 - 05:36 AM

Today is Christmas! I've got the limited edition in my hands and took the soundtrack for a spin in my car during lunch. After spending a week without power and also falling down a flight of stairs due to hurricane Sandy, this is a nice pick-me-up.
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#20 of 42 OFFLINE   Virgoan

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Posted November 15 2012 - 07:14 AM

All right. There is a teensy bit of disappointment with the box. My cel is of Anthony Quayle. No desert. No O'Toole. It's nice and sharp, though. :cool:





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