David Lean’s masterpiece finally arrives on 4K UHD Blu-ray, with a catch. It’s only available as part of the 6-movie Columbia Classics 4K Ultra HD Collection, Volume I.
The Production: 5/5
David Lean’s 1962 epic Lawrence of Arabia is truly a masterpiece of cinema. Lovingly restored in 1989 to the director’s originally-intended 228-minute cut (including overture, intermission and exit music) by Robert A. Harris and Jim Painten (under Lean’s supervision), with additional touch-ups in 2012 (for it’s anniversary and Blu-ray release) and more recently in 2020 for this new 4K UHD Blu-ray release by Grover Crisp’s team at Sony, the movie has never looked or sounded better than it does today (see my Video and Audio scores below for more details).
Lawrence of Arabia tells the story of T.E Lawrence, a British archeologist, army officer, diplomat, and writer (according to Wikipedia). The movie covers his life in the British army during World War I as Lawrence (Peter O’Toole) is sent to seek out Prince Faisal (Alec Guinness) in hopes to establish diplomatic relations with the Arab community by assisting them with their revolt against Turkish occupation. Lawrence proposes a daring sneak attack on the port city of Aqaba by crossing the deadly Nefud Desert and attacking the city from behind, since its main gunnery installations are permanently pointed at the water. The victory wins Lawrence favor not only with the Arabs – including Sherif Ali (Omar Sharif) and Auda abu Tayi (Anthony Quinn) – but also British commander General Allenby (Jack Hawkins) and diplomat Mr. Dryden (Claude Rains). Lawrence continues to aid in commanding the Arab army with hopes of uniting the tribes and retaining them as British allies.
Photographed in 65mm utilizing the SuperPanavision 70 process by Freddie Young (Doctor Zhivago, You Only Live Twice), the film is a visual feast of vast vistas that take advantage of the higher resolution film format as small dots slowly emerge to be people on camelback travelling towards the camera. While a nearly 4-hour epic may deter some due to its length, director Lean along with his talented cast of actors, Maurice Jarre’s sweeping score and a smart script by Robert Bolt (A Man for All Seasons, Doctor Zhivago) and Michael Wilson (Planet of the Apes) keep the film entertaining. Of course, an intermission at the 139 minute mark helps.
3D Rating: NA
One word can easily describe Lawrence of Arabia on 4K UHD Blu-ray – Wow! Sony’s latest restoration work (detailed by Grover Crisp within the hard-bound book included as part of the Columbia Classics boxed set) is truly remarkable, offering a major increase in detail over the 2012 Blu-ray (also included in this set). On the Blu-ray, for example, during the opening funeral sequence, the pinstripes on Jackson Bentley’s suit appear to smear as he moves from side to side, but not as evident on this new 4K release. The same can be said of the hairs on Lawrence’s arm as he is painting the map in the very next scene. Film grain is a bit more noticeable, but it is never distracting. Colors are much more natural, with the Blu-ray appearing almost over-saturated by comparison. Contrast is exceptional, allowing for deeper blacks and better defined textures in both black and white costumes especially. The movie has been encoded using HEVC at 2160p with both HDR10 and Dolby Vision high dynamic range. To maximize bitrate, the film also spans two discs (a BD100 and a BD66), splitting the feature at the proper intermission mark.
Again, just WOW! The new Dolby Atmos mix expands and deepens the already pretty spectacular DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix created for the 2012 Blu-ray (that 5.1 mix is also available on this disc). Overheads are used more to better immerse the viewer, with no noticeable discrete effects added. Surround activity is much more seamless and precise as sounds move from front to back and left to right (and vice versa). LFE is tighter and more robust, but never overbearing. Dialogue is clear and understandable throughout, although it does occasionally reveal some of the limitations in recording technology of the time.
Special Features: 5/5
An important note: all of the UHD discs in the Columbia Classics set have a much appreciated and improved menu design over what Sony has been utilizing since the launch of this format that I often found frustrating. The improved menu design is more similar to what we have been used to with Blu-ray, bringing back a real pop-up menu (allowing you to access audio and subtitle options without leaving the movie) and select special features on the fly.
Another important note: Although the movie is currently only available in the oversized boxed set, the discs are housed in a standard 2-hub UHD keepcase featuring original poster artwork and a slipcover with more updated artwork.
UHD Disc One:
Unused International Prologue (2160p; 1:00): The original text prologue that appeared in some territories upon the film’s initial theatrical release as an attempt to better explain the background of the story. It was later removed at director David Lean’s request.
Blu-ray Feature Disc:
Secrets of Arabia: Feature-Length Picture-in-Graphics Track
Blu-ray Special Features Disc:
Just prior to street date, Sony sent me the following statement regarding the Special Features disc included in this set:
Due to a manufacturing error, the Columbia Classics 4K Ultra HD Collection currently includes an incorrect LAWRENCE OF ARABIA special features disc, which does not include the full amount of intended content. This does not affect the 4K UHD presentation of the film itself. The correct special features disc will be available to consumers who purchase the set, whether as a pre-order or as part of a future order, pending the eventual availability of sets that already have the correct disc included. Consumers should receive communication from their retailer about this corrected disc soon, but may contact the Sony Pictures Home Entertainment Customer Care team with any questions at [email protected] or 1-800-860-2878.
Peter O-Toole Revisits “Lawrence of Arabia”
Making of “Lawrence of Arabia” Documentary
Deleted Balcony Scene with Introduction by Anne V. Coates
The Lure of the Desert: Martin Scorsese on “Lawrence of Arabia”
A Conversation with Steven Spielberg
Wind, Sand and Star: The Making of a Classic (1963 & 1970 Versions)
Maan, Jordan: The Camels Are Cast
In Search of Lawrence
Romance of Arabia
King Hussein Visits “Lawrence of Arabia” Set
In Love with the Desert Documentary
“Lawrence” at 50: A Classic Restored
Steven Spielberg on “Lawrence of Arabia”
William Friedkin on “Lawrence of Arabia”
Sydney Pollack on “Lawrence of Arabia”
New York Premiere Footage
Vintage Trailers & TV Spots
Digital Copy: An insert contains a code to redeem a digital copy (in UHD where available) on Movies Anywhere.
This is one of many classics that many of us film aficionados who are UHD-equipped have been longing to see on this format, and it does not disappoint. Highly Recommended.