“Lawrence of Arabia” Movie Review

The day that the casual viewer is able to make it all the way through Lawrence of Arabia with little to no guidance is the day that they truly fall in love with this medium. That’s happened to me, and I sincerely hope that that is what happens with other future cinephiles like you. This epic historical drama was first released around the world on December 10th, 1962 by Columbia Pictures. Grossing over $70 million at the box office against a budget of $15 million, it also won massive critical praise and scored multiple award nominations. It ultimately went to win 7 out 10 total nominations from the Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director, has been included in several “Best of all time” lists, and- easily most important of all -has been proclaimed by Steven Spielberg as his favorite film of all time. It’s also been rereleased in theaters multiple times in different formats, both digital and celluloid. Directed by David Lean, the long in-development production on the true story marks the second collaboration between him and producer Sam Spiegel, who had worked together on  the war film Bridge on the River Kwai. It took many years to convince the titular figure’s surviving father to sell the rights of several writings collected. Mainly taking inspiration from his work The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, screenwriters Robert Bolt and Michael Wilson traded several drafts, which tried to juggle the study of the main character as well as the more political aspects of the events., but were forced to start filming without a complete screenplay. Based mostly on the true story, Peter O’Toole stars as T.E. Lawrence, a highly educated British Army lieutenant who has the personality of a misfit. During World War I, he is sent to the Arab Peninsula, where Prince Faisal and the gathered Arab tribes are in need of support for their uprising against the Ottoman Empire. To the surprise of pretty much everyone around him, he becomes an important figure for the War to End All Wars in this sector of the world. His accomplishments and exploits turn him into a messianic hero for the cause, but also must contend with the emotional and psychological toll the journey brings on him. It feels cliché to say this, but I’d say that it’s a pretty safe bet that every cinephile out there has at least one film that ignited their passionate love for movies. Some might be seen in the theater, others are probably found on home media. Either way, it must have awoken something deep inside the viewer, an unquenchable thirst for answers on how a motion picture like this could be so amazing. For me, Lawrence of Arabia is that type of movie. For it not only opened my eyes to things once thought impossible on the film canvas, but proves to be a true gem in a seemingly forgotten time of ambitious filmmaking. I can still vividly remember the first time I watched it. It was the first weekend after 7th grade started, my mother suggested we go see it together. It was showing at the Paramount, an old movie theater in the downtown Austin area,  screened in 70 mm with an intermission. It is one of the most memorable viewing experiences I’ve ever had, and the moment that I wanted to fall in love with cinema. What strikes me most is how well-balanced everything is, whether it’s intimate moments with the big or broad themes with character-centric ones. David Lean never gets enough credit, in my opinion. In his first major acting role, Peter O’Toole gives a stunning performance as Lawrence himself. Whilst it exaggerates certain aspects of his character and legacy, the subtlety in his gradual spiral. This is best illustrated in two moments when Lawrence looks at himself in the reflection of a dagger, and the circumstances of both. He also employs a wry sense of humor, as the first thing he tells a soldier after trekking through the desert is, “We want two, large glasses of lemonade.” Opposite him is Omar Sharif as Sherif Ali, the protagonist’s primary Arab guide in the adventure. Far more pragmatic and stern than Lawrence, it’s clear how much he’s willing to sacrifice for the Arab cause. Like O’Toole, he deserved to win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, despite not winning. Meanwhile, the technical aspects of Lawrence of Arabia are almost entirely what caused me to seriously examine filmmaking. Freddie Young’s astonishing cinematography brings the Arabian desert to glorious, beautiful life. Gorgeous wides of the vast landscape paint the scope of the story on 70 mm Super Panavision film. With static push-ins and steady shots, this film as some of the most breathtaking frames my eyes have ever laid eyes on. In fact, in many ways, it eclipses the craftwork of other crew members. Which is not at all to bash Phyllis Dalton’s fantastic costumes or the amazing production design of Johns Stoll and Box. Equally impressive is the editing by Anne V. Coates, which is extremely precise and engaging. The now-famous transition from a match flame to sunrise in the desert is so unexpectedly perfect in its simplicity and effectiveness. In many ways, that one transition captures the whole scale and scope of the film, and it’s so simple. Maurice Jarre composes and conducts the musical score, which has become so iconic over the years that it defines multiple film scores’ templates. The main theme, which is used as the backbone for most of the tracks is just like the film itself: huge, bolstering, jaw-dropping, and beautiful. It primarily utilizes a series of elaborate strings to eschew the main melody several times, while also using a number of other great instruments. These include bouncing percussion such as xylophone, timpani, and auxiliary equipment to more harsh brass trumpets. There are even brief bits of marching military snare drums and trills on high-pitched flutes. The theme builds and then drops again constantly, almost like a Shephard’s Tone built specifically for the desert. It’s grand and flamboyant, much like the titular protagonist. And what an accomplishment it should be to all those who can withstand the mammoth task of finishing it all in one sitting. Clocking in at 3 hours and 42 minutes, it may sound like an intimidating commitment of time. But trust me when I say that that running time actually flies by, for it not only engrosses you in the adventure but makes keeps you enthralled by way of all of the stated qualities above. Lawrence of Arabia is an incredible and sweeping epic destined to inspire for eternity. This is the kind of movie that, as you’re watching, feels like the only movie that there was, is, or ever should be. Films like Lawrence of Arabia remind me why I love cinema in the first place, and makes me fall head over heels for the medium every time I see it. And someday, if I ever get to fulfill my dream of becoming a filmmaker, this David Lean masterpiece is the one I’ll watch right before production.

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2 thoughts on ““Lawrence of Arabia” Movie Review

  1. Pingback: Top 100 Movie Review: #5 – Lawrence of Arabia (1962) – The Top 100 Reviews

  2. Mr. Filmsomniac

    Thank you for your review. For me the film that made me want to understand movies more deeply and profoundly, was Dunkirk last summer. Until seeing it, I was trying to just enjoy
    what I saw and be thrilled and excited by the stories the films told. But Dunkirk was so beautiful that I was hooked. And I am nowhere near to be called a cinephile and don’t know if I ever even be one. The biggest problem on my road has been classics which I mostly don’t like at all. But Lawrence of Arabia was an exception. I liked it a lot even though I accidentally watched the second part first, and the beginning part only after it. It worked wonderfully any way… Hopefully other classics start feeling better as well after this experience. I thought that maybe I should watch another David Lean film such as River Kwai… 9/10 was my rating for Lawrence.

    Reply

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