Lawrence of Arabia Gets 60th Anniversary 4K UHD

David Lean’s Oscar-winning epic, Lawrence of Arabia, gets a standalone 4K UHD release for the film’s 60th anniversary.

Today’s release does not mark the first time that the classic arrived on 4K UHD. The initial 4K release came in 2020 with the release of the Columbia Classics 4K UHD Collection, Vol. 1. If you didn’t have the budget to bring home the 6-film box set, you’re in luck because you can bring home this epic today! However, don’t delay because this is a Limited-Edition SteelBook. This is one of those cases where the digital code also come in handy. Physically, you have the option of watching the film across two discs on 4K UHD. The alternative is that you can watch digitally without needing to switch discs.

Going into the 4K release, I decided to go ahead and rewatch the film for the first time since 2009. It’s the restored Director’s Cut, 227 minutes in all. Putting aside the things that don’t age well, one can appreciate the film just on a technical level. It’s no wonder that so many people look at this as the film that inspired them to become filmmakers! The cinematography and art design go hand in hand. Throw in the editing and score and it just takes this film to an entirely different level.

If you make this film today, as Steven Spielberg notes in a conversation on the bonus features, it would cost $285 million! How many studios would greenlight it with this knowledge? Of course, this film wouldn’t have the same splendor if made digitally rather than on film. Listen, you can learn a lot from watching the bonus features and it’s another splendid making-of documentary from Laurent Bouzereau.

When you think of epic filmmakers, Sir David Lean is certainly one of the few to come to mind. I don’t even want to begin to think about modern day comparisons because this could be debated forever. In any event, he certainly has a grasp on what he wants to do with the film. In this case, he turns to telling a story about T.E. Lawrence, who died in 1935. By this point, the story of Lawrence was more myth than fact. Lean’s film draws from Lawrence’s own book, Seven Pillars of Wisdom.

In essence, the film follows Colonel T.E. Lawrence (Peter O’Toole) during World War I. Mainly, attacks on Aqaba and Damascus in addition to Lawrence’s involvement with the Arab National Council. The council’s formation came after 400 years of being ruled the Ottoman Empire. In any event, the council would no longer exist by the late 1930s. The Sykes-Picot Agreement would ultimately lead to partition into mandate territories under British or French control. Complicating matters for this agreement is the Balfour Declaration. Much fallout has come as a result of the British reneging on promises to the Arabs for their cooperation in fighting the Ottoman Empire. But alas, this isn’t a history lesson to say the least.

There is a lot to take in while watching this film. One, it shows the psychological struggle that the war is taking on Lawrence. The theme of identity is key here and he certainly struggles with it. Does he decide to go forth and stand with his native Britain? Or does he choose to help out his new Arab friends in their revolt against the Ottoman Empire? In doing the latter, what will it mean for his own service rank within Britain? The film’s second part focuses on the guerilla war launched by Lawrence. Jackson Bentley’s (Arthur Kennedy) coverage makes Lawrence famous and you can only assume what happens from there.

It all comes to a head in the battle to take Damascus. This part of the film incorporates the events of Tafas massacre into the film, where Lawrence orders his men to take “no prisoners.” While Lawrence and the Arabs take the city before Allenby (Jack Hawkins), it does not go well. When the British shut off all of the public utilities, it forces the Arabs to retreat. As such, the British basically end up taking Damascus.

As is the case with many films of this nature, they create composite characters. One such character is Sherif Ali ibn el Kharish (Omar Sharif). Otherwise, some characters, like Bentley, are drawn from real people but get renamed for the big screen.

Peter O’Toole’s performance would also earn him his first Oscar nomination. In total, the actor would earn eight Oscar nominations in his career for Best Actor in a Leading role. The Academy would award him an Honorary Oscar in 2002 but no win would come in competition during his career. I can certainly understand why Gregory Peck won but it’s a shame that O’Toole didn’t win. It’s also interesting to think that in another universe, Albert Finney could have been performing the breakout role.

This epic took home seven Oscar wins in ten nominations: Picture, Director, Art Director – Color, Cinematography – Color, Editing, Original Score, and Sound. The only categories that did not see wins were for Actor (O’Toole), Supporting Actor (Omar Sharif), and Adapted Screenplay.

Maurice Jarre had is work cut out in scoring the film. Here’s a guy that had to write two hours of music in a six-week time period! Not only does the composer when an Oscar but the score is considered to be one of the best in cinematic history.

There are also some aspects of this film that do not age well. The casting of Sir Alec Guinness as Prince Faisal is certainly one of them. When one watches the film today, the darkening of his skin to play the future Iraqi king is a major turn-off. If David Lean had his way, it would have been Laurence Olivier in the role. Much in the same way that you could not cast Guinness today, the same also applies to Olivier. Guinness isn’t alone with the makeup practice in the film as Anthony Quinn also darkens his skin for the performance. While I am watching the film through the lens in which it was made, this makeup practice is not lost on me.

Watching the bonus features, Steven Spielberg, who worked on the film’s 1988 restoration, discusses the film and his experience with David Lean. The T.E. Lawrence story was obscure in the US compared to elsewhere. The Oscar-winning filmmaker also discusses the film getting attacked critically upon release. “Today, it probably would be attacked by individual journalists and writers who would like to set the record straight and make a name for themselves.” As Spielberg notes, he doesn’t agree with revisionist history for entertainment purposes. He views Lawrence of Arabia as this bigger-than-life character and that this film would not be “as romantically poetic had it just been chronology of the actual life of T.E. Lawrence.” Spielberg got a running commentary from Lean during the restoration screening. To be a fly on that wall!

Going along with what Spielberg said, there are historical inaccuracies. I understand that the script takes liberties with the film but that’s still no excuse. When you’re telling an epic story of this magnitude, filmmakers should always strive for accuracy. Does this mean casting an actor closer to Lawrence’s height? Almost certainly. This is certainly one of those films where I must stress not to buy everything as fact but to look into the actual history. It’s most telling when biographers are critical of the film. It is not lost on me that families of the real people in this film complained about the portrayals.

Sixty years after its 1962 theatrical release, Lawrence of Arabia remains one of the greatest films ever made from an epic standpoint but it isn’t without flaws.

LAWRENCE OF ARABIA DISC DETAILS & BONUS MATERIALS

4K ULTRA HD DISCS

  • Feature presented in 4K resolution with Dolby Vision, fully restored from the original camera negative
    • Feature split across two 4K Ultra HD discs
  • Dolby Atmos + 5.1 audio

BLU-RAY FEATURE DISC

  • Feature presented in high definition, sourced from the 4K master
  • 5.1 audio
  • Special Feature:
    • Secrets of Arabia: Feature-Length Picture-in-Graphics Track

BLU-RAY SPECIAL FEATURE DISC

  • 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
  • Archival Interviews
    • Steven Spielberg on Lawrence of Arabia
    • William Friedkin on Lawrence of Arabia
    • Sydney Pollack on Lawrence of Arabia
  • New York Premiere Footage
  • Advertising Campaigns
  • Vintage Trailers & TV Spots

DIRECTOR: David Lean
SCREENWRITERS: Robert Bolt and Michael Wilson
CAST: Alec Guinness, Anthony Quinn, Jack Hawkins, Jose Ferrer, Anthony Quayle, Claude Rains, Arthur Kennedy, I.S. Johar, Gamil Ratib, Zia Mohyeddin, Michael Ray, John Dimech, and Donald Wolfit with Omar Sharif, introducing Peter O’Toole

Columbia released Lawrence of Arabia in theaters on December 10, 1962. Grade: 5/5

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.

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