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Lawrence of Arabia - Superbit

Lawrence of Arabia on Superbit DVD

A Must See DVD Event

David Lean's epic WWI masterpiece is a sweeping movie spectacle in the grand tradition, one that belongs in every movie lover's library. It's a visually beautiful film in which many of the shots are so gorgeous they could be hung on a wall.

Imagine how good it looks after having undergone Columbia Tristar's Superbit mastering process!

That process is meant to optimize the video and audio quality of a DVD, and though the original release - and the single disc reissue - of "Lawrence" were all excellent, the Superbit version is the best yet.

Except for one niggling point that, given the overall quality, we can forgive: they've broken the two disc movie at about the halfway point, not at the Intermission where, logically, it should be done - and where it was done on the original two disc set.

We can only assume this has to do with storage limits on a disc, considering extra data space a Superbit movie takes. So while we're disappointed, we can live with it because this is clearly the best video version of Lawrence yet.

More about that later...

The superb look of Lean's film blends beautifully with an outstanding musical score and screenplay, and an all-star cast, to create one of the great movies of all time.

The story concerns a cartographer with delusions of grandeur, T.E. Lawrence (Peter O'Toole), who finagles an assignment to go into the Arabian desert to seek out and find Prince Feisal (Alec Guinness). He ends up assembling a rag tag revolutionary army of Arabs, taking the port of Aqaba, and generally wreaking all kinds of havoc on the Turks who controlled the region at the time.

Lawrence for the most part leads by example - which endears him to his Arab friends - and is instrumental in uniting various warring Arab tribes into a guerilla fighting force. Along the way he begins to feel he's something a tad more than human which, when his inevitable fall comes, makes discovering his own humanity all the more difficult for him to handle.

The movie runs about 227 minutes with the Overture and other musical sections included, yet it never, ever drags. The story itself is a ripping yarn, but in the hands of a master director like Sir David Lean, the movie actually becomes bigger than ever.

Whether it be with shots of the wind blowing sand across the dunes, blazing scenes in which characters come into camera range from beyond the horizon and through a mirage, Lean's touch brings the desert alive, turning it into almost a living, breathing entity - a character in the film (and one for which they didn't have to negotiate with an agent!).

This is a film that should be experienced on as large a screen as possible! We watched it on our 57 inch widescreen reference unit, and it was wonderful.

The DVD is of the restored version that played theaters around the beginning of the 1990's. They've done a fine job, too, and the Superbit DVD does the most home video justice to the subject material.

The anamorphic widescreen picture, enhanced for 16x9 TV's, is spectacular for the most part, though there appear to be a few flaws during some of the particularly bright desert scenes. They aren't DVD flaws, however, but rather must come from the original film source because we noticed them on all three of the film's DVD incarnations.

But where the earlier DVD's showed a bit of grain in the backgrounds (though we have to admit we never noticed it until we played them back to back with the Superbit version), the new one is cleaner and crisper. Colors are rich and full; this is a widescreen epic that has received an epic DVD treatment.

The audio has been remixed into Dolby Digital and dts 5.1, and they've done a terrific job of incorporating the rear channels to surround the audience with dry desert winds, huge echoes, and the like. The audio of the original versions was fine, but the Superbit process adds a little "je ne sais quois" - as well as giving you the option of using the dts system that many home theater aficionados prefer over Dolby Digital.

In short, this version of Lawrence is the best ever.

One thing we liked was that when you put in disc two, it goes straight into the movie, without inflicting the menus on you. This is great - and is something they didn't do with the original two disc set. You can still access the menu (where you can jump to specific chapters or change the audio parameter - which defauts to dts), but you don't have to!

As with the other "non Deluxe" Superbit titles, there are no extras.

If you want extras, there are plenty of good ones on the original DVD release. If you want Lawrence in the best video incarnation possible to date, this is the one you want.

Lawrence of Arabia - the Superbit Edition, from Columbia Tristar Home Video
227 min. Widescreen (2.20:1), 16x9 compatible, Dolby Digital 5.1.
Starring Peter O'Toole, Omar Sharif, Alec Guinness, Jack Hawkins, Anthony Quayle, Anthony Quinn, Claude Rains, Arthur Kennedy, Jose Ferrer
Produced by Sam Spiegel
Written by Robert Bolt and Michael Wilson, Directed by David Lean


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Updated May 13, 2006