Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

Genres - Epic  |   Sub-Genres - British Empire Film, War Epic  |   Release Date - Dec 16, 1962 (USA)  |   Run Time - 222 min.  |   Countries - United Kingdom   |   MPAA Rating - PG
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Review by Rebecca Flint Marx

More of a sensory explosion than a simple movie, Lawrence of Arabia is epic in every sense of the word. Its images--of the desert, of the blinding sun, of Peter O'Toole's golden hair and staggeringly blue eyes--are some of the most memorable ever committed to celluloid, and its musical score remains almost unparalleled in its ability to evoke so many associations with a few simple notes. A richly detailed character portrait rather than a biography or an adventure film, Lawrence is the tale of a man at the mercy of both the desert and his own grand ambitions. As played by O'Toole in a star-making performance, Lawrence was a man whose character was defined as much by sexual ambivalence and thorny enigma as by his considerable vision and will -- in other words, a conflicted, fascinating figure whose personality tended both to inspire and to eclipse his cause. It is fitting that a man larger than life should have his story presented as an epic, and equally fitting that this epic is set in the desert, the only stage magnificent and unforgiving enough to showcase Lawrence's persona. Lawrence of Arabia is almost as remarkable for the story behind it as for the story visible on the screen. Director David Lean's handling of his material is legendary, from days spent on location waiting for the "right" sunrise to his staging of several key scenes, most notably that of the desert mirage that slowly evolves from speck to man. That shot alone could have made the film a legend, conveying the mystery, brutality, and scope of the desert just by remaining still and silent. Lean's respect for the desert is evident in every scene: rather than attempting to manipulate it, he lets it speak for itself. The result is one of the cinema's most iconic visual feasts, perhaps even more so because it was one of the last films to be shot in 70mm (as opposed to being blown up to 70mm from 35mm). Restored and re-released in 1989, 27 years after its initial release, Lawrence was still as beautiful and turbulent as its title character, stunning new and old viewers alike.