Friday, February 21, 2014

Oscar Month: Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

We take a trip back to the the 1960's for Oscar Month today as I review 1962's best picture winner, Lawrence of Arabia. David Lean's famed epic won seven Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director (Lean), Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Original Score, Best Film Editing and Best Sound. In addition, Lawrence of Arabia was nominated for another three Oscars for Best Actor (Peter O'Toole), Best Supporting Actor (Omar Sharif) and Best Adapted Screenplay (Robert Bolt and Michael Wilson). Lawrence of Arabia truly is an incredible motion picture. It is one of, if the not the, most beautiful films in cinematic history and is led by a fantastic performance by Peter O'Toole. However, the film runs at nearly four hours and isn't quite sure how to end. Despite having some length issues, Lawrence of Arabia is required viewing for every cinephile.

Lawrence of Arabia tells the story of T.E. Lawrence (O'Toole), a British officer who is sent to Arabia by a colonel (Donald Wolfit) and a political leader Mr. Dryden (Claude Rains) to find out who Prince Faisal (Alec Guinness), the leader of an Arabian revolt against the Turks, really is. Lawrence makes the long trek through the desert and eventually joins the Arabic people in their quest for freedom. However, the task will not be simple. Lawrence and his friend Ali (Omar Sharif) must overcome the nonstop fighting between the Arabian tribes and the involvement of the British and French government. Lawrence teams up with Ali, Auda (Anthony Quinn), and Colonel Brighton (Anthony Quayle) to take down the Turks and give the Arabians their freedom. 

Lawrence of Arabia is a really long film. The running time is 227 minutes with the overture and intermission and 217 minutes without it. So if you want to watch this film, you better be prepared for the lengthy runtime. However, just because a movie is long doesn't mean that it is bad. Lawrence of Arabia certainly keeps my attention for about ninety percent of the film before sputtering out at the end. It's a majestic, beautiful film with superb visuals, excellent acting and some really amazing action sequences.

David Lean is a director who always puts his vision fully onto the screen and he does it again here with Lawrence of Arabia. The film is so cinematic, so breathtaking, that you'll most certainly be in awe. Some of the shots are among the best ever filmed in the history of cinema and are so masterful. Back in 1962, Lawrence of Arabia had a budget of around $15 million. That's a lot more money today (around $150 million). But you see every single dollar on the screen. The atmosphere of Arabia is so alive in this film and that's all because Lean insisted in filming in the desert. That was a wise move. 

The acting in this movie is also superb, despite some occasionally wooden dialogue. Peter O'Toole gives an incredible performance as Lawrence and fully invests himself in the character. It's a shame that he didn't win the Oscar for this film. The supporting cast is also extremely strong, but none of the performances really stand out to me. Alec Guinness is really good as Prince Faisal and Anthony Quinn is also very good as Auda. 

The best thing about this movie is by far the cinematography and the visuals. These visuals are the best that have ever been done and it's even more impressive that it's all real. Lean filmed Lawrence on location and he he captured some amazing shots. It's just an amazing film to behold and even if you don't enjoy the movie, you'll be astonished by the visuals. The musical score is also absolutely phenomenal. 

This movie is not as perfect as everyone might think though. Anytime your movie gets near four hours, it better stay strong throughout and I just can't say that Lawrence of Arabia stays entertaining. The ending is incredibly weak and there's really no definite conclusion. There are small moments that drag during the first three hours, but during the last half hour, it really slows down too much. I think that Lawrence could have ended at one point, but it just keeps going and I think that's a somewhat big problem. 

In the end, Lawrence of Arabia is a must see for any film fan. It has a great score, fantastic cinematography and a brilliant performance and is one of the most stunning films ever made. It's slightly overlong, but that doesn't stop Lawrence of Arabia from being a fantastic cinematic experience that is enjoyable for most of the running time. David Lean really put everything into this movie and you see it all on the screen. It's pretty amazing.


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