Last night, I went to the 50th anniversary celebration of the film’s 1962 release, put on by Fathom Events. This was a one-night-only, cross-country showing of the newly-restored version of the classic, and all I can say about it is…wow!
Seriously, this was like a whole new movie. Completely restored, digitally scanned from original color negatives, processed and projected in 4k, this was a stunning upgrade to the movie. The depth of color, the depth of focus, the details that were all just so amazingly clear, worked together to make an immersive experience. You could see grains of sand, camel chin-whiskers. You could hear the creak of rope and the jangle of harnesses. You could see clearly the foreground actors and the wadi rim, miles distant. It was beautiful.
Lawrence of Arabia is one of the iconic films of the 20th century, and every time I see it, I come away with something new. But in the past, the dull color and fuzzy resolution often wear on me, and by the 3rd hour, my interest starts to flag. Even the 1988 restoration project, in which David Lean participated, left me cold because of the still-obvious flaws in the transfer and reconstruction.
This restoration, though still imperfect, rises above all others. It remains true to Lean’s “director’s cut” from the 1988 project, so it is as perfect as Lean could get it from an editing standpoint. There are still flaws in some places—central film wear that could not be completely corrected, and obviously looped-in dialogue in some of Guinness’ scenes—but these are transitory and easily ignored.
I mean, I could watch this movie all over again and just concentrate on the color red. It’s that detailed and that engrossing.
There is a Blu-Ray of this restored version coming out in November. It will be the gold-standard, until television goes 4k to keep up with the movies.