British Army officer Thomas Edward Lawrence's exploits in the Arab revolt against the Turkish Ottoman Empire during World War I were the stuff of legend. They also inspired one of the greatest and most influential movies ever made — director David Lean's spectacular 1962 desert epic, Lawrence of Arabia.
Fresh off a limited return to theaters in October after a meticulous digital restoration, the just-out Lawrence of Arabia: 50th Anniversary Edition (1962, Sony, PG, 2-disc Blu-ray, $27; 4-disc Blu-ray collector's gift set, $96) comes to home video. The 227-minute adventure film was a career breakthrough for Peter O'Toole in the title role, and he was supported by a cast that included Alec Guinness, Omar Sharif, Claude Rains, Anthony Quinn, Anthony Quayle, Jack Hawkins, Arthur Kennedy and the sweeping vistas of the desert itself.
The story of Lawrence's efforts to unite the disparate and feuding tribes of Arabia against their invaders was largely adapted from the soldier's own vivid writings of his time in the desert, The Seven Pillars of Wisdom. The film opens with his death at age 46 in 1935 in a motorcycle crash in England, then looks back at his extraordinary time in Arabia from 1916-1918. He is ordered to Cairo to work for Great Britain's Arab Bureau because of his knowledge of the region's culture. He develops a relationship with Prince Faisal (Guinness), who is resisting the Turks.
He forges alliances with other tribes and together, with the backing of the British army, they wage a guerrilla war that ultimately leads to the Turks' defeat. Along the way, the zealous, conflicted Lawrence has delusions of grandeur, but his triumphs are not lasting once his usefulness as a messiah is diminished.
The new releases are loaded with extras. The two-disc set has several features, including a look back by O'Toole, a conversation with Steven Spielberg, Secrets of Arabia (a picture and graphics mode that gives history and trivia about the film and region), a feature on camels and the making of the film and footage from the New York premiere. The gift set also comes with a soundtrack CD, an 88-page coffee table book, previously unreleased deleted scenes and several featurettes, including "The Lure of the Desert: Martin Scorsese on Lawrence of Arabia" and "King Hussein Visits Lawrence of Arabia Scene."
Lawrence was nominated for 10 Academy Awards and won seven, including best picture and director. It was the second win for Lean, who had won best director for 1957's The Bridge on the River Kwai. The film also won for art direction, cinematography, editing, sound and score (Maurice Jarre). The movie has influenced the work of such directors as Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, George Lucas, Sergio Leone and Ridley Scott. Jarre's score similarly continues to inform the music of film composers today.
Lean was an Academy Award best director nominee seven times. His two winners plus 1945's Brief Encounter and 1946's Great Expectations rank in the first 11 on the British Film Institute's Top 100 British films. He also directed such acclaimed films as 1948's Oliver Twist, 1965's Doctor Zhivago, 1970's Ryan's Daughter and 1984's A Passage to India. For that last film, he was nominated for adapted screenplay and film editing. He died of throat cancer in 1991 at age 83.