Classic Review: ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ (1962)

Classic Review: Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

Isaac Owens, Broadcasting Manager

For all those who are even slightly interested in film Lawrence of Arabia is the quintessential Hollywood epic. It is an essential film, and one of the greatest movie ever made.

While it is quite the investment, with its near four hour run time, it’s worth the watch far more than most movies. This Best Picture winner covers the later years of the short life of T. E. Lawrence (Peter O’Toole) and his part in the Arabian campaigns of WWI. Backed by a triumphant score, the movie follows Lawrence in his journeys with the people of war torn Arabia.

Lawrence of Arabia has largely been remembered for its scale; both of drama and scale of visuals. Beginning the film with his sudden death, a bittersweet tone is set over the movie as you cheer for Lawrence but realize what is to come. In the British military, Lawrence, an eccentric and flamboyant soldier, was seen as an outcast. To be dealt with, he was sent to the desert, where he met Arabian allies. There he would become Lawrence of Arabia; a warrior loved and respected by the Arabs.

While Arabia is often inspirational and glorious, it also touches on important themes of morality and the consequences of war. Lawrence witnesses the deaths of both friends and enemies. Like films such as The Hurt Locker and more prominently Apocalypse Now, Arabia looks at how war can change a person. Even the best of us cannot go unchanged by the carnage of war. While the tale of T. E. Lawrence is wonderfully told, his film is most notably recognized for its visuals.

Taking the helm with cinematography, Freddie Young (Doctor Zhivago), captures some of the most gorgeous and grand shots ever recorded. Being shot on Super Panavision 70mm film in the Arabian deserts of Jordan, Arabia looks absolutely stunning. The majority of the film’s scenes are of or have the backdrop of the desert. The vastness of the desert dominates the screen, especially in the famous scene in which Lawrence and his caravane cross the Nefud Desert. In the eighteen minute long scene, few words are spoken. Instead the visuals are left to tell the story as they cast the viewer into the misery of the desert.

Being as grand as it is, Lawrence of Arabia was an influence for countless films including Star Wars and the entire filmography of Steven Spielberg. Its immediate success earned it seven Oscars, and its legacy has placed it alongside (and perhaps above) films like Citizen Kane and, winner of eleven Oscars, Ben Hur. Along with being a defining Hollywood epic and extremely “Oscar-baity” (but in a good way), it is a very enjoyable movie. It is fun to watch, and the viewer will quickly become swept away by Peter O’Toole’s performance as Lawrence.

All around, Lawrence of Arabia is a perfect film; capturing the life of a great man. It is favored by many and will live on forever as one of Hollywood’s greatest films.