Blu-Ray News: No Prisoners! LAWRENCE OF ARABIA restoration rides home at last

Jason Gorber, Featured Critic
For those of us that have been in the HD shinydisc game since the begining, one of the "Holy Grail" titles has always been David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia. Back in the heyday of the format war (a nerd conflict for the ages enshrined beautifully in some improv dialogue by Jay Baruchel during a Tropic Thunder march), SONY would tease LOA in the format sizzle trailer that would start each disc.

The story of the restoration of this film using 8K scans/4K workflow is a remarkable one - original attempts to use the previous HD scan were shelved in favour of doing a back-to-the-source new high resolution capture, opening up a Pandora's box of issues but generating what promises to be one of the more astonishing representations of a classic film that any fan of Home Theater is likely to have access to.

There's been an astonishing discussion taking place in one of those corners of the Internet that film nerds congregate. Over at the Home Theater Forum, a relatively innocuous thread was started by Robert A. Harris. Fans of classic cinema have certainly seen his name on more than a few credits - he and his team were responsible for accomplishing the original "Director's cut" of Lean's masterpiece in the late-80s, as well as restorations of Spartacus, Vertigo, Rear Window, etc.

Harris has long been a vocal contributor to the Home Theater community. His knowledge of LOA is of course well established, and this thread promised to be source for some interesting tidbits.

A couple things occurred that made this little corner of the Internet become Mecca for Lawrence fans of late. First of all, a competing site (Blu-Ray.com) had another well trafficked thread implode after revelations that a person purporting to be an executive at SONY with inside information regarding the restoration work on Lawrence was in fact a fraud.  None other than Grover Crisp, SONY's head of Restoration, called out this individual for being essentially a capable "Googler" and nothing more.

As a result of this shakeup, many migrated to the the HTF thread, including former studio executives and others in the industry. For perhaps the first time certain facts about the format fracas were laid bare, and for those interested in the political and technical factors that were at play it's well worth a read.

Of late, this little corner of the web has slid more on track with its original topic. Robert Harris has chosen to publish, I believe for the first time, his personal account of the restoration of Lawrence. Starting here, Harris has provided a first person narrative about the original restoration efforts. He tells tales of reluctantly having to telephone Sir David Lean  (the studio did not want his involvement!), the condition of the original materials, the state of certain lost scenes, the recordings of surviving voice actors, and even the involvement that Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg had on accomplishing the "Director's Cut" of that film.

The story is almost tragi-comic, speaking about assets in the 60s that were never treated with the proper respect, decades before the studios would clue into the real value of their classic input. Following this thread, you can see the sheer amount of effort and talent that went into preserving this crucial part of cinematic history.

RAH has also solicited comments from Grover Crisp himself, and is in the process of detailing the recent restoration efforts (that part of the conversation starts here) that followed from the work original done several decades back.

With an Internet full of fairly useless opinion and bickering, it serves us all well to highlight those corners where intelligent, adult conversation is transpiring. I admit fully to breathless delight at these tidbits regarding the treatment and care of one of the greatest works ever made, and hearing from the inside, from those who have put their professional reputation and personal sanity on the line to keep these films alive for future generations, well, my virtual headscarf is donned for them.

As we anxiously await the fall release of this title, I recommend checking out this "insider" narrative about rescuing this fragile treasure from a tragic fate.

There are thousands of historic films that are never going to get near the treatment that Lawrence will receive, but it's a testament to both the class of this work and the tenacity of those involved (as well as the intelligence of SONY as a studio to get behind such a project) that best speaks to the power of this film. It's a no brainer before seeing a frame that this disc deserves to be on your shelf, even for casual fans of the work (are there any that don't adore it?), if only to help support the Herculaneum efforts that have gone in to save this integral piece of cinema's very soul.

Here's the official announcement of the forthcoming set (courtesy of the Home Theater Forum):

loa_set.jpg

Sony Pictures Entertainment Celebrates

50th Anniversary of David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia

 

Digitally Restored Director's Cut

Hits the Big Screen October 4th

 

Academy Award® Winning Masterpiece Debuts in a

Blu-ray™ Collectible Boxed Set November 13th 

 

Turner Classic Movies to Feature Film on November 16th

 

 

CULVER CITY, CALIF. (July 18, 2012) - Widely considered one of the greatest and most influential films in the history of cinema, David Lean's masterpiece Lawrence of Arabia returns to the big screen 50 years after its 1962 premiere in a 4K digitally-restored version of the Director's Cut. Following its international debut at Festival Du Cannes this past May, Lawrence of Arabia will screen nationwide in a digital-only theatrical event in theaters starting October 4th.   The film will be available in a Blu-ray™ 3-disc collectible boxed set starting November 13th from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.  Additionally, the film will be featured for one night only on Turner Classic Movies, November 16th at 8:00PM in a television exclusive.  The U.S. premiere of the new restoration will take place in Los Angeles on July 19th with a special 4K presentation at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

 

Nominated for 10 Academy Awards®, winning seven, including Best Picture and Best Director and staring Best Actor nominee Peter O'Toole and Best Supporting Actor nominee Omar Sharif, the film is one of the crown jewels in the legacy of Columbia Pictures.  "We wanted to return this film to as pristine a condition as possible to honor its anniversary release," says Grover Crisp, EVP of Asset Management, Film Restoration and Digital Mastering for SPE.  The original camera negative was scanned at 8K and the film went through a painstaking process of repairing problems inherent to the 50-year old film elements.  Using the latest digital imaging technology, the color grading and re-mastering was completed in 4K at Colorworks, Sony Pictures Entertainments' digital intermediate facility.  "The original negative was seriously damaged in a number of ways, some problems dating from the original release and some accumulated over the years." says Crisp.  "But, until now, we did not have the tools available to address these issues.   We think fans of the film will be as amazed as we are at the detail and resolution in the imagery captured by cinematographer Freddie Young to compliment David Lean's immaculate direction."


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