It took a lot of stones I'd say, even in the early 1960s, to deliver this product to the public. Lawrence of Arabia shouldn't have worked, but it did...for many, and it doesn't...for me. In fact, this is one of the most overly-long, boring movies I've ever tried to watch.
Actor Omar Sharif, who stars in the film and received a Best Supporting Actor nod for his work, once posed this question about this very film,
“If you are the man with the money and somebody comes to you and says he wants to make a film that's four hours long, with no stars, and no women, and no love story, and not much action either, and he wants to spend a huge amount of money to go film it in the desert--what would you say?”
If you've read Roger Ebert's Great Movies essay on the film, you'll notice that he starts his piece with this very same quote. He goes on to basically answer yes and describes how "imagination" is what led to the making of Lawrence of Arabia, David Lean's imagination, his "ability to imagine what it would look like to see a speck appear on the horizon of the desert, and slowly grow into a human being." That's all well and good, and it shows in the film, and I have no problem understanding why so many film directors laud this film as one of the best of all-time. Later, though, when discussing the film's egregiously extravagant (my phrase) running time, Ebert comments on how "clean" the film is and making no other mention of the thing that bothered me about this movie the most...its length.
Now, there are things I appreciated about Lawrence of Arabia to be sure. It is great looking. The Blu-ray I watched was full and "clean" and absolutely stunning visually. The casting of Peter O'Toole as the titular Lawrence is perfectly on-point. His speech, his mannerisms, his face (in general) lend a very watchable quality to many great scenes in this film. I'm thinking particularly of his re-emergence in Cairo, wearing his Arab garb, ordering lemonade for his young partner. Or the look in his eyes (those blue eyes) when he hesitates to raid the party of fleeing Turks late in the film before unleashing a violent rage he will almost immediately regret.
The film is also not without some strikingly relevant dialogue relating to the way the Western world sees the Arab people, even still today. It is obvious why T.E. Lawrence so easily took up arms beside and was accepted by these warriors. Their customs and dress inspire his curiosities and eccentricities while simultaneously leading to his complete understanding of his own preconceived notions about them, as he fires out lines on the barbary of the Arabs: "So long as the Arabs fight tribe against tribe, so long will they be a little people, a silly people--greedy, barbarous, and cruel..." To me, that is one of the more profound pieces of dialogue in Robert Bolt's screenplay. It is everything we still believe in this country (along with other Western nations) about the Arab Muslims still reigning terror in their home countries and spewing their hatred for America, specifically, this very minute.
PLEASE DON'T TAKE MY COMMENTS THERE THE WRONG WAY. I AM IN NO WAY AGAINST ALL MUSLIMS OR ISLAM AS A RELIGION. BUT THERE IS A LOT OF TRUTH TO THE WORDS OF T.E. LAWRENCE THERE, EVEN NOW. I AM AGAINST AMERICAN INVOLVEMENT IN THESE WARS. I WISH THEY WOULD STOP INVOLVING US. OR THAT WE NEVER INVOLVED OURSELVES. WE BROUGHT MUCH OF THAT ON OURSELVES.
Let's get down to it: I didn't like this movie and will most likely never watch it again. In fact, the only way I'll ever see it again is if, by some miracle, I happen upon a theater screening of it on 70mm film. I won't old my breath, but that, as Ebert says, is the way to see it. The small screen, even the best transfer on Blu-ray, will never come close to capturing what Lean's film, photographed so gorgeously by cinematographer F.A. Young, was meant to be.
I also very much adore Maurice Jarre's majestic score. It is as epic as the film itself and, to me, took me back to my love of John Williams' work on Steven Spielberg's Indiana Jones series.
Plain and simple, Lawrence of Arabia is just way too damn long, there is barely anything I could grasp onto in order stay involved on an emotional level. I only watched it about an hour at a time over three days. The only way I could possibly do it. And I still wasn't compelled, even watching in short increments.
This will have to remain a movie where I understand its importance to cinema, easily admiring and appreciating its imagination and the fact it got made AND won Best Picture. But it's a hard movie to love. I certainly don't love it.