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Category:    Home > Reviews > Drama > Epic > Historic > Action > Biopic > War > Politics > British > Large Frame Format > Music > Comedy > Eve > Lawrence Of Arabia (1962/Sony Blu-ray w/Gift Set)/This Is Cinerama (1952/Flicker Alley Blu-ray w/DVD)

Lawrence Of Arabia (1962/Sony Blu-ray w/Gift Set)/This Is Cinerama (1952/Flicker Alley Blu-ray w/DVD)


Picture: A/B & B-     Sound: B+/B & B-     Extras: B*     Films: A/B+



Before 1952, virtually all motion pictures were in the 1.33 X 1 frame and save a few experimental releases, it seemed destine to stay that way, even with the final arrival of the very similarly framed new medium of television.  60 years later, even television is widescreen and the 1.33 X 1 frame is rarely used.  So how did that happen?


Over a ten year period, Hollywood realized they needed to find new ways to compete with the rise of TV and that meant getting bigger and better.  That included improved color formats and taking experiments in stereo sound and adding multi-channel sound.  Two motion pictures are most responsible for taking widescreen filmmaking and making it more than a mere gimmick as 3D (also launched at this time) is still often considered despite its current fourth wave (and first digital wave).


If we had to name the two films most responsible for this, they would be David Lean’s Lawrence Of Arabia (1962) and Robert L. Bendick’s This Is Cinerama (1952), two classics that changed filmmaking for all time and happen to be arriving on Blu-ray at about the same time.


After the Cinerama format was introduced using three 35mm cameras interlocked to shoot a larger image, Hollywood answered with CinemaScope (a two-lens process to make widescreen images that were good, but also a bit distorted and not as sharp), VistaVision (a better format which shot 35mm film horizontally and had larger 8-perferation frames for which you could make any wide aspect ratio you wanted) and Todd-AO 70mm using 65mm negative frames in a larger camera to create a higher fidelity image that became a world filmmaking standard for epic filmmaking.


Lawrence Of Arabia was shot in the another great 65mm negative format, Super Panavision 70, using slightly different lenses but with the same spectacular effects of minute picture detail, superior to 35mm color reproduction and a far more advanced pallet of lighting and image options.  Both 70mm formats would later be used on Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968, reviewed on Blu-ray elsewhere on this site) and are still active today, if not used enough.  Lean was coming off the international triumph of Bridge On The River Kwai (1957, also reviewed on Blu-ray elsewhere on this site) and decided to take on the biopic, but in a whole new way.  This would be more than that, and even more than the deep character study it is, but an epic on every level and the British-U.S. co-production would be Lean’s masterpiece.


The film introduced Peter O’Toole as T.E. Lawrence, a soldier in the British Army who during WWI somehow managed to bring together enemy Arab tribes to finally bring down the long-enduring Turkish Empire.  That act alone still makes this film and its historic story as relevant now as it ever was.  Lawrence is also not taken as seriously since he is unapologetically homosexual (implied in parts throughout the film) so his journey and success seems even more unlikely to some, especially with the homophobia of the time.


But Lawrence paid attention to none of that, keeps to himself, is more clever than he is given credit for and as part of a seemingly simple mission is on his way to Arabia.  For the first part of the film, the image looks great, but is made up of a few location and indoor shots that only hint at the power of the 70mm format.  We see him preparing to ride a motorcycle, then start to unravel the mystery of his identity like no one since Orson Welles’ Charles Foster Kane in his 1941 classic Citizen Kane, yet Lawrence has nowhere near the power of that powerful semi-fictional man.


He did have the same kind of individuality and principles, but he stuck by them all the way through and in the face of the Turkish Empire about to fall and British Empire not far away from having his own problems, the screenplay by Robert Bolt and Michael Wilson goes all out to cover every subtle aspect and nuance of the situations, people and life the film takes on.  There is not one wasted line, wasted moment or missed opportunity as a result, including everything you could imagine about the desert and the film starts humorously and is always humorous.


Then we go to serious moments, back to humor, key events keep building up and are added in (not in chronological order all the time either) and as well, the film has a great many things to say along the way until the final payoffs at the end that echo as strongly now as ever.  O’Toole put himself permanently on the cinematic map, backed by great performances by an amazing cast including Claude Rains (it is no coincidence that the once invisible Lawrence is literally befriended by cinema’s first Invisible Man), Omar Sharif, Anthony Quinn, Alec Guinness, Jose Ferrer, Arthur Kennedy, Anthony Quayle and a huge cast that runs into thousands and includes some of the greatest ballet scenes in cinema history.


This is the new 2012 restoration upgrade based on the 1988 restoration that saved the film from being lost forever.  Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg teamed up to save the film using their clout and influence to get the project off the ground and it worked.  One of the most influential films of all time, it is up there with the best ever made, yet not enough people have seen it these days despite being in print on tape, 12” LaserDiscs from Criterion and several DVD editions from Sony.  This new Blu-ray makes all previous copies obsolete, but more on that in the technical section below, but it is one of the best Blu-rays now on the market.


Extras include Ultraviolet Copy, Theatrical Advertising Campaigns, monochrome Newsreel Footage of the New York Premiere, a Making Of documentary, A Conversation with Steven Spielberg, featurettes Mann, Jordan: The Camels Are Cast, In Search Of Lawrence and Romance Of Arabia, Wind, Sand & Star: The Making Of A Classic (1970 version of the vintage featurette) and two Blu-ray exclusives: Peter O’Toole Revisits Lawrence Of Arabia and Secrets Of Arabia: Picture-In-Graphics Track.


*A special box set with even more extras is also available (pictures in the upper right hand corner) and would rate higher, adding the well-illustrated box shell, a numbered and mounted 70mm cell, soundtrack CD, hardcover coffee table book on the film and bonus third Blu-ray with more extras including an interview with Martin Scorsese.



Lawrence was edited by Anne V. Coates, A.C.E., who took new innovations like jumpcuts from the French New Wave in mind and understood where editing was going as an artform.  Because she was so bold is bringing it to a large-frame format film, such films before it seem older and that includes so many other widescreen releases.  Even more than Kubrick’s Spartacus (1960) which the director did not have total control of; Lawrence brought naturalism to large frame format epics.


That is amazing considering Robert L. Bendick’s This Is Cinerama only arrived a decade before.  With 8 channels of sound, three projects playing a single ultra-wide image at once (all three 35mm frames were a little taller than 1.33 X 1) and bringing the viewer into the visuals with engulfing images and audio, the film became a monster hit and showed you could do so much more with a square image on film.  The sound and widescreen was seen as a sort of gimmick and the film is not a narrative film nor a travelogue, but a journey across America and Americana (a word that is also Cinerama’s letters rearranged) that made cinema a new kind and level of experience it had not been before.


After a prolonged section of 1.33 X 1 black and white footage about the rise of filmmaking and movies, host Lowell Thomas (the famous newsreel narrator who also made T.E. Lawrence’s story known to the world) appears on camera to host this history lesson, then the screen opens up, goes to color, the multi-channel sound kicks in, we are on a roller coaster ride and the journey the film offers begins.


I don’t want to ruin any surprises, yet there is some of the most stunning aerial footage (shot by the great Paul Mantz) of the United States you will ever see, some other amazing footage, a time capsule of life and time gone, some funny moments, some profound moments and a climax that likely and rightly had audiences cheering as the film delivered an experience like nothing before.  Cinerama was a hit and slowly but surely, Hollywood and world cinema moved to widescreen images as a result of its critical popularity and huge commercial success.  I think the film holds up better than you could imagine and it is fortunate that enough copies survived that this disc was even possible, but more on that in a minute.


Some very smart people backed its development, including Thomas, legendary King Kong producer Merian C. Copper, process creator Fred Waller, Michael Todd and hundreds of unsung heroes who thought they could push cinema into a new direction.  It worked.  Seen even less than Lawrence, This Is Cinerama has been somewhat of an orphan film not exactly attached to a major studio (though Disney/ABC owns Cinerama films, that is later catalog and a long story) so here we have yet another great epic being saved and to finally see it in its entirety, its importance in inarguable.  After experiments with stereo sound (Disney’s FantaSound) and large frame formats before The Great Depression, this film brought all the new possible innovations together and the result is a must-see classic that everyone can now finally enjoy again.


Amazing, still even stunning, it would soon find itself endlessly imitated, but This Is Cinerama is the original real thing that all serious film fans should see in this remarkably satisfying motion picture event that endures!

Extras include a reproduction of the original program magazine inside the Blu-ray case, while the Blu-ray and DVD adds the 9 minutes black and white breakdown reel that was played when one or more of the strips failed or something became misaligned, promotion/publicity stills gallery, new trailer, TV previews for the film and the Cinerama production 7 Wonders Of The World, 1952 Fred Waller radio interview (15 minutes) taped the day before the film opened, Alternate Act II European Opening (2 minutes) for that market since the original cut is U.S. aimed, Remastering A Widescreen Classic piece running 19 minutes that shows how the film was saved for this Blu-ray (and DVD) release, a tribute to two theaters that show(ed) Cinerama: New Neon Movies in Dayton, Ohio (15 minutes) and The Cooper Theater in Denver, Colorado and a feature length audio commentary track with John Sittig (from Cinerama, Inc.), David Strohmaier (Cinerama Historian), Randy Gitsch (locations background) and original crew member Jim Morrison.


A great set of extras for a great film, Flicker Alley has issued one of the best Blu-rays of the year.  They have also done the same with Windjammer, the only film in the competing Cinemiracle format and we’ll be reviewing that release soon.




The 1080p 2.20 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer on Lawrence is a stunning upgrade that is just incredible off of the new 8K scanned, 4K digital HD master from the restored 65mm negative.  So amazing, only a real 70mm print or a dye-transfer, three-strip Technicolor print (including 16mm and 35mm) could compete or be better.  Color range, detail and depth make all previous DVD editions obsolete, including the popular DTS SuperBit edition.  The work by Director of Photography Freddie Young, B.S.C., is some of the most spectacular filmmaking of all time.  Still imitated to this day, it has never been surpassed and Sony took its time to put this out.


Now, we have one of the best Blu-rays on the market that will stun on the best HD TVs (and even upcoming Ultra HDTVs) in the world.  It joins Blu-rays of Baraka, Grand Prix and 2001: A Space Odyssey as among the best I have ever seen and so much so that I can also say this is truer to the original 70mm presentation than the 35mm 2.35 X 1 scope reduction print I saw a few years ago.  The color is highly accurate for a Technicolor release and a 70mm release, so anyone serious about Blu-ray or filmmaking should consider this a must-own Blu-ray and it is an all-time classic that just keeps getting better with age!



The 1080p 2.59 X 1 Smilebox widescreen digital High Definition image transfer of This Is Cinerama can show some flaws and detail issues, but Flicker Alley pulled off an amazing, highly time consuming miracle here by taking a 70mm print that had the three 35mm strips already aligned and making a new HD master out of it.  This was a dye-transfer, three-strip Technicolor 70mm print that did not turn out well and was shelved, but not destroyed.  Because the color format is so enduring, it held up over the years, so they were able to go frame by frame and fix the color errors, damage, misalignments and other flaws to produce a stunning presentation that really delivers the classic.


The anamorphically enhanced DVD version is not bad and even decent, but it is not a match for the Blu-ray at its best, and that is often.  It is also Smilebox, which imitates the curved screen experience and (as was the case with Warner’s Blu-ray of How The West Was Won (reviewed elsewhere on this site) and Flicker Alley’s impressive Windjammer (which we will again cover next) is the way to see the film.



Both Blu-ray have DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless mixes and both originally had sound with multi-channel sound with traveling dialogue and sound effects, but Sony has outdone the Lawrence SuperBit DTS mix with a high fidelity upgrade that takes the originally 6-track magnetic sound and its Dolby SR 70mm restoration in 1988 to a new level of incredible fidelity.  Some dialogue and sound effects may show their age, but other original recording elements are stunning and when you add the brilliant score by Maurice Jarre, you can tell Sony spent some serious money preserving, saving and getting as much of the sound out of the original elements as their advanced technology would allow them and they have sound as good as anyone in the industry.  I was stunned at all the sounds I had not heard before and I have seen and heard this in 70mm, plus all of its previous home video versions.


The soundfield is non-stop excellent, warmth of the playback a revelation and Sony has set a new standard for how great classic large frame films can sound.  Any serious home theater’s sound capacities will be more than challenged by what is pulled off here.  Incredible!


We get some traveling dialogue and sound effects on This Is Cinerama, but most of the talk is Lowell Thomas’ narration, which does sound pretty good here.  In addition, the directionality of the sound is wider than Lawrence since this is a wider film, but Flicker Alley has done a nice cleaning up of the original 8-channel sound without distorting or compressing it and it adds to the fun and experience.  This is something special for audiophiles and serious home theater fans and should not be missed just on an audio level.  The lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 on the DVD is good, but it also loses the overall impact of the DTS-MA on the Blu-ray.


-   Nicholas Sheffo


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