The Best Restoration of ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ You’ll Ever See

Lawrence of Arabia

Alec Guinness in 'Lawrence of Arabia.'

Even if he had lived to quell violence in Ferguson, fix the California drought and discover a cure for Ebola, the late, great Peter O’Toole would still be remembered most for his role as T.E. Lawrence in Lawrence of Arabia. But it’s not O’Toole that the Rafael Film Center is concerned with when it screens the 1962 blockbuster as part of their current retrospective. Alec Guinness at 100, running through Sept. 28, celebrates the British master in a series of digital restorations and archival prints, mixing his better-known films (Bridge on the River Kwai, 1957) with relative unknowns (Kind Hearts and Coronets, 1949).

Discovery, or re-discovery, is the name of the retrospective. (Star Wars, with Guinness’ most famous role as Obi-Wan Kenobi, is not on the menu.) While those who’ve never heard of the Carol Reed-Graham Greene-Noël Coward collaboration Our Man in Havana (1959) can now have the chance to see it in 35mm, it’s Arabia that anchors the lineup, and Arabia that never tires—its nearly four-hour runtime be damned.

Arabia has been through restorations before, most notably a 1987 version which reintroduced 35 deleted minutes of director David Lean’s original that was saved by film archivists from forgotten, rusting canisters at Columbia Studios. That particular cleanup job solved the worst of the VHS format’s crimes against the movie, but the recent 4k digital restoration is said to be so precise, it doubles the clarity of Blu-Ray, and retains even the film-like patina of the original 70mm film.

Lawrence of Arabia screens Sunday, Aug. 31, as part of the Alec Guinness at 100 series, which continues through Sept. 28 at the Rafael Film Center in San Rafael. The same digital 4k restoration of Lawrence of Arabia also screens on Saturday, Aug. 30, at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco.

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Gabe Meline

Gabe Meline is an award-winning writer and editor who lives with his wife, his daughter, a 1964 Volvo and too many records in his hometown of Santa Rosa, CA. Find him on Twitter at @gmeline.

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