Sunday, May 12, 2013

Movies! - "No prisoners! No prisoners!"

Way back in 2009, when I had a lot more time on my hands, I participated in "Movie a Day" which basically involved blogging every day, only the subject matter had to be a movie.  My inspiration was Roger Ebert's Great Movies.  In his series, it's not about giving a score to the movie or creating a list of "best movies".  It was all just about the great movies.  In my case, it was more about my favorite movies, as I'm not exactly going to call Predator 2 "great" even though I enjoy the hell out of it.

I also had a really good time participating in that little experiment, and I've been looking for the opportunity to do so again. While declaring that I'm going to write about a movie every day just isn't feasible right now, I think that I can promise myself to write about at least one movie every week or two.

Turns out that one of the movies that I had considered writing about back then was Lawrence of Arabia, but it just didn't make the cut.  The reason probably had to do with the fact that I probably appreciated it more than I actually liked it.  Don't misunderstand, I definitely enjoyed it, but I probably didn't get the same kick out of it that I did with a David Lean film that I did write about, The Bridge on the River Kwai.

Just like Barack Obama's stance on gay marriage, my view of this film has evolved over time.  I first saw it when my mom bought the two-tape VHS "director's cut" for my dad.  (I almost called it two-disc.  Tape?  For a movie?  Huh?)  I remember being annoyed by the fact that the entire thing was letterboxed.  (Keep in mind that I was only 15 years old.  Trust me, I work with kids that age - they don't know anything.  Well, most of them don't.  I was one of the ones who didn't.)  I also remember enjoying the first few minutes where you see him riding a motorcycle only to crash to his death.  After that?  I was bored by it.  I was so bored, in fact, that I didn't even bother watching the second half when my parents watched it the next day.

Flash forward over a decade, and I went ahead and bought the DVD edition of the movie.  Why would I buy a movie that I had previously thought was boring?  Well, I was still young, but I was old enough to know that my 15 year old self didn't know squat.  My taste in movies was becoming more refined, and after the aforementioned The Bridge on the River Kwai quickly jumping up the list to one of my favorite movies of all time, I figured that I'd probably like the adventures of T.E. Lawrence a bit better.  Fortunately for me, I was right.

I avoid making lists of favorite movies, but while I'm not sure that it would crack my top 10, it would probably crack my top 50.  I really enjoyed the character development, the scenery, and all of the performances.  Still, something about the second half of the movie kind of dragged for me, which prevented it from being one of the first movies that I'd name if anybody would have ever asked me to list off my favorites.  I definitely got some good mileage out of that DVD though, as it was a movie that I probably watched at least once a year.

Flash forward once again to my 39th birthday, and my wonderful wife bought for me the Blu-Ray.  Not only did she get me that, but she got me the uber-special edition with the picture book, film frame, two extra discs (on top of the movie and standard bonus disc).  I had asked for it, but I was still pretty excited to get it anyway.

Now, I don't know if it was the quality of the Blu-Ray that did it, but I felt like I had my "magic viewing" of this film.  In many ways, it was like really seeing it for the first time.  Perhaps I was just in the right mood, but not enough can be said about how awesome this new edition is.  Simply putting a movie on Blu-Ray doesn't ensure that it's going to look good.  I've seen some where, in all honesty, I don't know if I would have known the difference between it and a DVD version.  (Maybe it would be different if I had a screen that was wider than 42".)  With some classic movies, I've been impressed with the transfer, but this was like a revelation.  The only other time where my expectations were so exceeded was when I watched the Blu-Ray of Jaws.

This is a movie that's known for its scenery, and while I must shamefully admit that I've missed a few opportunities to see special screenings of it in theaters, I have to say that I felt like I was there in that desert along with Lawrence and his army of Arabs.  I'm not even that technically inclined, but I was pretty engrossed in the bonus feature where they explained how they went about making this new transfer - and it should be clear that this is a new transfer.  It's not simply a high-def version of the old one.  I'm not smart enough to explain any further, but suffice it to say, you're getting something that required a lot of extra work.  It's so good-looking, that I'd easily use this as an example of how great high definition looks for somebody who still hasn't made the switch.

The great transfer aside, it really struck me what a great performance Peter O'Toole gives in this movie.  While you should't watch the movie for strict historical accuracy, the real Lawrence was a complicated guy, and O'Toole certainly gets that across.  He's a true iconoclast, who sees moments in his life where people both ignore and celebrate him.  He's a self-made man who's at war with himself.  And most interesting about him; he doesn't quite have himself figured out.  Just when he starts to get a handle on who he is; he starts to question whether he's doing the right thing.  It's quite the character arc, and if you don't feel satisfied with where it goes, it's probably because he doesn't either.

Like any good movie, there are a lot of great lines.  Lucky for me, my favorite bit, where Lawrence takes his young Arab assistant to the British Officer's quarters, is on Youtube.  Here's a man who's found his purpose in life, but he's not quite ready to deal with all the slaughter that comes with it.

Oh, and if I'm ever forced at gunpoint to list my top 10, it's definitely in the running now.

T.E. Lawrence: My friends, we have been foolish. Auda will not come to Aqaba. Not for money...
Auda abu Tayi: No.
T.E. Lawrence: ...for Feisal...
Auda abu Tayi: No!
T.E. Lawrence: ...nor to drive away the Turks. He will come... because it is his pleasure.
Auda abu Tayi: Thy mother mated with a scorpion.

T.E. Lawrence: It's my manner, sir.
General Murray: Your manner?
T.E. Lawrence: Yes. It looks insubordinate, but it isn't really.

General Allenby: I believe your name will be a household word when you'll have to go to the War Museum to find who Allenby was. You're the most extraordinary man I've ever met!
T.E. Lawrence: Leave me alone!
General Allenby: What?
T.E. Lawrence: Leave me alone!
General Allenby: Well, that's a feeble thing to say.
T.E. Lawrence: I know I'm not ordinary.
General Allenby: That's not what I'm saying...
T.E. Lawrence: All right! I'm extraordinary! What of it?

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