A Quick Note On Seeing Lawrence of Arabia On The Big Screen

Firstly I must qualify the title of this mini-posting.  This is not a review of Lawrence of Arabia – it is one of he greatest ‘epic’ films ever made, what more do you need to say – and when I say ‘the Big Screen’ I actually simply mean the cinema.  I can just about remember when a big screen could actually accommodate two tiers of seating, but that was many, many years ago!

So how come Lawrence of Arabia was being shown in a mainstream cinema?  Well, this year is the fiftieth anniversary of its premier (which was at the Odeon, Leicester Square in London on 10th December 1962) and in celebration of this fact there is a Blu-ray edition available and the film is being shown in cinemas across the country.  It has already been exhibited in cinema’s in America (a month or two ago) and in the UK yesterday.  There is also another screening this coming Tuesday.

Filming with huge 70mm cameras (on Super Panavision 70 film) caused many difficulties on the shoot including the regular over-heated of he equipment in the desert sun, despite the many efforts to keep them cool.  Although the larger format does significantly increase the image quality and apparently greatly assist with image stability while projecting, the term 70mm is a slightly misleading – in terms of the actual size of the image on 70mm film, 65mm are for the picture frame and the other 5mm are for the sound strip, whereas all of the 35mm are used for the image on 35mm film.

The digital copy of the film has been scanned at 8k and 4k, which I believe is unusual (see page seven of the Masters of Cinema Catalogue for an interesting comparison of film and film scans).  Most films for release in cinemas are filmed at 2k digital, which is roughly half the equivalent of the information contained on 35mm film.  4k appears to be optimal for most movies as it is virtually equivalent to 35mm film, so I assume the 8k scan was undertaken to accommodate the additional information contained on a 70mm print.

Prior to the film screening itself there were the usual trailers for future features – one was for the Life of Pi which appears to be nearly all constructed with CGI technology.  I have no problem with CGI, it can be incredibly useful and highly effective when used sparingly, but I dislike it’s over use – it gives the film an artificial sheen which I find off-putting.  I mention this because, of course, Lawrence of Arabia was filmed long before this technology was available and the film looked refreshingly ‘natural’ and warm (or was that just the heat of the desert!).

I do not know which scan was shown, I’m assuming the 8k version – which ever it was it looked absolutely stunning, the depth and visible detail was incredible.  I have seen couple of classic films at the cinema and you do notice more, get more of an experience – it is great to see these films as they should be seen.  It is far more of an experience than watching it at home on the small screen. I was one of only five people at this particular screening, which is a pitiful number!  The film is truly epic, in terms of length as much as scope of the story – it is the longest film to win Academy Awards, only beating Gone With The Wind by about a minute.  My ticket was nearly £10, which seems to be usual, but I think I really got my monies worth this time.

If you get the chance to see this classic as it should be seen, on as big a screen as possible, I would highly recommend it.

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