Few directors, if any, of the
modern cinema have been able to accomplish what
David Lean did in the deserts of Egypt in the
early sixties when he filmed what is arguably
the greatest cinematic epic ever constructed,
Lawrence of Arabia.
The entire production was a battle of wills between
director Lean and the elements themselves.
O'Toole & Sharif.
Sandstorms abounded in the deserts
outside of Cairo, the film literally melted in
the cameras at times, and when a take was ruined,
the act of having to sweep away all the fresh
footprints for miles on all sides to restore the
"virgin sand" for the next take was
grueling. However, David Lean survived it all
with the fervor of a zealot and created a film
that has stood the test of time. With dynamic
performances from Peter O'Toole (as Lawrence),
Omar Sharif, Anthony Quinn, and Claude Raines,
the story of Lawrence comes to life with boundless
energy, passion, and grandeur.
The story, for the three of you
out there who may have not seen the film, is simply
(and yet not so simply) the story of T.E. Lawrence.
A British officer in Cairo during the World War
I, Lawrence is sent on a mission into the deserts
of Arabia to find the Prince Feisal. His journey
becomes much more as he braves harsh deserts,
militant Turks, and the instability of the Arab
tribes. What started as a search and find task
quickly becomes an organized guerilla campaign
against the Turkish army and Lawrence's obsession
with uniting the tribes of Arabia.
Put simply, the film is brilliant
and it is a miracle that it was ever made. Nothing
of its ilk will ever be accomplished again without
the digital trickery at our disposal today. That
is the film's prime mastery, the fact that every
shot and scene is one hundred percent real, without
any optical effects or digital illusions.
It is well known that Lawrence
of Arabia is arguably Steven Spielberg's
favorite film, especially considering that he
was instrumental in its restoration in the late
1980s. Much of the film's grandeur and tone found
its way into the frames of the Indiana Jones films.
The most obvious influence Lawrence had on the
series was in the grandiose vistas of the landscapes.
In Raiders of the Lost
Ark, there are many beautiful vistas that
mimic Lawrence of Arabia,
most notably the wide shot of Indy and the diggers
at sunset over the Well of Souls. There are shots
very similar to this one, tonally and compositionally,
in Lawrence of Arabia.
It is also important to observe
that when Indy is dressed as an Egyptian worker
during the Map Room scenes, he looks very much
like Lawrence after the Arabs give him Bedouin
clothes out of gratitude.
An epic cinema
Jones and the Temple of Doom, the trek
through the jungle with the elephants is very
reminiscent of David Lean's treatment of "trek
scenes" with the heroic wide shots of the
jungle and rivers reflections of Lawrence's own
initial trek to find Feisal.
Jones and the Last Crusade continues the
tradition of sweeping landscapes in the desert,
but it also makes a direct homage to Lawrence.
Indy's pistol in the film is no longer the Smith
and Wesson, but oddly enough, a massive Webley
MKVI revolver, the exact same pistol carried by
Lawrence throughout his war in the desert.
you must watch in
Widescreen, not like this!
of Arabia was a heavy influence on the
Indiana Jones series in tone and composition,
providing adventure and quests through dangerous
landscapes with a sense of heroism and nobility.
The Indiana Jones films certainly have their share
of such ideas, Indiana
Jones and the Last Crusade especially.
If you have not seen this film, I highly encourages
you to go rent it and see it immediately. If you
love Indiana Jones, you will not be able to take
your eyes off this masterpiece.
David Lean's Lawrence
of Arabia limited edition DVD has hours
of fascinating extra material and even an interview
with Steven Spielberg about the virtues of this
extraordinary film. (MF)