Saturday, November 13, 2010

Lawrence of Arabia

Lawrence of Arabia is certainly one of the most epic movies I've seen, in the true sense of the word. It's extremely long, and fully aware of its own importance. Over ten minutes of its nearly four hour running time are just the film's impressive score set against a black screen. It tells the mostly true story of T. E. Lawrence, a British military officer who became famous after helping to unite warring Arab tribes and lead them in revolt against the Turkish empire during World War I. The amount of area covered isn't exactly global in its scope, but you get a great feel for the tremendous size and danger of living in the desert, and the delicate politics of trying to keep natural enemies from killing each other in pursuit of a bigger goal.

Peter O'Toole plays Lawrence, and does a good job of it. He's the main character, and he did great things, but he's not exactly a good guy. He has compassion for others, but it's worn thin by constant fighting, and he eventually starts drinking his own Kool-Aid and believing himself to be invincible. He also has a sadistic streak that rears its head sometimes. An interesting way to handle a protagonist. The whole cast is good although it seems kind of odd to cast Europeans as Arabs nowadays, including Alec Guinness as a prince who gives him support early on.

But while the film tells an interesting story with a good cast, it wasn't as entertaining to actually watch as it could have been. It's not just the running time, I've seen plenty of films of similar length that haven't bored me to this extent at times. Scenes of Lawrence and others marching across the desert often seem endless and repetitive, and the plot never really seems to rev up or ever reach a true climax. There are moments of violence and significant drama, but no consistent rising action. The movie is broken into two acts, which confounds the typical narrative structure. It's well constructed and filmed by David Lean and his crew, it just wasn't as gripping as movies I find superior. There are a few scenes that are arresting in that sort of way, particularly the opening sequence which actually takes place at the end of the story, but not as many as there should have been. A Classic movie, but not exactly my cup of tea.

No comments: