This is long. And I don't mean 2 hours or 3 hours long. I mean 3 hours and 47 minutes long complete with a black screen overture and an intermission. For that reason we were putting off watching this movie for a long time as it sounded like a long boring old epic that would take us forever to watch. But we finally committed to it and watched it over 2 nights, and I was really surprised at how enjoyable it was. They certainly don't make movies like this anymore, and it is a real shame. I would have loved to see this in 70mm, as it was originally filmed, to see the amazing panoramic vistas of the desert and mountain scenes. That would have been simply amazing
The acting was okay overall, Alec Guinness seemed to channel his inner Obi-Wan (yes I know this was filmed 15 years prior to Star Wars) but it still reminded me of Obi-Wan, so I guess more appropriately, he channeled his inner Faisel when he did Star Wars. We could also have a long discussion about the fact that Guinness was chosen for a role of an Arab, however the 1960s was a different time, a period where that kind of thing was much more common and considered acceptable. Peter O'Toole's acting was what is expected of the time period, somewhat stiff and overacting in areas and not enough acting in others. But as a friend of mine said, people were easier to please back then.
Omar Sharif was actually probably the best actor of the group of main characters, although some of the minor actors did a good job as well. Overall the action sequences and drama were not as well done as what we are used to these days, but for the year it was made it was done pretty well.
The film seems to be divided into two halves, the first half filled with epic scenic gloriously cinematic shots and the long (and I mean long) travels of Lawrence across the desert. The second half is more about the military actions of Lawrence and the Arab tribes as they slowly fought their way to Damascus against the Ottoman Empire. I really got into this movie, partially because I am into World War I and a bit of WWI in the near east. I even pulled out the board game Pursuit of Glory to look at the maps and see where they were traveling and which villages they were attacking (Shannon laughed at me for doing this and thought I was weird that I even had maps for that region during WWI).
As you can probably tell, I really enjoyed this movie. It was filmed in such a breathtaking and eye catching way and in a slow but well-paced manner (certainly nothing like the films made in the past 50 years or so).
I am not so sure this would be the best film of the year, although the only other nominee I have seen is To Kill a Mockingbird. Mockingbird certainly had much better acting and the story was more important to tell in the 1960s, but I thought Lawrence of Arabia was an overall much better film. It might be a case of the Academy being really into the long epics and giving the award to that type of film, rather than something a bit shorter and tighter like Mockingbird. That all being said, it was a good movie, but if you aren't really interested in World War I in the near east, then this wouldn't hold much interest for you. If you are going to take the plunge, then read a brief bit on wikipedia about Lawrence and his adventures and campaign. I could tell the movie didn't do a great job of explaining things as Shannon was lost at times.
Overall, a really good movie for those interested in the era or interested in the cinematic aspects of film, but I could not say it belongs as a best picture.
Other nominees: The Longest Day, The Music Man, Mutiny on the Bounty, To Kill a Mockingbird
Next up: The Greatest Show on Earth 1952