Biography of the enigma that was T.E. Lawrence: Arab warlord, self-denying ascetic, would-be anonymous RAF ranker and - some accounts suggest - sado-masochist.
When Robert Harris and Jim Painten got Columbia's permission to restore David Lean's mother and father of epic movies, no less than four tons of extraneous footage was delivered to their door. It took them nearly a year to view. Their intention was to restore the original version and preserve it on an all new 70mm print which would render even the most distant detail on Lean's mighty canvas pin-sharp.
There then followed months of mixing, dubbing(Alec Guinness and Peter O'Toole repeating bits of dialogue prior to having their voices electronically rejuvenated), consultations with the original team- some of whom, like Lean, are beyond normal retirement age- tweaking the colour to restore its extraordinary richness and stitching back the lost footage, some of it in the shape of entire scenes which today would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to shoot.
The restored version, although it makes the progress of Lawrence's career more comprehensible, is unlikely to bury the argument which still simmers around the puzzle of his life and times. A figure of enormous fascination to the intelligentsia during his life, since is death he has repeatedly resisted subsequent efforts to interpret his odd blend of Arab warlord, self-denying ascetic, would-be anonymous RAF ranker and - some accounts suggest - sado-masochistic homosexual.
It certainly provides O'Toole with the kind of role that actors would happily lop off parts of their body for. He's on screen for almost the whole 216 minutes and attacks Lawrence's contradictory characteristics-his compassion and his blood lust, his exhibitionism and his solitary nature with a wild-eyed conviction upon which his subsequent career has been built.
The supporting cast didn't do badly either: Omar Sharif makes his entrance into Western cinema on Camel-back, slowly emerging through the shimmering heat haze, Alec Guinness portrays the cunning but strangely endearing King Feisel, Anthony Quinn shines as Auda, erstwhile Arab enemy but ultimate ally of Lawrence, and the late Jack Hawkins adroitly tangles efficiency and pomposity as General Allenby, top dog of the British forces in the Middle East.
But what magnetises the audiences still is the sheer enormity of the locations - the vast arid deserts and craggy mountain outcrops of Jordan that frame Lawrence's struggle. 'Nothing is impossible', he says, and the sight of this tiny figure traversing the awesome desert is one of the more resounding images the movies can offer.
Sweeping, epic, majestic, awesome, sumptuous, you name the grandiose superlative and you'll be right, with amazing performances and gorgeous visuals, although very, very long.