If you're like me -- you often wonder just what in the hell ever happened to the Hudson brothers -- you might find yourself thinking, after watching David Lean's beyond-brilliant Lawrence of Arabia, "Damn! When are they coming out with a sequel?!" Right? Wrong. You don't. You are the savvy DVD Talk-browsing, film-adoring, DVD-addicted movie aficionado who wouldn't dream of it. And more power to you, because when I first came across A Dangerous Man: Lawrence After Arabia I was instantly puzzled and aghast. Who in Heaven or on Earth would even attempt a sequel to what is arguably one of the ten greatest motion pictures ever filmed?
It's easy to explode with self-righteous indignation, and it's even easier when ones does it out of complete and utter ignorance (like I did), because this 1991 British telefilm is not a sequel to Lean's epic. The film does predominantly feature Colonel T. E. Lawrence (Ralph Fiennes) and Prince Feisal (Alexander Siddig), and is set directly after the events of Lean's film. But A Dangerous Man is as much a sequel to Lawrence of Arabia as Peter Hyams's 2010 was a sequel to Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. Both of the later films have similar characters and situations, but they concentrate more on plot and narrative flow than flouirshed storytelling and intricate character study.
(And A Dangerous Man is also a much better movie than 2010, but that's a whole different bucket of eggs which is quite tangential to this review.)
After the end of the First World War and the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, the entire Middle East is put up for grabs. At the peace talks in Paris in 1919, the victorious governments of France and England are eager to carve up a new Arabian nation that benefits each countries national interests. The French are eager to claim the rich territory of Syria, while England is gunning for the oil-rich "lower extremities" of Arabia. Throwing an unknown factor into the mix are Colonel T. E. Lawrence and Prince Feisal, who attend the conference with the dream of creating an Arabian state governed by Arabs, free from colonial influence. Lawrence himself commanded the battles that led to the liberation of Damascus, and holds fast to the promise of a free and self-governed Arabia. The game of global dominance, spheres of influence, and colonial powers vs. self-sovereignty is put to the test as each faction positions itself for the most advantageous slice of the Arabian pie. In the midst of these negotiations, we find Lawrence again struggling with his own bloated sense of ego and self-importance, envisioning himself as a demigod of sorts during every triumph, and withdrawing into doubt and confusion upon every setback.
Ralph Fiennes had a daunting task by stepping into a role made world famous by Peter O'Toole, but he truly shines magnificently as Lawrence, lending the role the right amount of arrogance, fortitude, and uncertainty. He never channels O'Toole, but rather plays the role as the film requires it. He wonderfully captures Lawrence as both the mad, romantic dreamer and the conflicted, confused soul. As Feisal, Alexandar Siddig (credited as Siddig El Fadil, whom I completely forgot was Dr. Bashir from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine until I began writing this review) is also a revelation. His Feisal is played significantly younger and more impulsively than Alec Guinness's memorable performance, but with genuine passion and conviction behind his eyes. His growing resentment with Lawrence's constant fawning, showboating, and glory-hogging, as well as the constant sidelining he endures from Western diplomats, is contrasted beautifully with his steady, charismatic visage and piercing eyes. Both men provide quite remarkable performances.
Make no mistake: A Dangerous Man: Lawrence After Arabia is not Lawrence of Arabia: Reloaded or Lawrence of Arabia: The Quickening. It is entirely its own entity, and an entertaining and compelling one at that.
A Dangerous Man: Lawrence After Arabia is presented in its original fullframe aspect ratio of 1.33:1. The quality of this transfer is, for the most part, disappointing. From the opening frame, we are confronted with a picture just ripe with shakiness, compression noise, poor contrasts, and a discernable lack of sharpness. Although the picture gradually and significantly improves, it never approaches anything better than "acceptable" quality. The print is riddled with numerous specks and other pieces of debris, and colors range from deeply muted to reasonable.
The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0, and is fairly monaural throughout, save for some occasional but noticeable expansion of the soundstage enhancing several scenes. Dialog levels are bright and demonstrate acceptable clarity without distortion or clipping. Orchestrations sound warm and balanced with reasonable range. Nothing to write home about, but generally this is a solid audio delivery.
The special features include a series of brief if moderately informative text-based supplements: Ralph Fiennes Profile, Alexander Siddig Profile, Ralph Fiennes Trivia, a T. E. Lawrence Biography, and a final section entitled T. E. Lawrence In His Own Words.
A suitable follow-up to Lean's film and an entertaining film in its own right, A Dangerous Man: Lawrence After Arabia is a smart and well-made effort that continues the cinematic history of Lawrence and Feisal in a compelling manner. Although the disc is light on extras and sports a somewhat disappointing transfer, the film alone makes the disc worth checking out. Perhaps not worth a purchase, A Dangerous Man: Lawrence After Arabia deserves a space at or near the top of your Must-Rent list.