“Lawrence of Arabia” coming to Blu-Ray and back to theaters — will it help sell digital?

A scene from "Lawrence of Arabia"The long-awaited Blu-Ray release of David Lean’s 1962 epic “Lawrence of Arabia” will finally happen on November 13 (pre-order it here), but perhaps the more interesting piece of news is that the restoration is also headed for theaters.

“One night only” digital presentations of older films have become common over the past few years, thanks to the distribution network run by National CineMedia. Most recently, “Casablanca” and “Singin’ in the Rain” got to reoccupy the silver screen.

But this “Lawrence of Arabia” restoration promises to make a lot more noise, because it will not only have “one night only” shows in select markets, but a full-scale theatrical release beginning October 4. For the first time in years (decades?), an older film will be revived for regular engagements, sans 3-D conversion.

We can all be thankful that Sony avoided stereoscopy for this classic, a true marvel of widescreen cinematography. What they have done, however, is scan the negative at the extremely high resolution of 8K and then meticulously restore it. Properly presented via 4K projection, the image should be a knockout.

Which begs the question: Will this issue of “Lawrence” be able to sell the idea of digital shows for repertory titles? Regular repertory audiences generally expect film, and “Lawrence” holds a particularly special place in many viewers’ hearts because it is the movie most often screened in the 70mm format today (an increasing rarity). But this digital restoration is clearly special and will most likely offer a sampling of the best that a DCP of an older film could possibly look.

Thus, perhaps after cinephiles (and the masses) sneak a peak at the re-release, they’ll be more open to digital revivals in general, which have thus far been greeted tepidly. While I will personally always favor film as an exhibition medium of titles made in the pre-digital intermediate era, I can’t help but welcome digital as a convenient way to repopularize repertory cinema in non-urban markets.

The 4K DCP of “Lawrence of Arabia” will first see the light of day tomorrow, when it preview-screens at the Academy’s Samuel Goldwyn Theatre in Los Angeles. In 36 hours, we should have a pretty good indication of whether the restoration is, indeed, the marvel that it has every right to be.