Lionsgate // 2012 // 634 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // December 17th, 2012
How the legend came into being.
I have often wondered if there is some relationship between the fall of the Titanic and the rise of cinema. Of course, cinema was already a powerhouse before the ship was a glimmer in anyone's eye, but the way that newsreels allowed the story to become a kind of global phenomena must have gone some way towards creating the fame of the fabled ship. Cinema has also seemed like a medium uniquely suited to bring the story of the ship to the masses. The first fictional account came less than a month after the disaster, and was followed by numerous silent films chronicling that fateful day. Once talkies became the thing the story of the Titanic was revived again and again, perhaps culminating in James Cameron's 1997 chart-topper Titanic. After the monstrous success of that film, we could be forgiven for thinking that the Titanic was finally sunk, once and for all, but producers had other ideas for the centennial of the ship's final day. Of the host of Titanic-related media coming out in 2012, perhaps only one hopes to show us an aspect of the ship we haven't seen before: its construction. Titanic: Blood and Steel (Blu-ray) takes twelve hours to tell the story of the construction of the famed ship as it makes its way from idea to initial voyage. It's an interesting journey, but may feel incomplete.
Titanic: Blood and Steel follows the construction of the Titanic, mixing fictional characters like metallurgist Mark Muir (Kevin Zegers, Transamerica) with real-life characters like financier J.P. Morgan (Chris Noth, Sex and the City) and businessman Lord William Pirrie (Derek Jacobi, Gladiator), as the ship winds its way from a Dublin shipyard to its first voyage.
Massive kudos go to the creative team behind Titanic: Blood and Steel. Whatever problems the miniseries may have, whatever thematic material it may recycle, at least there is a genuine attempt to tell a story about the Titanic that is not the same "One night it sank, isn't it tragic?" story that so many other films decide to tell. The ship was created at a very important point in world history, on the cusp of World War I, in a time of rampant growth and promise. The decision to focus on that instead of the sinking of the ship is a smart one that separates this miniseries from the host of other Titanic-related media released in 2012.
The miniseries also can't be faulted for its cast. From veterans like Derek Jacobi to younger actors like Kevin Zegers, this adaptation is full of excellent performances. Though many of the roles are a bit stock, it's nice to see faces like Chris Noth and Liam Cunningham getting screen time.
The miniseries also spared no expense in getting its vision of the Titanic onto the screen. Costumes look particularly sumptuous, and there's a general attention to period detail that's appreciated. It's not quite Cameron-obsessive, but the production design is strong through, giving a good sense of the period through CGI and practical elements. Those who watch historical dramas primarily for the visual feast will find much to appreciate in Blood and Steel.
Titanic: Blood and Steel (Blu-ray) makes it even easier to appreciate these elements. The 1.78:1/1080p transfer is almost uniformly gorgeous. Detail is strong throughout, from small patterns in clothing to the larger shipyard vistas. Black levels are deep, and no serious digital artifacts crop up to mar the presentation. The show's CGI occasionally looks softer than other elements, but that's probably due as much to the CGI as this transfer. The DTS-HD 5.1 track is similarly impressive (though it is labeled as Dolby Digital 5.1 on the box, my player says it's DTS-HD). Music and dialogue are well-balanced, and the dynamic range ensures even the show's quieter moments are audible without the music startling with its volume. The surrounds also get a bit of use during some of the more outdoors-oriented scenes.
Though I have to commend Blood and Steel for tackling a part of the Titanic mythology often neglected by other adaptations, there is very much a sense in which the show still follows the standard formula. This is still very much a tale of class and religion. We see the conflicts develop in the Dublin shipyards around class lines, and our upstart metallurgist must defy class logic to achieve his life goals. There's also a star crossed romance that feels unnecessary in a story that is ultimately about industrialism.
Also strangely, for a film about a fated ship, Blood and Steel doesn't spend any time on the fates of the characters we get to know. Certainly they could have perished along with so many others, but the fact that we aren't explicitly told about any of them means that our investment in watching their lives for twelve hours feels incomplete.
Perhaps because of that, there's also a way in which Blood and Steel feels like it doesn't have to be a Titanic story at all. Sure there are nonfiction characters dotting the storyline, but the heart of the film is about love and class, themes which hardly need the epic backdrop of a famous ship to make them relevant.
Finallly, the set's lack of extras is a bit of a disappointment. We get two featurettes, one on the making of the series and one on the visual effects, that total less than 15 minutes. Even a fluff piece on the actors involved would have been appreciated given the huge cast of well-known thespians, and well-produced story of the Irish shipyards of the time (even if borrowed from a made-for-cable documentary) would have made this set much more essential.
If you're not entirely Titanic-ed out from the ship's centennial in 2012, then Titanic: Blood and Steel is a fine way to spend twelve hours on a miniseries. Combing strong production values and a cast of excellent actors, the series presents a little-told story of how the Titanic came to be in the water. Titanic: Blood and Steel (Blu-ray) could use some more extras, but the presentation is strong enough to warrant a rental for the curious and a purchase for those who enjoyed the series' original broadcast.
Not essential, but not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 634 Minutes
Release Year: 2012
MPAA Rating: Not Rated