Judge Patrick Naugle has developed an irrational fear of icebergs, Billy Zane's hair, and Kate Winslet's breasts.
Our reviews of Titanic (1997) (published March 1st, 2000), Titanic (1997) Collector's Edition (published October 31st, 2005), and Titanic (2012) (Blu-ray) (published May 14th, 2012) are also available.
"I'm king of the world!"—Every drunk guy who has ever stood at the bow of a ship
There are very few movies which need an opening or introduction. Psycho. Gone with the Wind. Star Wars. Add to that list James Cameron's 1997 blockbuster Titanic, a movie based on the sinking of the RMS Titanic in 1912. Fans will be delighted to know that Titanic is now available on both Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D care of Paramount Home Entertainment.
Facts of the Case
Okay, raise your hands if you haven't seen Titanic. No, really, go ahead…I'll take a quick head count.
Let's see here…one, two…
Okay, two of you. It looks like one Inuit Eskimo and a tribesman from New Guinea. Can somebody please get those two a Blu-ray player, please?
For the rest of you, I don't think you need much catching up. It's 1912 and the British ocean liner Titanic is about to set sail on its maiden voyage across the North Atlantic. Wealthy Rose DeWitt Bukater (Kate Winslet, Little Children) is about to have a fateful chance encounter with one of the lower class passengers, Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio, Shutter Island). Jack talks Rose down from committing suicide by jumping off the back of the ship, and the two begin a whirlwind romance that will take them…well, from one side of the ship to the other. In between their trek from bow to stern, Rose and Jack must deal with snobby relatives, a jealous fiancé, priceless jewelry, class warfare, and one really tricky iceberg that's about to change the course of their lives—and history—forever.
Even though it's the top grossing movie in cinema history (it made something like $900 Gazillion dollars), I still feel like I'm not supposed to love Titanic as much as I do. I've been in discussions with groups of people where I've professed my undying love for the film only to be looked at like I just said Battlefield Earth should have won Best Picture that year. Not surprisingly, Titanic's enormous popularity came with the inevitable backlash: once something becomes so popular it moves into pop culture legend, there are always going to be people who hate it for the sole reason that it's loved by the masses.
The Titanic story has been told many times on film. The first version, Saved from the Titanic, was released only 29 days after the ship sank and starred one of the actual survivors from the disaster. Other famous versions include 1953's simply titled Titanic (an American version that is mediocre at best) and the British version of the tale, A Night to Remember (the best of the group). Yet none of these pictures have had the lasting impact and popularity of Cameron's film, which leaves the rest of the accounts in the dust.
Now that all the hoopla has died down (has it already been fifteen years since its release?), one can look at Titanic not through the prism of hype but pure moviemaking skill. On that level, it's just a wonderful movie. Writer/director James Cameron crafted an epic that's both modern and old time moviemaking at its best. Although far from a perfect movie (the narrative sometimes feels overstuffed and the dialogue stiff, it's a perfectly great cinema experience. Once the credits roll, you leave happier than you came in…and isn't that how some of the best movies should make you feel?
To start with, Cameron took a historical event that captured imaginations for over one hundred years. Who out there hasn't heard of the Titanic and its fateful journey into the icy depths of the sea? In the annals of man-made disasters, the Titanic may just be the jewel in that thorny crown. The Titanic sinking wasn't as instantly horrific as 9/11 nor as slowly burning as something like the Chernobyl incident; it was an isolated, time-sensitive tragedy that unfolded with heroes, semi-villains, survivors, and victims. All of the elements are squarely in place for a story with action, romance, drama, and historical context.
From a technical standpoint, Cameron's Titanic still looks marvelous a decade and a half after the fact. Although we've come a long way in the field of computer effects, the film retains a lush, realistic look that's solidly impressive. This was a mammoth undertaking (various cast members have lamented how difficult it was to shoot in such chilly conditions) and you can feel the scope. The budget was rumored to be an estimated $200 million, and it's one of the few films where you can see every dollar up there on the screen.
Because the effects and backdrop of realism loom so large, the performances sometimes feel perfunctory (even though they're all very good). Viewing the film a decade and a half later, I'm struck by the fact that Jack and Rose sometimes come off as slightly bland. This isn't to say Leonardo DiCaprio or Kate Winslet didn't do an admirable job with their performances. Winslet is quite attractive, while DiCaprio adds some extra depth to what is essentially a one note hero (Jack doesn't appear to have a single flaw in his character). While not perfect, I still enjoy the chemistry between the two.
More interesting to me are the supporting characters, which is where Titanic shines. Billy Zane (The Phantom) is given a meaty role as Rose's jealous, ill-tempered fiancé. Zane's performance is one of the great villains in cinema history. Though not a well rounded character by any means (he doesn't have a nice bone in his body), he's the perfect bad guy viewers love to hate. Hollywood legend Gloria Stewart (The Invisible Man) was blessed with an Oscar nomination for her role as the elderly Rose, and with good reason: she is wonderful in the role. Other actors get the chance to portray on-screen versions of real life people. A gentle, genial Victor Garber (Alias) is the ship's builder, Thomas Andrews. The indomitable Oscar winner Kathy Bates (Misery) plays socialite and philanthropist "The Unsinkable" Molly Brown with true moxie and verve. Then there's Bernard Hill (The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King) as Captain John Smith, whose nautical choices would ultimately prove his—and his ship's—undoing.
As the second half of the film rolls around, the gargantuan ship's sinking becomes a set piece to end all set pieces. Employing both practical locations and computer effects, Cameron seamlessly weaves the Titanic's final moments and the protagonist's stories masterfully. As the film hurtles towards its inevitable conclusion, the tension is ratcheted ever higher, due in large part to the fact that even though we realize we're watching a movie, it's based on actual events that took the lives of hundreds of people. Therein lies one of Titanic's greatest masterstrokes: it works both as entertainment and a somber recollection of this horrific tragedy.
At well over three hours, you'd think Titanic would run out of steam long before the finish line. It doesn't. When I first saw the film in theaters, I recall being amazed at how short it seemed; the story, performances, and visuals were all enthralling. This particular viewing experience was no different. There are few films that take me out of my own realities and plant me smack dab into another time and place. Titanic is one of those rarities. It's a pure joy to own this movie on Blu-ray.
Presented in 1.78:1/1080p high definition widescreen, Paramount's transfer is nothing short of spectacular. I know I've been gushing quite a bit about the film itself, but there is no arguing the fact that this image looks as good as you can get on Blu-ray. The colors nearly leap off the screen, granting visuals like the dark starry sky and the deep blue sea a life of their own. This is an exceptionally immersive experience that will no doubt please fans. Both the 3D and 2D presentations impress, with nary a defect or imperfection to be found. A hearty congratulations to James Cameron and Paramount for making this transfer well worth the upgrade. Please Note: The 3D version requires two discs (just like The Lord of the Rings Blu-ray releases) and will only work when viewed through a 3D Blu-ray player on a 3D-capable television. Fear not, the 2D version is sure to satisfy everyone else.
Now I realize I'm going to sound like a broken record, but the fact is that my review of this DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix is almost identical to my review of the video on this set: it's flawless. This lossless track is grand with a lot of elements that sonically jump out at the viewer, be it James Horner's evocative score, the ambient noises on the ship, or the terrifyingly real snaps of steel as the Titanic takes its final plunge into the ocean's depths. The only downside is that we must continue to suffer hearing Celine Dion warble "My Heart Will Go On," so you'll have to deal with that minor annoyance. Also included are alternate language Dolby 5.1 Surround tracks in French and Spanish, an English 2.0 Stereo mix, and subtitles in English SDH, French, and Spanish.
Fans are going to have a whale of a time getting through all the bonus features Paramount has included on this four-disc set. The exhaustive rundown includes three audio commentaries (all from 2005; one with Cameron, a second with historians Don Lynch and Ken Marschall; and a third with almost two dozen cast and crew members); two full length documentaries/retrospectives ("Reflections on Titanic," "Titanic: The Final Word with James Cameron"); almost an hour worth of deleted and extended scenes (in high definition); thirty two (yes, that's a "3" and a "2') short featurettes; a time-lapse video on the making of the fictional version of the real life ship; two longer featurettes ("Deep Dive Presentation Narrated by James Cameron," "$200,000,001: A Ship's Odyssey"); three videomatics ("Videomatics Intro," "Sinking Sequence," "Deep Dive"); four featurettes on the visual effects ("VFX Shot Breakdown: The Engine Room," "VFX How-To For I'm Flying," "VFX How-To For First Class Lounge," "Titanic Sinking Simulation"); some storyboard sequences; production artwork; a music video for "My Heart Will Go On" by Celine Dion; a reproduction of the Titanic screenplay; a photo gallery; a painting gallery; poster gallery; a few amusing Titanic parodies (MTV Movie Awards, Saturday Night Live skit, and "Titanic in 30 Seconds"); and various teaser trailers, theatrical trailers, and TV spots. The entire package comes complete inside a slim line Blu-ray case holding all four discs and an UltraViolent digital copy.
Titanic is great, old fashioned movie magic fifteen years after the fact. Age has had minimal impact on the final product, and I was as enraptured by the film as I was in 1997. As one of my friends once pointed out: "It's the perfect movie for both men and women: half of it is a romantic date movie, the other half is an action packed disaster flick!"
Not Guilty. A worthy addition to any movie lover's collection.
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