Judge Ryan Keefer thanks his lucky stars that he is married and can enjoy films that are romantic and... what does this word say, honey? Oh yeah, emotional.
Our reviews of Titanic (1997) (published March 1st, 2000), Titanic (2012) (Blu-ray) (published May 14th, 2012), and Titanic (1997) 3D (Blu-ray) Limited Edition (published September 10th, 2012) are also available.
"I'm the king of the world!"
Just the numbers that Titanic has piled up alone are impressive. An estimated $200 million production budget. Its domestic box office take of $600 million is almost $140 million more that Star Wars: A New Hope. Its worldwide box office of $1.2 billion almost doubles that of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. It was the highest grossing movie every weekend for 15 consecutive weeks. 14 Oscar nominations, 11 Oscar wins. After a pretty bland first run, non-anamorphic released DVD, Paramount has loaded a new set full of extras and commentaries. Does this cut the mustard?
Facts of the Case
It was the ship that couldn't be sunk. At almost 900 feet long, the Titanic's maiden voyage included immigrants, wealthy members of society, and everyone in between. After an accident where the ship hit an iceberg, over 1,500 people lost their lives in the tragedy. In the midst of locating the wreckage, an adventurous treasure hunter (Bill Paxton, Twister) attempts to find a missing necklace that was worn by a survivor of the wreckage (Gloria Stuart, The Three Musketeers). While the survivor is hesitant to reveal details about the necklace, she discusses the night that led to a life changing event far more involved than just escaping a shipwreck.
The furor and anticipation surrounding James Cameron's epic was so palpable you couldn't escape it. And a large part of the hysteria couldn't wait to see Cameron fall flat on his starboard side with this hugely overblown project. Hugely overblown productions in Hollywood usually become media events, and eventually wind up as sacrificial lambs for critics. The prior track record didn't really favor Titanic much either, as Heaven's Gate killed off United Artists in 1980. The more recent film Waterworld, lovingly titled "Kevin's Gate," was a huge, $175 million behemoth that wasn't as bad, but served as folly for a lot of people.
Imagine the surprise when Titanic was released, and not only did it not suck, but was actually a fairly compelling film, despite its over three hour length. What made the story appealing for the Y chromosome was a tangible romance between two young people from different backgrounds. In Rose (Kate Winslet, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) and Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio, The Aviator), you had a romance that women could identify with, as there are obstacles thrown up to prevent true love for the couple. The most notable obstacle being class, as the early part of the century featured groups that were very structured by how much they made and what their standing in life was. In Rose's life, her mother Ruth (Frances Fisher, House of Sand and Fog) plays a huge part in it, and has virtually arranged a marriage to Cal (Billy Zane, The Phantom) that will put both women in the lap of luxury. Jack just has his sketch pad, and lives the bohemian lifestyle, enjoying every minute of it.
Then the ship hit an iceberg in the North Atlantic, sinking the unsinkable ship, resulting in a massive loss of life. And Cameron's depiction of the events that led to the final hours is both vivid and unsettling. The thing that stays in someone's mind is that when compared to the real-world events of the last decade, even the last 5 years, Titanic's impact is lessened. It focuses more on a romance that may work on the screen, but the written word is as wooden as the life boats on the ship. As a creator of a lot of sci-fi and action films, Cameron's first foray into romance is commendable, but it's missing a certain quality in its dialogue. Consider any films by Richard Curtis (Love Actually) and the level of dialogue in them, and put it up against "I'm flying!" or other touchstone moments in the film. Titanic is memorable and the technical accomplishments in it are groundbreaking, but of all the nominations, consider that Cameron was not recognized for work on the screenplay when you marvel in how good or bad the film is.
For disc merits, first and foremost, the anamorphic transfer the film sports looks solid, all the more so since the film is split onto two discs. The film looks a little better than I remembered and the picture is vivid and clear, free of any artifact issues. However, the film includes five audio options, and has three separate commentaries on it too. At least one audio option and one commentary track could have been cut and the presentation would be even better. That's a Monday morning quarterback decision on my part. And the audio options are excellent. Those who do not have the capability for DTS encoded soundtracks are missing out on a lot, as the second half of the movie provides so much activity, even on the subtle parts, that it's probably the thing to show off a sound system. Cameron's prior history of quality sounding movies continues with this outstanding work.
There have been some concerns about the international versions and the bountiful fourth disc. Now granted, there's a lot of substantive material on here, and knowing that there's an even larger version out there gets me by the short hairs (hey, I went from cover to cover for you, the readers, so I'll interject with any unpleasant visuals I please). But, looking at that fourth disc, there's not too much on there to worry about doing a conversion from dollars to euros. The US version is more than adequate. The feature comes with a branching mode (a la the "white rabbit" feature on The Matrix) to give the viewer a behind the scenes scoop at some moments in the production. There appeared to be a feature for each DVD chapter, and altogether there is an extra hour of footage to look at when you select this feature on the film. The first commentary is with Cameron, where he talks about what shots are real, what are staged, and what he thought of the actors' performances. In the second part of the film, he identifies which parts of historically accurate, and explains where the details come from. Even though he says in the beginning that DVD commentaries are "suspect," this one is pretty good. Next is a cast and crew commentary that a ton of people appear on. By my count, Winslet, Stuart, Paxton, Zane, Victor Garber (Alias), Jonathan Hyde (The Mummy) and I think Kathy Bates (Misery) were among the actors, while producers Rae Sanchini and Jon Landau, along with composer James Horner, were among the recognizable crew names. There are at least a half dozen others that I'm missing, and everyone seems to have some good information and memories about the production. It would have been particularly nice to have Winslet and DiCaprio do a track by themselves (Winslet is particularly engaging and says that "Leo was the girl between the two of us"), but the track is chock full of info. Third is a commentary by Don Lynch and Kevin Marschall that is designed to provide a historical context for the film, but doesn't shed too much new information, and almost came off as a cheerleading piece for how much of a visionary Cameron was/is, which was a little annoying. You've got $25 of my money; I don't need to hear how the filmmaker is the greatest thing since sliced bread.
Disc Two has its own bounty of deleted scenes here, with two or three extended takes. The 29 scenes comprise about 45 minutes of additional footage, with optional commentary by Cameron, in which he discusses the reasons they were left out and whether any were historically accurate. Also on the disc is the music video for "My Heart Will Go On" by Celine Dion. I love the Canadians, they've given the world Wayne Gretzky, SCTV and Degrassi Junior High, but maybe this export—after several hundred airings of this video—is a bit much.
Disc Three is where most of the extras can be found, and unfortunately it appears the extras are dated with almost no retrospective looks by the cast or crew. Starting off in the Marketing section, there's a Fox TV look at the production entitled Breaking New Ground. Narrated by Peter Coyote, the piece focuses on Cameron's quest to get the film made, along with some footage of the dives that were taken by Cameron to help get the film off and running. There's a pretty cool illustration of how severe the water pressure is using a Styrofoam cup, and some deleted scenes (which have been included on the set) are here, and there's an extensive look at the historical figures that were on the ship too. There are even some clips from A Night to Remember, which is thoughtful. Next is a poster gallery to promote the film that included its original summer release date, and there are an additional twenty minutes of on-set press interviews that cover the cast, film, production and director. The Special Features section has a fictitious newsreel using cast members hyping the ship's maiden voyage, but the cool feature is obviously the dive footage from the initial dives. Cameron provides some commentary on this, and not only is he detailed on what is being shown, but there are transitioning photos to the real locations that were taken before the ship sailed, which is pretty cool. Next is a crew video that is really more of a gag reel than anything else. It would make sense that a three hour film has a twenty minute gag reel, but there was some imagination put into it. Aside from some footage from The Poseidon Adventure, I think I saw a clip from Esther Williams' Million Dollar Mermaid which is kind of funny too. It's all lighthearted, good fun. A brief look at the sets used for a short film for the historical society is included, illustrating just how much detail went into the work, and twenty minutes of videomatics and visual effects shot breakdowns follow. Still galleries with paintings, drawings, production photos, storyboards, and other materials are here too, and the still gallery totals about two thousand. Yes, two thousand.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The extras are good, but seem to be a little phoned. One would assume that Paramount is holding off on an exhaustive retrospective look back at the film when HD DVD finally rolls into town, and hopefully Disney will let the rights to Ghosts of the Abyss go to make that release as good as you can get.
Come for the film, stay for the outstanding sound. It's not as entertaining a package as some other films that could be categorized as keepers in your library, but its success is a historical point in filmmaking, whether you want to admit it or not. Definitely a must-have.
The court releases DVD producer and Cameron collaborator Van Ling on his own recognizance for the work that he put into this new edition of Titanic, and praises him for his excellence on the DTS soundtrack on the film, with an eager eye towards his project.
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• Commentary with James Cameron
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