Dredging the bottom of the Titanic barrel.
Desperately trying to cash in on the gravy train of the record-breaking blockbuster that was James Cameron's Titanic, this double feature may be of interest only to the film historian or the most ardent Titanic-trivia fanatic. For the rest of us, it may be of use only as a sleep aid.
In this line of work, you get to review all sorts of movies, popular and obscure, including ones that you would never have run across on your own. Titanic: Disaster in the Atlantic and The Titanic Chronicles is a disc that certainly falls in the latter category. The sinking of the R.M.S. Titanic is certainly a fascinating historical incident, and James Cameron made Titanic a mammoth-budgeted special effects extravaganza, but this disc is neither compelling history nor entertaining eye-candy. What we are left with is seventy-year-old melodrama begging for a "Mystery Science Theater 3000" spoof, and a dull, ponderous narration of testimony taken from the 1912 Senate hearings into the disaster.
Titanic: Disaster in the Atlantic is the first feature "talkie" made of the Titanic incident. This film is actually the composite of the best footage of the German and English language versions that were being filmed simultaneously. As the box notes, despite a digital remaster, the film still exhibits video and audio deficiencies related to "it's" age. That is putting it mildly. The picture jumps and jiggles like a rowboat in a typhoon, with substantial print damage and defects. At times, the video has a washed-out look to it, which makes viewing even more difficult. The audio is not quite as bad, but it does cut out from time to time, and is certainly not going to match up with any halfway decent mono track. It's just old, plain and simple.
Plot? Well, let me break with my usual practice, and skip the detailed plot synopsis. I just can't bring myself to transcribe such tedium. Basically, the first fifteen minutes allows the various passengers and crewmembers to be seen, establishes that everyone considers the Titanic unsinkable, and slams the ship into an iceberg. (It's a pretty small and wussy looking, but, hey, they didn't have James Cameron's budget.) The last ten minutes has the ship finally sinking and that's where the story ends. The endless, interminable hour (or so) in between is thick with melodrama, where doomed passengers bemoan their fate (or stoically accept it), overact, and drink (and drink, and smoke, and drink), and scenes of chaos on deck. One scene of panic on deck is notably racist, where cowardly blacks are beaten off (and shot) as they attempt to commandeer lifeboat seating. This may be a "talkie" but it looks like most of the actors think it's a silent movie (with wildly exaggerated body language) or speak with such exaggerated diction that indicates they aren't used to the concept.
The extras are scant (perhaps blessedly so), and all on the side with The Titanic Chronicles. There are trailers for a number of DVD International discs, including Tender Loving Care, More Takes of the City, Video Essentials, A Merry War, Elephant Parts and I'm Your Man. The only other extra is an alternate audio track with 45 more minutes of testimony, if that does anything for you.
The Titanic Chronicles is a collection of testimony culled from the actual United States Senate hearings held at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City, chaired by Senator William Alden Smith of Michigan. The testimonies are narrated by a notable cast of actors and actresses: White Star Line Managing Director J. Bruce Ismay (by Eric Braden), Titanic Second Officer Charles Lightoller (by Tim Curry), first-class passenger Mrs. Stuart White (by Marilu Henner), Titanic wireless operator Harold S. Bride (by Steve Kearney), first-class passenger Mrs. Helen Bishop (by Gloria Stuart), Captain Arthur Rostron of the rescuing ship Carpathian (by John Cunningham), Senator William Alden Smith (by David Garrison), Captain Stanley Lord of the California (by Bernard Hill), passenger Daisy Minahan (by Cloris Leachman), and Joseph Boxhall and California Assistant Engineer Ernest Gill (by Emmett James). This is an interesting historical collection of testimony, but it's slow going and not that entertaining, unless you plan to write a paper on it for school any time soon.
The video. Well, it's not a movie; it's a stream of narration with a visual background. Unfortunately, it's limited to old pictures and newspaper clippings, which does little to maintain a viewer's interest as the testimony goes on and on. As for the audio, well, at least you can hear the voices clearly, though they are mixed a bit low. There's not much else to say.
Both features are introduced by David McCallum, but these introductions add very little to the overall effort. On The Titanic Chronicles, he does a bit more, introducing some of the testimony segments, but he seems to be reading off a cue card. I guess he needed a paycheck, and quick!
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The prosecution's case speaks for itself!
One final criticism: considering how important packaging can be, I was not exactly impressed by the blurry picture of the Titanic that was chosen for the box cover. For an obscure disc like this, I would have thought they would at least dress it up better. Also, the sides are mislabeled! The movie is on the side labeled for the Chronicles, and vice versa.
I can't think of any disc I would be less likely to view a second time, and that I am more sorry for having had to see it the first time. If you are a Titanic fanatic, maybe you think the $20 will be well spent. For me, the Amaray keep case is the high point.
Guilty of the premeditated murder of time. This disc is sentenced to be used as a drink coaster, and its makers to bring me a stiff drink on it.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: DVD International
• Alternate Audio Track (Additional Testimony)
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