Posted in: Disc Reviews by Archive Authors on November 13th, 2005
In the event you had to move under a rock in 1997 and just crawled out from under it last week, James Cameron’s TITANIC – winner of 11 Academy Awards – recounts the tragic sinking of the supposedly indestructible ship seen through the eyes of two young lovers on board. Though the romance is fictional, it serves as a guide that will walk us through one of the most memorable events of the twentieth century.
There isn’t much to be said about this film that hasn’t been said a thousand times over in the …ast few years. If you’re looking for some master thespians, you won’t find them here although the supporting cast, with the likes of Frances Fisher, Bernard Hill, Jonathan Hyde, Victor Garber and more is quite rich. While Winslet was more than capable as Rose, a young, passionate woman betrothed to a rich asshole (Billy Zane), DiCaprio, in the main role of Jack Dawson, teetered on horrendous at times although in his defense, some of the dialogue he was given was cheese worthy of George Lucas’ best work. Both however, proved more than apt at giving us a fantastic point of view at the very real events depicted in the movie. That realism is precisely what propels Cameron’s film into the stratosphere of “historical epics”. Yes, there may be a few inaccuracies that were modified for dramatic purposes but heck, even documentaries have those. The realism was in the success Cameron had in bringing the ship and the people on it back to life for a few precious hours in order to put their story in perspective. The Kate and Leo show took up most of the screen time but in the end, it paled in comparison to what was happening to the ship itself.
Another strength the movie had was the wonderful array of sets and special effects. With CGI still in its relative infancy, Cameron relied heavily on actual sets, including a life-size recreation of Titanic floating in a Mexican basin. Although several of the features on this edition are dedicated to that replica of the ship, the greatest tribute it’s paid is the film itself in which one is taken aback by the imposing site of such a mastodon speeding across the ocean on a collision course with the indomitable forces of nature. The production quality of this film was simply fantastic and it may well be the last time we see an epic of such scale relying on sets as extensive as this. This film has been criticized heavily and although it did obtain quite a bit of recognition, it suffered from its appeal to teenage girls by being branded as some sort of chick flick on a boat. That, it isn’t. TITANIC is a movie that will go down in the history books as one of the great emotional films of our generation, set against a backdrop of human failure. This is a visually amazing film that is an experience to sit through. Do yourself a pleasure and sit through this excellent piece of film making.
The 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is simply fantastic; although during the screening it became a bit more apparent how far video technology has come in the past decade. There were very slight instances of pixelization during the underwater shots, but only a jerk would hold that against it. It’s a beautiful film to watch and this set really makes the most of that.
The English version of the film is offered in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround EX and in 6.1 DTS ES. There are also French and Spanish tracks in Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround. The sound separation, soundstage, surround usage and LFE channel were all amazing. No complaints here unless you consider the ones from my neighbors who had to hear me pump the volume up to cover my lady-like sobbing.
James Cameron has called this the definitive Titanic release on DVD… and by looking at the special features, you can see why. These are the goodies you will find on this disc:
- Feature Length Audio Commentary by Director James Cameron: James Cameron may not be the liveliest guy to hear in a commentary track and by some accounts, he’s not necessarily the most pleasant guy to be around either (although I always personally thought he seemed sort of cool) but he sure knows what he’s talking about when it comes to filmmaking. His interest and passion in this project really pop through in the tremendous amount of research made for this film and the no-holds barred approach which he undertook it with. This track is interesting for many reasons but mainly because you can feel that he’s interested in saying something worthwhile and not just in loading his DVD up with another track.
- Feature Length Audio Commentary by the Cast and Crew: Among the stars that participated in this are the delicious Kate Winslet, Bill Paxton and Gloria Stuart, without mentioning many crewmembers who also voiced their comments. It makes for an interesting track to sit through but there’s little interaction between the few participants who were actually recording it together. Many tracks were edited and spliced together which gives it a bit of a strange pace but at least allows for the relevant people to focus on their key areas.
- Feature Length Historical Commentary: A pair of Titanic Historians gather round the campfire and give out their two bits on the film. If you were watching the film for more reasons that to scream at Leo DiCaprio or to wait for Kate to drop her drawers, then you might as well go through this – at least in part – and try to pick out a few snippets of very interesting information.
- “Making Of” Pods: Using this setting, you can watch the film with an icon appearing once in a while. Once it does, you can branch out to some brief making of vignettes that are relevant to that part of the movie. They loaded it up too with 61 of them and the good kind, not the ones that are merely snippets from the documentary. Sit back, relax and enjoy for the next three hundred hours!
- Alternate Ending (7 minutes): I don’t really want to ruin it by spoiling it but I have to admit, I really didn’t expect William Shatner to show up at the end and save the day!!! No, no… just kidding. I think that’s what Cameron was doing as well when he filmed this other ending which thankfully stayed on the floor of the editing room. It would simply have added an extra layer of pure Velveeta on a film that already had a fair amount on cheese as far as dialogue was concerned.
- Music Video (5 minutes): I’ll say this once and I’ll never say it again: I really like Céline Dion. This music video for the fantastic tune “My Heart Will Go On” is always a pleasure to listen to. What a voice and that was before she joined the ranks of the Holly wood Super-Skinny club. She was a pretty sweet-looking lady too back then!
- Deleted Scenes: Introduced by James Cameron and with an optional commentary track by the director, twenty-nine partial or completed scenes are presented to the viewer. Most are no more than a few seconds long but the producers actually completed them as they would have been for a feature presentation and therefore you really get the full picture of what they were intended to accomplish. As per Cameron, they were mostly cut for pacing and time reasons but some of them look like they would have worked real well… and yes, I’m telling Jimmy Cameron how to direct.
- “Titanic: Breaking New Ground” (45 minutes): A fascinating documentary that links the very real tragedy of Titanic’s sinking to the making of Cameron’s film. It begins with the director’s recollection of his first few dives to the wreck and the influence they had both on him and on the direction the film would take. Complete with comments from Cameron, the stars and some authentic survivors, it’s that rare kind of special features that would actually make a pretty good stand-alone DVD.
- Press Kit Featurettes (20 minutes): A set of seven short Featurettes which initially went out before the movie was released. They’re very broad in scope but a few were worthwhile, mostly the ones dedicated to the technical aspects of the ship set. You’ll find in there Story Focus, Actor Focus, “Building the Ship”, “Populating the Ship”, “Sinking the Ship”, Cameron Focus and Deep Dive Focus.
- Concept Posters and One-Shots: A stills gallery with posters and shots ranging from very cool to very cheesy.
- 1912 News Reel (2 minutes): I’m not sure if this feature was as dumb as I think it was or whether I was just expecting something else. I figured this would be actual footage from period newsreels but instead, I got two minutes of the current stars edited as a newsreel and formatted to look like old film stock…. Waste of time.
- Construction Timelapse (5 minutes): During the building of the massive Titanic set, documentarian Ed Marsh set up a timelapse camera on a 40-foot tower next to the site. What follows is an awesome capture of weeks of work building a ship were once was dry land. Very, very…. Very cool.
- Deep Dive Presentation (15 minutes): James Cameron narrates a montage of clips from his dives to the Titanic’s grave. Personally, I would give my right arm and both my eyes to be able to go down there but I guess for the moment, this is the best I can do. Lots of cool footage, a lot of it never seen before, especially that part when he runs into Linda Hamilton’s lawyer.
- Titanic Crew Video (20 minutes): Rather on the long side, this is a collage of video shot by the film crew during principal photography with some outtakes, gags, jokes and little performances by miscellaneous crewmembers. There’s a bit of footage from older films mixed for in for good humoristic measure and it’s pretty neat to watch but it shouldn’t really last more than 5 minutes.
- Titanic Ship’s Tour (8 minutes): Seeing as they had access to what is perhaps the most complete and accurate recreation of the Titanic ever made, the Titanic Historical Society took the opportunity to walk around the set with camera in hand in order to preserve some souvenirs for their members. It’s basically a walk through the set narrated by Anders Falk, who roamed around parts of the ship while they were filming elsewhere… It’s pretty spooky to see the flooded ship empty of passengers, a bit like you would imagine its first few moments at the bottom of the ocean. It’s interesting to note that Anders Falk was also one of the two big Swedish guys who bunked with Leo and his pal in their 3rd class cabin.
- Videomatic (5 minutes): A brief look at some pre-visualization shots by Cameron made prior to the shoot. They were especially important for the deep dive shots since each round trip to the wreck lasted about sixteen hours and they could only shoot about twelve minutes of film.
- Visual Effects (8 minutes): A quick run through four key scenes of the movie with the different layers of composition added progressively up to the final product. It’s fairly interesting although ten years later, these techniques no longer hold too many secrets. It’s still pretty cool when you learn they were used in some instances were you would never have noticed or even imagined they could be.
- Photo Galleries: Tons of pictures for your viewing pleasure! A total of eight different photo galleries range through several topics with hundreds of pictures for you to go through. Several involve the thoroughly scrumptious Ms. Winslet.
At the risk of being scoffed at by many, I have long proclaimed myself a huge fan of this film. I don’t mind sitting through Kate and Leo’s romance in order to enjoy a wonderful film that always manages to squeeze some water out of the rock that is my head. Heck, I even enjoy it so give yourself a chance to and make sure you put your hands on this long-awaited special edition that contains plenty of very worthwhile footage in addition to a classic film. A highly recommended buy.
Special Features List
- Commentary by: filmmaker James Cameron
- Commentary by: various cast and crew
- Commentary by: two on-set historians
- 29 never-before-seen deleted scenes with optional commentary
- Alternate ending: Brock’s Epiphany
- Branching viewing option to see background materials
- Production and special effects featurettes
- “Breaking New Ground” TV special
- Visual effects breakdown of the stunts
- Music video of “My Heart Will Go On” by Celine Dion