It was an excellent experience in 1997, when I reviewed Titanic as it opened in America’s theaters. A sweeping disaster epic wrapped around a passionate romantic drama, the film quickly dispelled early rumors that it would sink faster than the actual boat did 100 years ago. Yes, I liked the movie a bunch. I admired its scope, its detail, its amazing effects and its superb cast. Director James Cameron’s extensive, expensive production schedule was vindicated by critics and box-office alike. Yet, somehow I never really wanted to see it again. Too intense, too tragic, too overwrought. Maybe it was just that horrid Celine Dion song.
I was wrong. “Titanic” is well worth a second look – especially if you can see Cameron’s astonishing reprocessing of his work into a three-dimensional spectacle par excellence. For one thing, you forget a lot of details after 15 years. And there’s no better way to be reminded of such things than to see them on a meticulously remastered 3D Blu-ray.
Everyone knows the story. On its maiden trans-Atlantic voyage, the gigantic luxury liner hits an iceberg, floods and sinks in a little over two hours. More than 1,500 crew and passengers perished, while only 700 or so were saved.
Of course, Cameron’s screenplay centers the sad story on a pair of star-crossed lovers – a poor Irish artist played by Leonardo DiCaprio and an upper-crust beauty portrayed by the gorgeous Kate Winslet. The vast sets Cameron constructed are displayed with mind-boggling brilliance. Sweeping panoramas depict the ship’s magnificent furnishings and vast interiors, while stunning close-ups portray the emotions of those who start out in exuberance and wind up in utter despair.
DiCaprio and Winslet earned international stardom for their roles in this mega-hit. Billy Zane as a horrible jealous snob, Kathy Bates as the egalitarian Molly Brown, and Frances Fisher as the leading lady’s social-climbing mother all contribute to the human emotions that sustain the surrounding spectacle. First there’s the exhilaration of setting sail for America in the world’s grandest floating city. Then, after a solid run of class conflicts and other subplots, the glee turns to horror as the doomed ship suffers its miserable fate and hundreds of victims are tossed mercilessly into a frigid, deadly ocean.
The movie needs no more actual reviewing. But the 3D conversion merits some extra consideration. For this critic, the added dimensional depth was reason enough to go through the gut-wrenching process anew. The decision pays major dividends: You can’t help but find fresh appreciation of Cameron’s creative brilliance. Part of the joy is simply in watching and wondering, “How did they do that?” How did he convert those sumptuous scenes into even more breathtaking visions?
You can find technical explanations on the accompanying documentaries. But the real amazement comes from simply putting on the glasses and sitting back for three spellbinding hours.
At first, the 3D is a little disconcerting. The early minutes look like an old ViewMaster put in motion, with human figures seemingly stuck on different planes of vision. But by the first hour’s end, you are consumed by Cameron’s reinvention. Staircases, passageways, ornate railings, lavish furnishings and one particularly huge ballroom are the types of details that seem somehow more prominent in the new, eye-popping format. The first two hours pass easily as you marvel at the vividness and impeccable detail that seem enhanced by the 3D process. The story itself even gets a boost – or perhaps that simply the result of rediscovering moments that had been forgotten over the years. (I still don’t care for that song that plays over the end credits.)
But it’s the climactic, crushing panic of the ship’s final hour that leaves the most memorable impressions. The vision of innocent passengers being tossed to their death isn’t exactly enjoyable, but it is certainly a tribute to their memory as well as a filmmaking landmark.
Equally astonishing are the images of the huge vessel flooding, breaking up, and ultimately sinking into the ice-cold sea, where a crew studying the wreckage provides the story’s modern-day bookends.
The MVC 1080/24p 3D transfer is flawlessly detailed, with rich color content displayed to perfection. The three-dimensional aspect helps focus the viewer’s attention on the most important images while keeping background details bright enough to appreciate.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix compares favorably to the original theatrical sound. Cameron wisely avoids adding excessive, artificial rumble and boom. There’s enough terror already.
- 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 with which he undertook it. 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 who 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.
They are all on other discs in the set. Subtitles come in English, French and Spanish, and the audio track can be switched to Dolby Digital 2.0, French or Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1, or an English-language track with descriptions for the blind.
Most of the DVD extras have been ported over:
- 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, 29 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 really well… and yes, I’m telling Jimmy Cameron how to direct.
- Construction Timelapse (5 minutes): During the building of the massive Titanic set, documentarian Ed Marsh set up a time-lapse 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 five minutes.
- 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 where 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.
New to this Blu-ray collection:
Reflections On The Titanic: (1:03:47) HD & The Last Word With James Cameron: (1:36:16) HD These two feature length extras give you everything we got in the old documentaries and so much more. The pieces are loaded with plenty of Titanic lore both for the film and the ill-fated ship itself. They combine to make this the ultimate release for the highest-grossing film of all time.
If you think you’ve had enough Titanic for one lifetime, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by its 3D incarnation. James Cameron has already proven himself as a visionary, and this project confirms his status as a forward thinker who also knows what the public craves here and now.