Way back in 1997 there were rumblings that writer/director/co-producer James Cameronís TITANIC ($30), was grossly over-budget at over 200 million dollars, and the bad press was enough to have one believing that the film was going to be the biggest disaster since the 1912 maiden voyage of the doomed ocean liner itself. Still, as a fan of Cameronís earlier films, I was eager to see his recreation of the linerís sinking, because I knew the film would employ state-of-the-art special effects, which would come very close to recreating the experience of the Titanic going down in the icy waters of the North Atlantic. In light of the rumors of doom, I was actually happily surprised when TITANIC arrived in theaters and received glowing notices, which is probably why I made double time getting to the theater to see the film when it was first released.
That first viewing of TITANIC proved to be an overwhelming emotional experience. However, what effected this reviewer wasnít the mushy love story at the film's center, but the fact that James Cameron made this recreation of the Titanic disaster so real, that I felt as if I were a witness to the deaths of over 1500 men, women and children. While many of the details of this movie version of the Titanic sinking are historically accurate, James Cameron used a fictional love story as the emotional hook that pulled the audience in and made the project commercially viable. In fact, Cameron's invention proved so successful with audiences and critics that the film did about a billion dollars worth of business at the box office, plus it managed to snag 11 Academy Awards, including the coveted one for Best Picture.
The film opens in 1997 on the ocean floor, with a salvage team examining the wreck of the Titanic, where it has sat for eighty-five years. As we quickly learn, this salvage team is there to document the wreck for the history books, but instead searches the wreckage for the safe, which they believe contains the Heart of the Ocean, an extremely valuable blue diamond, thought to have been lost with the ship. The cast of TITANIC features Gloria Stuart, in an Oscar nominated turn, as Rose Calvert, the 101-year-old Titanic survivor, who is the only living person who knows what actually happened to the diamond. Because of her knowledge of the diamond, Rose is brought out to the salvage site, where she recounts her personal experiences for the salvage team membersÖ This allows the film to segue into an extended flashback that portrays the maiden voyage and tragic sinking of the R.M.S. Titanic.
The leading players in TITANIC feature Leonardo DiCaprio as Jack Dawson, a poor American artist who wins his passage on the ship in a game of poker, and Kate Winslet as the young and beautiful Rose DeWitt Bukater, who is traveling back to America to be married. In pure soap opera fashion, Jack and Rose first meet as she attempts to throw herself from the stern of the ship in order to avoid marrying to a man she does not love. Of course, Jack rescues Rose from making a fatal mistake. As a reward for saving Rose, Jack receives an invitation to dine with the first class passengers from Cal Hockley (Billy Zane), Rose's grateful fiancť. As you might expect, the few hours that Jack and Rose spend together is all it takes for them to fall hopelessly in love. It is at this point in the fictional love story that TITANIC begins to fulfill its historic destiny. At the appointed hour, Titanic collides with an iceberg, which leaves the "unsinkable" ship mortally wounded and filling with water. TITANIC then switches gears, changing from a grand, romantic soap opera into a disaster movie, with the young lovers looking for a way to escape the fate of the doomed ocean liner.
The cast of TITANIC does a wonderful job of bringing their characters to life. Kate Winslet's Oscar nominated performance had me instantly falling in love with the character of Rose. Gloria Stuart is truly wonderful as the centenarian Rose, who still sparkles like her younger incarnation. Billy Zane is perfectly cast as the spoiled millionaire who only loves himself and his possessions. Leonardo DiCaprio is Leonardo DiCaprio- but that is about all the swooning teenage girls wanted in 1997 anyway. Kathy Bates manages to steal every one of her few brief scenes as Titanic's best-known survivor- The Unsinkable Molly Brown. In fact, Bates' performance is so winning that they should make a movie about Molly Brown starring the actress. Frances Fisher does a great job with the role of Rose's mother Ruth, a very unsympathetic character whom Fisher imbues with some fragile humanity. Also included in the first rate cast of TITANIC are Bill Paxton, Bernard Hill, David Warner, Victor Garber, Jonathan Hyde, Suzy Amis, Danny Nucci, Eric Braeden and Bernard Fox. While the story and the characters make for a good soap opera, it is the astounding production design and special effects that truly make TITANIC a great movie. The Titanic is recreated in such meticulous detail that one would swear that the movie takes place on a real ship. Additionally, the sinking of Titanic is depicted so realistically and so flawlessly that the viewer's suspension of disbelief is never broken. This leaves the viewer with the subconscious impression that they are watching the actual ship sink, while taking over 1500 souls to a watery grave. Obviously, every dollar of the film's supposed 200 million-dollar budget is up on the screen.
Rectifying the most serious flaw in their previous release of the film, Paramount Home Entertainment has made the Special Collectorís Edition of TITANIC available on DVD in a 2.35:1 widescreen presentation that has been enhanced for playback on 16:9 displays. This new transfer is gorgeous and appears to be everything one could expect from a standard definition presentation of the film. This new transfer really makes it possible for one to appreciate all the attention to detail that went into the, sets, costumes and production design. Sharpness and image detail are both truly excellent, so much so, that some of the filmís digital effects look less organic than I remember them being in the past. Colors are bright, vibrant and very attractive. The earlier portion of the film has a warmer look than the later, which frequently displays that cool "James Cameron" blue cast. Blacks are deep and accurate, while the whites are crisp and completely stable. Contrast and shadow detail are both first rate. The film elements used for the transfer appear virtually pristine and there is very little apparent grain. Digital compression artifacts are very well contained.
For this release, TITANIC comes with 5.1 channel soundtracks in both the Dolby Digital and DTS varieties. The discrete sound mixes are absolutely outstanding, with the first half of the film having a subtle, open effortless quality, although the second half becomes a sonic tour de force, once the Titanic hits the iceberg the ocean liner begins its death throes. TITANIC took home an Oscar for sound, so every pop, creek, groan and shudder makes one feel as though they too were onboard that sinking ship. Surround junkies are certain to love this track as the rear channel continue to engage throughout the latter half of the film. Additionally, all of the channels are exceedingly well deployed for either jarring directional effects or ambient sounds. As for James Horner Academy Award winning score, his haunting music is always melodious, full bodied and reproduced with an excellent sense of musical nuance. Dialogue intelligibility is excellent, while the voices are clear, distinct and natural sounding. The bass channel is deep, forceful and exceedingly potent at all the right times. As for the differences between Dolby Digital and DTS, the latter is warmer, richer and more cohesive, but the standard bearer never, ever disappoints. English, French and Spanish Dolby Surround soundtracks are encoded onto the DVD, along with English and subtitles.
Full motion video, animation and sound serve to enhance the DVD's interactive menus. Through the menus, one has access to standard scene selection and set up features, as well as the supplemental materials, which have been spread across all three discs of this set. Discs one and two come with three running audio commentaries; the first is with director James Cameron; the second includes actors Kate Winslet, Gloria Stewart and Lewis Abernathy, plus producers Jon Landau and Rae Sanchini; the third features historians Don Lynch and Ken Marschall. Other features on discs one and two also includes a special branching version of the film that allows to access brief behind-the-scenes featurettes during the course of the film- fortunately these featurettes can also be viewed independently of the special branching version. An Alternate Ending, plus a Celine Dionís Music Video for My Heart Will Go On are also featured on disc two.
Moving on to disc three, one will find the remainder of the supplemental programming. Starting things off are nearly forty-five minutes worth of Deleted Scenes. Like the Alternate Ending, the Deleted Scenes included completed special effects and provide a wealth of great material that fans are certain to love- the only thing missing is the ability to watch them in their proper place in the film- in some sort of seamlessly branched extended version TITANIC. Both the Alternate Ending, the Deleted Scenes feature an optional commentary by director James Cameron. In the Marketing section one will find Breaking New Ground a forty-two minute program that originally aired on the Fox network before the film was released. The program looks behind-the-scenes and at the desire to make the movie historically accurate. Also in the Marketing section are seven Press Kit Featurettes that run about eighteen minutes combined, plus a still gallery of Concept Posters And One Sheets.
In the Special Features section one will find the following programs: a manufactured 1912 News Reel (two minutes) featuring various cast members; a Construction Timelapse (four minutes) of the Titanic set; Deep Dive Presentation (fifteen minutes) provide actual dive footage of the wreck; Titanic Crew Video (seventeen minutes) is a genuine look behind the scenes, Titanic Shipís Tour (seven minutes) walks the sets of the film for the Titanic Historical Society, Videomatics (three minutes) are previsualizations of the films most complex sequences; Visual Effects (eight minutes) breaks down four of the filmís special effects sequences. Extensive Still Galleries comprised of the following sections Titanic Scriptment, Storyboard Sequences, Production Artwork, Photographs, Ken Marschallís Painting Gallery, By the Numbers, and Bibliography close out the supplemental materials on disc three. One final note: A feature length documentary on the making of TITANIC was supposedly completed and was originally to be part of this released, however for unknown reasons was pulled from this DVD set.
The Special Collectorís Edition of TITANIC certainly makes up for the barely adequate movie only edition released six years ago. The video and audio presentation of TITANIC is glorious, plus the extras are really quite good. Of course, knowing that the documentary on the making of the film exists and was removed from this DVD release is sort of like an itch you canít scratch- persistently nagging at you, until you can get at it. So, this Special Collectorís Edition of TITANIC may be incomplete in one regard, but having the movie look and sound so good, really makes up for what the supplements may lack. Bottom line- based upon presentation alone, this Special Collectorís Edition of TITANIC comes very highly recommended.
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