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Before the film was released, I was one of those who bought into the bad press that reported that the over 200 million dollar production of TITANIC ($30) was going to be the biggest disaster since the 1912 maiden voyage of the doomed ocean liner. Still, I was determined to see the film because of its state-of-the-art special effect, and was actually happily surprised when TITANIC arrived in theaters to glowing notices. My own first viewing of TITANIC proved to be an overwhelming emotional experience. However, it wasn't the love story at the film's center that I found emotionally stirring. What had effected me was the fact that writer/director James Cameron made his 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 the film TITANIC is historically accurate, Cameron uses a fictional love story as the emotional hook that pulls the audience in. 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 one for Best Picture.

TITANIC opens in 1997 with the wreck of the Titanic sitting on the ocean floor. There, a salvage team searches the wreckage for the safe containing the Heart of the Ocean, an extremely valuable blue diamond, thought to have been lost with the ship. Gloria Stuart portrays Rose Calvert, the 101-year-old survivor of the Titanic who is the only living person who knows what actually happened to the diamond. When Rose is brought out to the salvage site, the film segues into an extended flashback that portrays the maiden voyage of the R.M.S. Titanic.

In TITANIC, Leonardo DiCaprio portrays Jack Dawson, a poor American artist who wins his passage on the ship in a game of poker, while Kate Winslet is the young and extremely beautiful Rose DeWitt Bukater traveling back to America to be married. Jack and Rose first meet as she attempts to throw herself from the stern of the ship in order to avoid her marriage 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 fiancé. As you might expect, the few hours that Jack and Rose spend together is all it takes for the couple to fall hopelessly in love. It is at this point in the fictional love story that Titanic begins to fulfill its destiny. The ship collides with an iceberg, which leaves the "unsinkable" Titanic 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 rather good 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 all the teenage girls want 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 that 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 200 million-dollar budget is up on the screen.

Now we come to the long awaited DVD edition of TITANIC. Is the disc worth the wait? The answer is yes and no. While it is great to finally have the film on DVD, the fact that the disc does not contain the 16:9 anamorphic enhancement for wide screen televisions is a huge disappointment. Of course, one has to look at the situation from a marketing standpoint, and not the viewpoint of a DVD consumer. Think about it, if you release a 4:3 TITANIC now, fans will have additional incentive to purchase a 16:9 enhanced special collector's edition of TITANIC in the future. Okay, back to the matter at hand… Other than not supplying the anamorphic enhancement, Paramount Home Entertainment really cannot be faulted for the look of this DVD. The Letterboxed transfer perfectly recreates the film's 2.35:1 theatrical framing. Detail is usually excellent, with only the occasional shot not overflowing with visual information. Of course, details are sometimes beyond the ability of the NTSC system to reproduce, but that is why we are moving to high definition and another reason why TITANIC should have been 16:9 enhanced. Color reproduction is utterly impeccable throughout the presentation. Colors are warm and vibrant during the first part of the film, however they begin to turn a cold Cameron blue after Titanic strikes the iceberg. Saturation is always excellent, as are the flesh tones. Neither chroma noise nor bleeding effected color reproduction in any way. Blacks are absolutely perfect and the image always provides very good shadow detail. Contrast is usually very good, but there are a couple of spots where the brightness of the image seemed a tad too hot. My hat is off to whichever authoring house is responsible for the compression job done on TITANIC. Artifacts are almost undetectable for this 194-minute film, plus the layer transition is virtually seamless on my player.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack is absolutely astounding. The soundstage is always clean and open sounding, however it is after Titanic begins its death throes that the soundtrack truly becomes alive. I was acutely aware of each creak, groan and shudder of the hull as Titanic starts its decent into the darkness of the North Atlantic. Bass response is truly impressive, although not overblown. Even the split surround channels are well utilized, but they are not overused. Every sound in the mix is precisely placed; this maximizes their overall effectiveness, without causing sounds to become deafening at high volume levels. Dialogue reproduction is always excellent; voices are clear, distinct and natural sounding. Additionally, neither the sound effects nor the musical score ever overwhelm the dialogue. As for James Horner Academy Award winning music, his haunting score is melodious and full bodied, without the harshness sometimes associated with Dolby Digital soundtracks. Also, the music being played on deck by Titanic's string quartet, while the ship sinks, maintains a very musical and very intimate quality. English and French Dolby Surround soundtracks are encoded onto the DVD, along with English and Spanish subtitles.

The interactive menus are nicely designed, containing some music, animation and full motion video. Through the menus, one can access the standard set up and scene selection features. A theatrical trailer is the only supplement provided on the disc and is accessible through the menu system.

So is TITANIC a good looking and good sounding DVD? The answer is yes. Is the movie everything it could be on DVD? The answer is no. Will folks buy the DVD? The answer is absolutely yes. As for myself, I will be looking forward to the day DVD fans see a 16:9 enhanced collector's edition of TITANIC.




DVD reviews are Copyright © 1999 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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