Director : James Cameron
Screenplay : James Cameron
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 1997
Stars : Leonardo DiCaprio (Jack Dawson), Kate Winslet (Rose DeWitt Bukater), Billy Zane (Cal Hockley), Kathy Bates (Molly Brown), Frances Fisher (Ruth DeWitt Bukater), Gloria Stuart (Old Rose), Bill Paxton (Brock Lovett), David Warner (Spicer Lovejoy), Bernard Hill (Captain E.J. Smith), Jonathan Hyde (Bruce Ismay)
The greatest and most luxurious ocean liner of its time, the Titanic was an iron-clad marvel to behold--the Industrial Age’s ultimate proof of its dominance over nature. It was over 100 feet longer than its closest competitor and offered the grandest luxuries for those who could afford them. Some even went so far as to boast that God Himself could not sink this ship.
When it left the English dock headed for America in April 1912, it had more than 2,000 passengers, ranging from some of the wealthiest people in the world down to poor Irish immigrants hoping to make a new life for themselves in the “Land of Opportunity.” When that unsinkable ship hit an iceberg in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, and went down within two and a half hours, the shock of the disaster was heard around the world. In a ship that was one of the last vestiges of Victorian excess, where social classes were sharply divided by floors, the rich and poor died together.
In his brilliant, monumental film Titanic, one of the most popular and beloved Hollywood movies of the past 50 years, James Cameron revisited that night in all its horror and glory. For more than a year prior to its theatrical release in December of 1997, the rumor mill had been churning about Cameron’s obsessive attention to every detail, as well as the film's being delayed five months and coming in with a price tag of about $200 million (then the most expensive film ever made). Cameron’s obsessiveness and overspending invite a great deal of comparison with Michael Cimino's disastrous 1980 film Heaven’s Gate. Both films have Marxist overtones about the rigidity of class distinctions, both are lavish costume dramas, and both took longer to film and cost much more money than the studios expected. However, here’s the defining difference: Cameron produced a great film.
Cameron has always been a detailed and visionary director, and with Titanic he took the cinematic medium to new lengths to tell a simple love story against the dramatic background of the greatest technological disaster of the 20th century, and it works brilliantly. It’s been years since a romantic epic has been this bold, this intricate, and this downright affecting.
By making it a simple love story between a third-class boy and a first-class girl, a sort of modern day Romeo and Juliet, Cameron relinquished the story of any overbearing self-importance, the kind that makes films like The English Patient (1996) feel too heavy for their own good. Instead, Cameron relished the simple innocence of real love and how that love plays itself out against the tragedy of what happened on the frigid night of April 14, 1912.
Cameron opens the film with a modern-day salvage team, led by Brock Lovett (Bill Paxton), who has spent the last three years looking for the fabled Heart of the Ocean, an enormous blue diamond that went down with the ship. The only thing they manage to turn up is a drawing of a nude girl wearing the diamond dated the night of the sinking. The girl, who is now 101 years old, is Rose DeWitt Bukater (Gloria Stuart, a screen veteran of more than 50 movies), who tells them a story she’s never told anyone before--a tale of her three-day romance with a poor American boy she met on the ship.
The movie then flashes back to 1912 (with one of its many impressive digital transitions), as hundreds are boarding the Titanic. When we get our first glimpse of the young Rose (Kate Winslett), she doesn't seem all that impressed with the ship, even though her snobbish, Philadelphian high-class fiancé, Cal Hockley (Billy Zane), can’t stop talking about it. Rose immediately catches the eye of Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio), who is on board only because he won his third-class ticket in a poker game moments before the ship left.
Jack and Rose first meet when he saves her from throwing herself off the back of the ship in a moment of desperation. Like all of Cameron’s female characters, Rose is a tough cookie who is headstrong and independent, not the kind of woman who fits well into hardened class structure and inflexible gender roles of high-class Victorian society. Cal just wants to control her, and her mother (France Fischer) wants her to marry Cal only so they can cash in on his millions. She is driven to near suicide by the suffocating burden placed on her by her position in society.
Rose quickly finds in Jack everything that had been missing in her life, everything that allows her to breathe again: the freedom to cut loose and have fun, the ability to talk openly about art and life, instead of the Stock Exchange, and the wondrous feeling of being free and not tied down by rigid societal rules and manners. Pretty soon, Jack is teaching her how to spit and taking her down to steerage where she drinks cheap beer and dances in a thrilling party of immigrants and fiddlers. When she offers to take her clothes off for him and allow him to draw her in the nude, it is not only an incredibly erotic scene, but it’s also symbolic of her shedding the last strings of her high-class life and embracing the simple pleasures afforded those who cannot buy expensive champagne and heavy jewelry.
But, like all great tragic love stories, when their romance is at its peak, the disaster strikes. For the next hour and a half, Cameron allows the sinking of the Titanic to unfold in almost real-time. What’s striking about it at first is how completely undramatic it is. There is tension as the ship attempts in vain to avoid the iceberg, but once it hits, it seems as though nothing happened. However, Captain E.J. Smith (Bernard Hill), whose 26 years of experience weren’t enough to keep him from running the ship too fast in order to break a record, knows exactly what that brush with ice meant.
Like the film as a whole, the disaster itself builds in momentum and intensity until it reaches a shattering crescendo. Cameron builds the dramatic power by showing the slow realization of the passengers that the ship is sinking and there are not enough lifeboats to seat even half of them. The film shows all the various reactions: heroics, cowardice, disbelief, stupidity, panic, and suicide. Cameron fits every detail into place and uses stunning digital effects to embellish the enormous 9/10th-size replica of the ship that was built for the movie. Titanic is a movie that uses special effects to tell a story, and never once are we consciously aware that digital imagery and models are being used. In fact, once the movie is under way, there is never a thought of how much the movie cost or what it took to make it because we are so caught up in the story. How often is a movie so good that we literally forget we are watching a screen and not real life?
Although Titanic shows the sinking through the eyes of all its passengers, both rich and poor, it never takes its heart and soul away from Jack and Rose. They are still at the center of the film, and their battle to survive together, not separately, adds even more feverish intensity and heartbreaking anguish at the horrors of the disaster. Even though we know the ship will sink, and we know many will die, Cameron still makes it seem all new and unexpected. He fills the last moments with incredible visuals of destruction: walls of sea water rushing down corridors, water flooding the lavish estate rooms and dining halls, lights shorting out in a shower of sparks, and finally the ship tearing in half under the mighty weight of the ocean it has taken in, eventually slipping into the dark depths, leaving only a sea of frozen corpses floating in their life jackets.
Even in the last few moments, after all that Titanic has taken us through, you would think the film might falter; how could it possibly put acceptable closure on such an infamous disaster wrapped around a doomed romance? But even here, Cameron hits a note of perfect romantic resonance that reverberates across everything we’ve just seen. Titanic takes us out with a scene of sheer beauty that is perfectly orchestrated as the last swell in a film that has already swelled through hearts and tear glands alike. Without a doubt, Titanic is one the great films of its era.
|Titanic Special Collector’s Edition DVD|
|Supplements|| Discs 1 & 2|
Audio commentary by director James Cameron
Audio commentary by stars Kate Winslet, Gloria Stuart, and Lewis Abernathy, producer Jon Landau, and executive producer Rae Sanchini
Audio commentary by Titanic historians Don Lynch and Ken Marschall
61 behind-the-scenes mini-featurettes
Celine Dion music video “My Heart Will Go On”
|Distributor||Paramount Home Entertainment|
|Release Date||October 25, 2005|
|Since 1999, Titanic fans have had to make do with a nonanamporphic transfer that, while great for its time, has since fallen below the possibilities of the medium. The new, THX-certified anamorphic transfer on this Special Collector’s Edition DVD almost makes the long wait worth it. Simply put, it’s a stunning transfer. |
To achieve the maximum possible bit rate (and also because there are featurettes on the main discs), the film has been wisely split over two discs. The resulting image is sharp, and colors are outstanding, from the cold blues of the water, to the to the bright hues of the Titanic launch scene, to the gorgeous palette of the various sunsets. Black levels are spot on with great shadow detail, and whites are luminous and pure. The detail of the image is outstanding without any discernible edge enhancement; the detail is so good, in fact, that it brought my attention to small elements in the image I had either not noticed before or had forgotten about (such as the stream of blood running down the tilted deck after Tommy gets shot). All in all, this is a marvelous transfer, well worth the wait.
|Titanic deserved every Oscar it won for its sound design and effects, and its soundtrack is well represented by the immersive Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 6.1 surround tracks on this disc. Not surprisingly, Titanic has an incredibly rich soundtrack, one that is as enveloping as it is minutely detailed--from the soaring heights of James Horner’s popular musical score, to the haunting, delicate tinkering sounds of china floating in the water. The low end has a strong presence, especially during the sinking sequences, which are given an additionally impressive sense of reality by the various groans of the stressed ship coming from the surround tracks.|
|Spread out across three discs, the Special Collector’s Edition of Titanic has a broad array of supplements that cover virtually every aspect of the making of the film. Titanic completists will still balk that Region 2 gets a four-disc edition with additional supplements, including the HBO “First Look,” theatrical trailers and TV spots, MTV and Saturday Night Live parodies, and the infamous Titanic in 30 Seconds With Bunnies. There will also be justifiable grumbling that a retrospective documentary, apparently completed but then nixed by Cameron himself, is MIA, as well. Nevertheless, this three-disc set is quite impressive in its own right, making its long wait just about worth it. The first two discs, which contain the film itself, boast three separate audio commentaries: a solo commentary by director James Cameron; one by stars Kate Winslet, Gloria Stuart, and Lewis Abernathy, producer Jon Landau, and executive producer Rae Sanchini; and, finally, one by Titanic historians Don Lynch and Ken Marschall. In addition to the commentaries, these discs also contain 61 behind-the-scenes mini-featurettes (referred to as “pods”) that can be accessed while watching the film by pressing “Enter” when a ship icon appears on the screen (similar to New Line’s infinifilm series). Each of these “pods” lasts about a minute, offering tantalizing glimpses into numerous aspects of the film, from model-making, to casting, to costume design, to visual effects. Also on the second disc is a so-called “alternate ending.” In fact, it is much like the film’s actual ending, but it also includes additional resolution of Brock’s endeavor to find the Heart of the Ocean. Thank God Cameron ditched this alternate ending because it is, in a word, awful, especially in comparison to the sweet, poignant simplicity of the actual ending. Refocusing the film on Brock at the end would have been a huge mistake, as it draws away from the emotional centrality of Jack and Rose in the final moments. |
The third disc opens with 29 deleted scenes (with optional commentary by Cameron), which run about 45 minutes total. All of the scenes feature finished special effects and are presented in anamorphic widescreen and 5.1 surround. It is not hard to see why Cameron cut these particularl bits, which is what most of them are--a minute or two here and there that flesh out supporting characters and minor subplots. The most extended deleted scene depicts Lovejoy stalking Jack and Rose in the flooding dining room, and while it works well enough on its own, it would have weighed down the sequence too much had it been included.
Other supplements on this disc including an extensive section on the marketing of the film (sans trailers and TV spots, unfortunately). This section is comprised of a half-dozen press kit featurettes, an extensive stills gallery of poster art (some international, some unused concepts), and the Fox TV special “Titanic: Breaking New Ground,” which is part history of the sinking of the Titanic, part making-of documentary, and part shameless plug for the movie. It does feature some intriguing bits, including video footage of survivors recorded in the 1980s, some nice vintage photographs of the actual ship, and quite a bit of insight into how the film was made.
For those who can’t get enough the ship itself, there is a Titanic ship’s tour (with optional commentary by Anders Falk) that was put together for the Titanic Historical Society convention in 1997. The actual building of the enormous set can be seen in all its sped-up glory in a time-lapse film. To get a sense of what it was like on the set, the crew put together a clever and amusing crew video that features cast and crew cutting up during production interspersed with odd bits of music and clips from other movies, including The Poseidon Adventure.
In terms of the actual logistics of making the film, there is a section of videomatics that show the early preparations for shooting, as well as visual effects breakdowns for several key sequences. A deep dive presentation narrated by Cameron includes some fantastic underwater footage of the actual shipwreck and is testament to Cameron’s obsessive attention to historical detail and authenticity. Even more is to be had in the extensive collection of stills galleries, which includes a reprint of Cameron’s entire Titanic scriptment (which differs in places from the finished film), numerous storyboard sequences, tons of production artwork and photographs, and a collection of Ken Marschall’s beautifully detailed paintings. And, for those who want to wallow in Titanic’s unexpectedly enormous worldwide success, the “By the Numbers” breakdown gives us the film’s collected earnings around the word (a staggering $1.8 billion total) and a list of all the awards it won.
Copyright ©2005 James Kendrick
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