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Paramount Home Video presents
Titanic: Special Collector's Edition (1997)

"I'm sorry that I didn't build you a stronger ship, young Rose."
- Thomas Andrews (Victor Garber)

Review By: Nate Meyers  
Published: October 24, 2005

Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet
Other Stars: Billy Zane, Kathy Bates, Frances Fisher, Gloria Stuart, Bill Paxton, Bernard Hill, David Warner, Victor Garber, Jonathan Hyde, Suzy Adams, Lewis Abernathy, Danny Nucci, Jason Barry, Ewan Stewart, Ioan Gruffudd, Jonny Phillips, Mark Lindsay Chapman, Eric Braeden, Charlotte Chatton, Jenette Goldstein
Director: James Cameron

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for disaster related peril and violence, nudity, sensuality, brief language
Run Time: 03h:14m:44s
Release Date: October 25, 2005
UPC: 097360313543
Genre: epic


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A BAA+ A+

DVD Review

As James Cameron's Titanic prepared for its theatrical release in December of 1997, both Paramount Pictures and 20th Century Fox were sweating over what very well could have proved to be their demise. The production's budget flooded over $200 million, test screenings reportedly yielded negative results, and box office analysts predicted that Cameron's pet project would sink just like the massive liner. But the movie had two things in its favor. First, ticket-buyers were anxious to catch a glimpse at this Heaven's Gate-in-the-making. Second, and more importantly, young girls had the hots for its lead actor, Leonardo DiCaprio. Consequently, the film became the highest grossing motion picture of all time, and audiences around the world discovered it wasn't the iceberg that rocked the boat, it was Jack and Rose.

In case you've been on Mars for the past decade, the story is your quintessential star-crossed lovers tale, set on the doomed maiden voyage of the Titanic. Rose DeWitt Bukater (Kate Winslet) is an American socialite, traveling with her fiancé, the domineering Cal Hockley (Billy Zane), and her mother (Frances Fisher). Jack Dawson (DiCaprio) is a poor painter, bumming through Europe with his friend Fabrizio (Danny Nucci). The young idealists live in separate worlds, with Rose forced into the role of a docile female. Suffocated by her surroundings, she contemplates suicide only to be saved by Jack. There's a spark between them, but neither Cal nor Rose's mother will condone her association with the vagabond Jack. Only somebody who has never seen a movie will be surprised by what transpires: Rose chooses to throw her fortune away and follow her heart by starting a relationship with Jack, who in turn teaches her how to live life to its fullest.

Unfortunately, just as the two consummate their love, Titanic's starboard side is breached by the aforementioned iceberg, and the ship that not even God could sink starts slipping into the water like an old man into a tub, causing Jack and Rose to risk life and limb in order to stay alive as the water consumes all around them. Cameron's screenplay is far from original and the love triangle involving Jack, Rose, and Cal is so terribly predictable that it makes Pearl Harbor look like Shakespeare. However, when a formula works well, there's no denying its effect, and Cameron has made just about every element of the story ring true, even if the idea of a peasant and a well-to-do woman of 1912 meeting can only exist in the movies.

The opening 100 minutes are classic melodrama. Even though DiCaprio stole everyone's heart as Jack, Titanic is truly a story about a girl becoming a woman. If it weren't for Winslet's impressive performance, the film could easily have been doomed by the formulaic elements at work. She portrays Rose as intelligent and independent, giving the character a contemporary personality that rises above the limitations of the dialogue and story conventions. While Rose's choice between the charming Jack and misogynistic Cal does not require her to be a genius, Winslet subtly conveys her struggle to reject the stuffed-shirts of high society and embrace the eclectic passengers in Third Class.

Winslet receives solid support from DiCaprio and Zane. Both men inhabit their roles with great presence, especially Zane, who exudes malevolence with tremendous zeal. In addition to the love triangle, there are solid character moments featuring historical figures like Molly Brown (Kathy Bates, who steals every scene she's in) and Captain Smith (played with solemn integrity by Bernard Hall). Sprinkling the story with these characters firmly cements the central, fictional story in the bigger picture and provides some much needed authenticity. The cast lends assured hands to the movie, conveying the joyous beginning of the cruise so well that the impending doom is all the more powerful once it arrives...and boy does it arrive!

The technical craft is pitch-perfect from start to finish, with Russell Carpenter's cinematography gorgeously capturing Peter Lamont's astonishing sets, which meticulously bring Titanic back to life. Every shot glistens like the great Hollywood epics of yesteryear, making me believe that I actually was walking the deck with Rose and Jack. However, it is the outstanding special effects of the film's latter half that really make this a feat for the eyes and ears. The sound design brings the force of the ship's hull breaking right into your chest cavity and the special effects still look real even today, in an age where CGI is far more advanced and pervasive.

Cameron's handling of the ship's waning hours is some of his best work as a director, capturing the epic scope of the tragedy with unflinching vision. As water rushes down corridors and people slide off the deck, Cameron brings all his technical mastery to new heights and creates one of the greatest action sequences ever filmed. The major visual effect shots never feel out of place, but add to the emotional impact of Jack and Rose's romance. Yet, I find that it is the quiet observations made in the film's closing hour that really make it succeed. Moments capturing a man putting his family on a lifeboat—knowing he'll never see them again—and an older couple embracing each other in bed as the water rises speak volumes about the real life tragedy that inspired the remarkable visuals brought so vividly to our attention.

Where Cameron is less successful, to me, is in a storyline following Rose as an old woman (played by Gloria Stuart), who narrates the story to the audience and Brock Lovett (Bill Paxton), a deep sea explorer in search of a lost treasure aboard the ship. I find Paxton's performance to be painfully annoying, especially with his whiny voice, and I don't think the movie's narrative drive necessitates anything concerning the older Rose. In fact, more suspense and emotion could be achieved if the audience didn't know that Rose survived the ordeal. Clocking in at 195 minutes, the film could easily stand to lose this whole aspect and focus solely on the events during the ship's voyage.

But Cameron deserves much accolade for his willingness to fully immerse himself in the material. He gets great work out of his entire crew, including James Horner, who's score (though, by now, the Celine Dion song My Heart Will Go On has run its course, thanks to radio stations playing it incessantly back in '98), and crafts a great epic movie. Intellectually it may be preposterous, but emotionally Titanic is effective as hell.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: B

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: The new anamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen picture looks extremely good, with the film spread across two discs. The result makes for a strong sense of depth and impressive detail. Contrast is excellent and blacks contain plenty of texture. Colors are vibrant, especially the gorgeous dresses worn by Kate Winslet, and the overall picture has a nice, crisp feel to it. I did notice an odd artifact at the conclusion of the scene when Jack and Rose talk in the gym—a grey cube appears for a few frames and then disappears, though this could be a defect in the particular disc I viewed. Apart from that, however, I did not notice anything that merits criticism.

Image Transfer Grade: A

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English, French, Spanishyes
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishyes
DTSEnglishyes


Audio Transfer Review: Newly mixed audio tracks have also been included for this re-issue from Paramount. A DTS 6.1 ES mix pulls you into the movie, utilizing every aspect of the home theater system to near perfection. Bass is strong, dynamic range is engrossing, and dialogue well balanced. The score comes across nicely and ambient sounds come from the rear-channels in order to create atmospheric effects. During the action scenes, sound separation and directionality compliment the picture nicely, never becoming gimmicky.

There's also a Dolby Digital 5.1 EX mix, though I did not notice any significant difference between it and the DTS track. Perhaps the DTS track contains more bass, but otherwise their differences are marginal at best. English, French, and Spanish Dolby Stereo 2.0 mixes are also available.

Audio Transfer Grade: A+

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 64 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English
29 Deleted Scenes
1 Alternate Endings
3 Documentaries
17 Featurette(s)
3 Feature/Episode commentaries by Lewis Abernathy, Jason Barry, James Cameron, Frances Fisher, Lynn Hockney, James Horner, Jonathan Hyde, Jon Landau, Martin Laing, Don Lynch, Ken Marschall, Josh McLaglen, Jimmy Muro, Danny Nucci, Bill Paxton, Steve Quale, Joe Rand, Gary Rydstrom, Rae
Packaging: Cardboard Tri-Fold
Picture Disc
3 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 01h:05m:04s (Disc 1); 00h:52m:

Extra Extras:
  1. Concept Posters and On Sheets—a gallery of various posters at different stages in the film's publicity.
  2. Still Galleries—numerous collections of pictures, storyboards, artwork, and the film's original script treatment.
Extras Review: There's been some confusion as to whether this new Special Collector's Edition is a three-disc or four-disc set. For its Region 1 release, courtesy of Paramount, Titanic is a three-disc set, with the film dominating the first two discs and the vast majority of supplemental material being included on the third disc (the four-disc Region 2 set has additional extras, including a trailer gallery). Furthermore, the much anticipated inclusion of a feature length documentary by Ed W. Marsh is not part of this set, either. While this is certainly a disappointment, the extras included are quite impressive and numerous.

There are three audio commentary tracks for the film. The first is by writer/director James Cameron, who once again does a fine job. This is not as good as his previous tracks for the Terminator 2: Extreme DVD and Aliens, but he still dishes out plenty of information about the production and anecdotes. At times he narrates a tad too much, but otherwise this is a highly informative and pleasant recording. The second commentary is by the cast and crew, featuring more people than you can shake a fist at (to be honest, people came in and out so fast that I don't even know who all the participants are). Producer Jon Landau and executive producer Rae Sanchini are the most prevalent participants, giving some interesting insights into managing the momentous production. A bit of the material hear is repeated from Cameron's track, but otherwise the cast and crew come together to shed insight on the film and how they accomplished various feats. Leonardo DiCaprio is absent, however, and there's not enough of Kate Winslet, if you ask me. The third and final commentary is an historical one by Titanic historians Don Lynch and Ken Marschall, both of whom worked closely with Cameron. The two men gush a bit about the movie, but otherwise they give fascinating bits of information about the actual history of the ship and its voyage. All three commentaries cover virtually everything you could want to know about the film.

Another feature that you can access while watching the movie is a branching Behind the Scenes Mode. Consisting of 61 video "pods" that run about 70 second apiece, the feature activates an icon of the sinking ship in the lower right-hand corner of the screen. Clicking "enter" will transport you to a brief vignette that covers some aspect of the production depicted on the screen. Just about everything is covered in these snippets, from costumes to special effects to the script, with production members giving interviews and behind-the-scenes footage showing the artists in action. Jon Landau narrates a few of the pieces in a very cheesy tone that is more laughable than informative. However, on the whole, this is a solid feature.

Also on the second disc is an Alternate Ending (09m:25s) that is absolutely horrible. Truthfully, if the movie actually ended this way, I doubt it would have won a single award. There's also an option commentary by Cameron, who explains why he changed it for the theatrical version and admits that the current ending is superior. The ending is presented in anamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen and Dolby Digital 5.1 sound. Concluding the disc's special features, you can be treated/tortured by the music video of My Heart Will Go On (04m:43s). I'll confess that the song is good, but I'm still suffering from its overplay on the radio all those years ago.

Moving over to disc three, things start of with 29 deleted scenes that can be played individually or all together for a combined running time of 47m:11s. Many of them are brief extensions to existing scenes and were wisely edited, though Ida Straus Won't Leave might actually make a subsequent scene in the film play stronger. One of the scenes, Jack and Lovejoy Fight, is an exceptionally well-staged bit of filmmaking and worth checking out. Cameron provides optional commentary for each scene, largely just explaining what he intended with them and why they didn't make the cut. He does drop an interesting bit of information that Caleb Deschanel shot part of the production; however the rest of his comments are devoted to the events on the screen. Each scene is presented in anamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen and in Dolby Digital 5.1 audio.

There's also a collection of marketing materials, starting off with Fox Special: Breaking New Ground (42m:45s). Made during the film's theatrical run, it features interviews with Cameron, some cast and crew members, and a pair of Titanic survivors. The documentary focuses more on the history of the ship than the movie, but it does offer some superficial looks at the production. There are also seven press kit featurettes—Story Focus, Actor Focus, "Building the Ship", "Populating the Ship", "Sinking the Ship", Cameron Focus, and Deep Dive Focus—that can be played separately or all together for a combined runtime of 18m:31s. Each is interesting in its own right, though the interviews are recycled from the documentary. Furthermore, there's a gallery of conceptual poster art and one-sheets from around the world. It's interesting to see the marketing strategy move from being more action-ish to plugging the romantic aspects of the story.

Following that is a faux 1912 News Reel (02m:22s) that, in fact, was made by Ed Marsh on the set. Still, if you didn't recognize the actors, you'd swear this really is a documentation of the ship's departure. Marsh also provides an optional commentary, explaining why he made the short film. Marsh also provides commentary for Construction Timelapse (04m:23s), which chronicles the sets' construction from start to finish. Played without the commentary, you get a collection of images set to music. With the commentary, you get some interesting stories about the construction and the art of timelapse photography. Both featurettes are interesting and entertaining.

Following that is a pair of documentaries. Deep Dive Presentation (15m:34s) is narrated by Cameron, who discusses the process of exploring the actual wreck site in 1995 before making the movie. He is clearly fascinated by the material and the visuals of the decayed ship are stunning, but do get somewhat tiresome since the crew couldn't explore very many areas inside the ship and just shot the same things from different angles. Titanic Crew Video (17m:47s) is a comical look at the production, though I have to imagine those who worked on the film weren't laughing as frequently as this video will have you believe. Some of the jokes are quite humorous, though. On a more serious note, Titanic Ship's Tour (07m:39s) is a recording of all the sets and contains an optional commentary by cameraman, Anders Falk. As a record of the astounding sets, this is a great feature.

A collection of videomatics featurettes—Videomatics Introduction, Sinking Sequence, and Deep Dive—can either be played separately or all together (03m:18s). Producer Landau narrates each featurette, explaining how they work and why they are employed for certain scenes. The split-screen comparison between the videomatics and final shots is a rather nice touch. There's also a series of visual effects featurettes—VFX Breakdown: "Engine Room", VFX How-to for "I'm Flying", VFX How-to for "First Class Lounge", and Titanic Sinking Simulation—that once again can be played separately or together. Together, they run 07m:48s and provide a thorough look at how the scenes in question where created through different techniques.

Lastly, there's a number of Still Galleries featuring the screenplay's treatment, storyboards for various scenes, production artwork, photographs from the set, Ken Marschall's paintings, a listing of the movie's ticket receipts, and a bibliography of books relating to Titanic. Nothing is left untouched here, and this is a fitting conclusion to the vast array of special features.

Extras Grade: A+

 

Final Comments

Grand filmmaking on a rarely achieved level, the Titanic: Special Collector's Edition sets sail and gives DVD fans something that's been a long time coming. The audio and image transfers are tremendous, and the wealth of extras round will make James Cameron's Oscar-winning film a titanic presence in any movie library.

 


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