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Feature


Hello. Due to time constraints and a hard case of the ‘I don’t feel like its’ I was unable to prepare a proper ‘feature’ review for this Blu-ray release. But fear not, I’ve called upon one of the superstars of online movie journalism to cover for me. You may know Evan Saathoff for his in-depth feature film analysis and criticism on websites like Badass Digest, Screen Crush, Bloody Disgusting, and CHUD. He’s also currently working on the end-all exploration of Tyler Perry’s film career. Tentatively titled The Unlikeliest Auteur, Saathoff claims that the book will examine, film by film, why Tyler Perry is America’s most under-appreciated filmmaker. Here are some of Saathoff’s words on Titanic, which he approaches from a strictly historical perspective.

Titanic (2D)
Quote:  Way back in what we will refer to in this document as Timeline-A, successful filmmaker James Cameron released unto the world his greatest triumph, Titanic. The three-hour film told the story of a class-stricken romance doomed by the tragic sinking of a massive ocean liner.

The film starred Wes Bentley as Jack and Heather Graham as Rose. After a present day prologue in which a deep sea research crew contacts an aged Rose to ask about the ship, we follow Jack, a wayward street rat, as he lucks into a couple tickets aboard the already legendary sea vessel. Meanwhile, young and beautiful Rose gets shoved aboard the ship by her cold and cruel fiancé (played by Peter Gallagher).

After some days at sea, Jack and Rose catch each other's interest and begin to fall in love. Before anyone knows it, he's drawing her naked and she's drawing his genetic materials in the backseat of a car. This does not go over in the rich kid camp, and many scenes of Peter Gallagher chasing Wes Bentley commence.

That's around when the ship hits an iceberg and suddenly shifts from Romeo and Juliet romance to doomed disaster film with a bit of romance on top. Everyone starts drowning all over the place as the ship fills with water. Then they're falling all over the place as it upends and breaks in half. Then they're freezing all over the place as survivors float in icy waters waiting for help. Jack is one of the popsicles. Rose lives through the night because she's floating atop a door. A really big door. Like big enough for two people. I mean, they could have at least taken turns.

The film was a massive flop, and for years, Cameron refused to accept such an unsuccessful outcome. He was so determined to make Titanic a hit that he created a time machine, traveled back to the turn of the century, built a Titanic, filled it with souls, and sunk it on an iceberg. We call this Timeline-B.

Being based on a famous true story improved Titanic's fate. The film was a hit, but still not the mega hit Cameron demanded.

So he went back again and made the film a second time. Now it starred Leonardo DiCaprio as Jack and Kate Winslet as Rose. We call this Timeline-C.

This recast also improved Titanic's box office fate. It was now the 10th highest grossing film of all time. Still James Cameron was unsatisfied.

So he went back a third time and reshot all the scenes with Rose's fiancé, this time replacing Peter Gallagher with Billy Zane. We call this Timeline-D, the timeline we are currently living in right now. The timeline in which Titanic is the 2nd highest grossing film of all time.

In short: Do not doubt the power of Billy Zane.


Titanic (2D)

Video


So here’s the deal: I’ve never seen Titanic on anything but standard definition cable broadcasts, so I don’t have the best idea on exactly what it is ‘supposed’ to look like. I don’t have a theatrical memory, DVD copy or HD airing to compare it to; I only have my assumptions. The facts tell me that this 1080p, 2.35:1 (not the open-matte 1.78:1 IMAX framing, by the way) Blu-ray release represents Cameron’s latest 4K digital re-mastering, minus the post-conversion 3D enhancement seen in theaters for the March 2012 re-release. The short version of this video review is that Titanic looks just about as good as you would expect and I can’t imagine any huge complaints from the film’s huge fan base. There are signs of DNR enhancement, which isn’t surprising, but these don’t really flatten any details and don’t wipe out all signs of film grain. It seems that the process has its place, and that is in the hands of obsessive filmmakers with $10 million in backing funds. The grain comes and goes a bit, but generally appears accurate for something shot using Super 35 (though the occasional shutter effects might bother some folks). The basic limits of 35mm also appear in the deeper set backgrounds, but Cameron is mostly content to keep backdrops a bit out of focus and foreground textures are spectacularly fine. The clarity definitely reveals some of the seams on the special effects, too, but the general lack of edge enhancement is certainly welcome.

Some of the colour quality looks a little more ‘digitalish’ than it has before, specifically the vibrancy and purity of yellows and Cameron’s beloved cool blues. I suppose the glowing yellow bases are meant to read as sepia (which we all know means ‘period’). Again, my experience with the film isn’t the most trustworthy, but I’m pretty sure skin tones were originally more natural than this and I’m almost positive the teal bits weren’t quite this consistent or bright. In terms of image quality, of course, the poppy contrast is pretty spectacular and I’m particularly impressed with the less common red and orange bursts. Whites are definitely infiltrated by these yellows and/or blues, depending on time of day, but blacks are almost always perfectly deep without appearing blocky. Sometimes, the below-decks and dead of night sequences look a little darker than expected, though usually the detail increase ensures nothing goes missing entirely.

Titanic (2D)

Audio


Same deal with the video: I haven’t seen the film in anything by stereo, so pretty much everything here is based on what I’m hearing on this re-mastered DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack. It’s known as a bit of a special effects feast, but Titanic is mostly devoted to its droning, chatty dialogue and James Horner’s super-melodramatic musical score. But 1997 was a great year for overindulgent Dolby Digital surround mixes and even when we’re meant to be paying attention to the actors, there’s usually something going on in the stereo and surround channels. This mix is at its best at moments like this, where the dialogue is meant to take center stage, but music and the bustle of Cameron’s highly detailed world still burst out of the additional channels. Specifically, these bits are most impressive, because they don’t trip over each other or turn into aural mud. These additions range from the subtleties of ocean winds to difficult-to-miss chatting aristocrats and heavy machinery. Of course, it’s the film’s final act that makes the biggest impact, including the scathing and explosive initial iceberg impact, unique underwater sequences, and stretching, crumbling wood. Dynamic range is also well used during the final hour or so and the uncompressed nature of the track keeps the highest volume cracks and pops from distorting, even on my aging system. The LFE is strongly represented throughout, especially the throb of the ship itself, which differentiates in frequency, depending on exactly how far the action is from the ship’s gigantic engines. The thing that always twigs me about Horner’s score is how electronic it sounds. This mix does little to change my mind on the subject. The strings are plenty rich and warm, but the vocal effects sound like they’re sampled effects, rather than real human voices. Funnily enough, it’s not Horner’s score, but the big Irish dance-off around the one-hour mark that features the most directionally enhanced and dynamically impressive music.

Titanic (2D)

Extras


Remember the part of the review where I said I didn’t have time to write a review of the film? Well, I had even less time to spend on re-watching it with commentary tracks, but there are three here, all of which were included in the 2005 DVD release. These include a James Cameron solo track, a ‘cast and crew’ track, and a historical track with historians Don Lynch and Ken Marschall.

From here, we move onto the new documentary featurettes, starting with Reflections on Titanic (1:03:50, HD), which comes in four parts. The coverage includes discussion of the film’s inspirations and inception, casting, historical research, production/costume/prop design, Cameron’s direction, bad press, post-production, editing, test screening at the Mall of America, the premier, reviews, the boffo box office take & lasting phenomenon, Horner’s music, pop-culture reactions, Oscar awards, 3D conversion, and even the eventual backlash. Interview subjects include Cameron, producer Jon Landau, critic/film historian Joseph McBride, ‘BFI Modern Classics: Titanic’ author David Lubin, historians Ken Marschall and Don Lynch, Titanic forensic analyst Parks Stephenson, Lightstorm Studios VP Geoff Burdick, former News Corp president & CEO Peter Chernin, executive producer Rae Sanchini, AFI President & CEO Bob Gazzale, composer James Horner, Celine Dion, Stereo D president William Sherak, and actors Kate Winslet, Kathy Bates, Suzy Amis-Cameron, Bill Paxton, Billy Zane, Ion Gruffudd, Victor Garber, Bernard Hill, and Danny Nucci.

Titanic (2D)
Up next is Titanic: The Final Word (1:36:20, HD), a feature-length exploration of the historical sinking, hosted by James Cameron. It features an expert roundtable including Ken Marschall, RMS Titanic Inc. director of underwater operations PH Nargeolet, RMS director of research Bill Sauder, naval systems engineer Parks Stephenson, Titanic Historical Society chief historian Don Lynch, W.H.O.I. director of special projects David Gallo, Naval Academy architect Commander Jeffrey Stettler, and US Coast Guard naval architect and salvage engineer Brian Thomas. This doc mixes pretentious, ‘thoughtful’ footage of Cameron looking at models and computers, footage from the round table discussion, technical illustrations, and computer models with footage from Titanic and Cameron’s other Titanic-related documentary, Ghosts of the Abyss. Besides its all too serious tone and Cameron’s iffy narrative voice, I found this doc more interesting than either the film or the behind the scenes extras. Then again, I have a bit of a fetish for these kinds of forensic disaster documentaries.

Then, familiar DVD extras begin to crop up. These start with a collection of 29 deleted/extended scenes (57:30, HD), including an alternate ending, a director’s introduction, and optional commentary from Cameron.

Titanic (2D)
Under the ‘Production’ heading you will find:
  • Behind the Scenes (1:03:30, SD), a massive collection of quick interviews/making-of featurettes.
  • Construction Time-Lapse (4:20, SD), featuring optional commentary from documentary director Ed Marsh.
  • Deep Dive Presentation (15:30, SD) with narration from Cameron.
  • $200,000,001: A Ship’s Odyssey (17:50, SD), a crew video/blooper reel.
  • Three Videomatics (3:20, SD)
  • Four visual effects break-downs (7:50, SD)

The extras come to an end with the ‘Archive’ section, which includes a Celine Dion music video, six trailers, seven TV spots, image galleries, and three parodies.

Titanic (2D)

Overall


Did you really expect anything less than great from Titanic’s first Blu-ray release? Paramount had great stuff to work with, thanks to James Cameron’s heavy involvement with the re-mastering of his film for 3D and IMAX re-release, so there was really no reason to believe fans would get anything less than the best. The image quality remains filmic, despite some obvious use of DNR enhancement in prep for the larger format releases. The closest I can come to a real complaint is that the colour correction seems a bit strange. The lossless DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack is a great time-capsule example of late ‘90s sound design and features nothing in the way of directional errors or clarity inconsistencies that I noticed. The extras are quite extensive, including two all-new documentaries and everything made previously available on DVD.

Thanks again to Evan for dropping knowledge.

* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality.


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