Blu-ray
Must Own
4.5 stars
Amazon
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Overall Grade
4.5 stars

(click linked text below to jump to related section of the review)

The Movie Itself
3.5 Stars
HD Video Quality
5 Stars
HD Audio Quality
5 Stars
Supplements
4.5 Stars
High-Def Extras
3 Stars
Bottom Line
Must Own

Titanic (1997)

Street Date:
September 10th, 2012
Reviewed by:
Review Date: 1
September 9th, 2012
Movie Release Year:
1997
Studio:
Paramount
Length:
194 Minutes
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13
Release Country
United States

Editor's Notes

Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Titanic - 3D.

The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer's Take

In December 1997, like just about every guy in America, I was practically dragged by my significant other to see 'Titanic' in the theater. After reading so much about production troubles, the ever-increasing budget, and the release date being pushed from summer to the end of the year, I really didn't have much interest in seeing what I expected would be a complete disaster. It was the weekend right after Christmas, just before the sudden swell of the film's immense popularity, when the media and critics still expected box-office failure -- in spite of the mostly positive reviews and the good word of mouth it had garnered. Little did I know I was part of a major cultural movement that would prove early predictions horribly wrong and suddenly make the world, along with the studios, pay attention to a new demographic with plenty of disposable income. 'Titanic' would not only go on to record-breaking history, but it also introduced us to the "tween" audience, the group largely responsible for making the film an epic success.

And like most every other average guy out there, I was actually surprised. I wasn't really swept away by the movie or convinced it deserved the endless praise, but I was pleasantly satisfied nonetheless. The story of two people from vastly different social classes is nothing new. In fact, it's a rather generic and hackneyed plot — so common and unimaginative, it's downright stale. Coming from James Cameron, the mind behind 'Aliens,' 'True Lies' and 'Terminator 2,' I was dumbfounded such an inventive filmmaker would stoop to something so pedestrian for a movie of this magnitude, essentially affirming my expectation of a doomed production. Adding to my dismay was seeing the kid, Leonardo DiCaprio, who made a strong impression in 'This Boy's Life,' 'What's Eating Gilbert Grape' and 'Romeo + Juliet' the year earlier. Kate Winslet, too, was a serious dramatic actress from 'Heavenly Creatures,' 'Sense & Sensibility' and Kenneth Branagh's 'Hamlet.' What were they doing in something as trite as this?

But like most every female audience member out there, my wife, on the other hand, was enjoying every minute of it. She could care less that the worn-out story had been used countless times before Cameron's 'Titanic' finally set sail on its voyage to cinematic history. She actually valued the plot's simplicity, a straightforward fairytale of star-crossed lovers fighting against social stigmas and eventually for their lives. And guess what? She was right. It's a universal fantasy which captures the imagination, perhaps even the desires, of a very large audience. Because we know the love affair of the free-spirited artist Jack (DiCaprio) and the restless, emotionally-constricted Rose (Winslet) is an ill-fated one, there's a natural sense of tension and doom that immediately draws us into the movie with little effort required. Cameron purposefully used a familiar melodrama that harkens back to the Golden Age of Hollywood, perfect for the plot's 1912 setting and complementing the filmmaker's aspirations for a more regal and dignified period.


Yet, a great deal of my attention was placed elsewhere while sitting through the 194-minute epic romance, which consistently sold-out at theaters for nearly four months straight. And no, it wasn't just the lovely Kate Winslet or her memorable nude scene that kept me invested. I was swept away more by the striking cinematography of Russell Carpenter, adding to that classic Hollywood feel, and I marveled at the technical visual achievement on display. Admittedly, the love story helped tremendously in allowing my mind to gaze in awe at the production design and be astounded by all the historical details. I was captivated by the ship's majestic beauty as young love blossoms while an unfortunate disaster looms ahead, and I was spellbound for 90 minutes, witnessing the unsinkable "Ship of Dreams" slowly descend to the bottom of the Atlantic ocean. Before I even knew it, I was magically transported back to that ill-fated night of 15 April 1912 and found myself enjoying the movie along with my date, tearing to the band playing their final melody and at the sight of seeing a captain go down with his ship.

So, like most every other couple out there who saw 'Titanic' together, we walked out of the theater, hand in hand, entertained by the same film and talked about it the rest of the night. At the time, the lovely lady accompanying me that evening had an ever growing interest in what I did for a living and wanted to discuss further what James Cameron had miraculously achieved. Over dinner, she shared many of her impressions and thoughts while I explained the video from the submersibles at the beginning is actual footage of the real RMS Titanic and that Cameron had the ship built to scale in Baja California. When I think back to that night, I think of one the best movie dates I've ever had in my life, and I also think that's the real genius of what Cameron had done with 'Titanic.' You're not merely watching it; you're experiencing it. For a brief moment, you're on that luxury cruiser heading towards America, enraptured by its splendor and man-made wonder, docking safely on the other side with the memory of a lifetime.


The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats

Paramount Home Entertainment offers fans two separate options to own James Cameron's 'Titanic.' The first is the 3D Blu-ray combo pack with four high-def discs, but no DVD copy. Being reviewed here is the four-disc Blu-ray combo pack, where the first Region A locked, BD50 disc contains the film in its original 2D version and audio commentaries. The second is a Region Free, BD50 disc with all the special features while the final two are the standard-def version of the film spanning two DVDs.

All four sit on flipper plates inside a slightly larger than normal blue keepcase and accompanied by a glossy slipcover with lightly embossed lettering. All available buying options come with a code for a digital download of the movie. At startup, the disc goes straight to animated main menu with full-motion clips and music.

The Video: Sizing Up the Picture

Setting sail for its maiden voyage across the turbulent high-def seas is a prodigious and regal 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode of 'Titanic.' Considering this is one of Cameron's biggest successes, I'm not all that surprise he would place a personal investment and take enormously great care to ensure the best possible high-def transfer. Previous editions ranged from an ugly non-anamorphic DVD riddled with countless annoying artifacts, to an improved, passable video that spanned two discs. On Blu-ray, the film is presented in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, as seen during its initial theatrical run, and it completely blows those aforementioned DVDs right out of the water.

The high-def video is saturated with a rich display of colors, from the clothing of the cast to the smallest trinkets they use for decorating them. Primaries are lush and vibrant, practically leaping off the screen, while the softer secondary hues add a lovely full-bodied quality which brings Russell Carpenter's cinematography to life. Facial complexions appear natural with sometimes astounding lifelike textures, exposing every wrinkle and pore in the faces of actors. Contrast is pitch-perfect with crisp, brilliant whites that are energetic, allowing for some highly impressive moments of clarity into very far distances, which is most evident in scenes on the promenade decks. Black levels are luxurious and quite sumptuous with deep penetrating shadows and exceptional gradations in the grayscale, providing excellent dimensionality to the video.

The presentation is also one of the most detailed we've seen for a catalog title, showing razor-sharp lines in people's hair, in a various pieces of furniture, and along both the exterior and interior of the ship. Audiences can now fully appreciate the tremendous amount of work and time that was put into the film's making by the entire crew. The individual stitching and threading of the costumes is as plain as day, and each rivet holding the ship together can practically be counted, one by one. We can clearly make out the elegant toil and labor done by the production design team, from the detailed, ornate woodwork of the grand staircase to the more minimal, bare-white appearance of the steerage rooms. The extravagant decorations on the walls of Rose and Cal's room are precise and intricate. I could go on and on, but simply put, the frame is endlessly adorned with so much for the eyes to take in and looks immaculate from beginning to end.


The Audio: Rating the Sound

Like its name implies, 'Titanic' splashes onto Blu-ray with a colossal audio presentation that adds another immersive layer to the 3D presentation. The DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack reveals the design to be a rather interesting one that starts off very subtle and understated, but it grows with the narrative into something quite spectacular and engaging. It's as if deliberately broken into two parts, much like the story itself, between a guided tour of the ship and its thrilling sinking.

For the first half, the movie is very front-heavy with only a few scattered pieces of atmospherics, nicely enhancing the soundfield at certain moments. Voices are detailed and precise in the center, and channel separation is well-balanced. With a clean, sharply-detailed mid-range, imaging feels wide and expansive, particularly during scenes on the promenade deck or while in the middle of large gatherings with plenty of convincing off-screen effects. James Horner's musical score spreads across the speakers with persuasive fidelity and acoustics while very lightly bleeding into the background.

It's not until the second half, when the entire sound system suddenly comes alive with thrills and excitement, beginning with some mild directionality soon after the ship crashes with the iceberg. As panic slowly ensues, passengers are heard running around, coupled with the noises of crew members readying for the inevitable. When the ship starts to take in lots of water, the rears display the loud cracks of wood and the bending of steel with enthralling discrete clarity. In the final moments, the screams of people, the splashing of watering and the death moans of the "Ship of Dreams" fills the entire room and envelopes the listening area. The subwoofer also takes a commanding presence with some deeply powerful ultra-low frequency effects which add to the drama and apprehension while the mid-bass provides an effectively impactful punch to other action sequences.

This first half of the film is an interestingly restrained design, but the second half offers an engrossing aural experience, making this a reference quality lossless mix.


The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff

'Titanic' hits Blu-ray with the same assortment of bonus features as 2005's three-disc special collector's DVD, which is actually nothing to sneeze at. The package is a treasure trove of goodies fans can spend a good deal of time with. The first disc holds the film with three commentary tracks while the second contains all the supplements. The final two as the standard-def copy. Missing, however, is the HBO First Look, an EPK, a Fox special piece and the faux 1912 newsreel.

Disc One

  • Director's Commentary — James Cameron may be riding solo for the first track, but he's surprisingly interesting and engaging. The filmmaker has personally made several visits to the actual wreckage and comes with a wealth of information. It's immediately clear the man has a genuine passion for the history of the ship and loved every minute of bringing its story to the big screen as accurately as possible. He keeps the discussion very technical with insightful comments on the production and the work that went into creating specific aspects. Admittedly, there is a monotonous tone to his voice, but the knowledge he shares with listeners is what makes this a great listen.

  • Cast & Crew Commentary — Separate conversations are edited together for this second track. On the crew side, we get comments from producers, assistant directors, camera operators, submersible coordinator, mixer, costume designer, art director and more. They expand on a few of the same technical details Cameron already covered, giving fans an even deeper insight into the making of the film. There's a host of decent info on other areas of the production, from deep-see footage and the CG work to amusing stories of being on set. Representing the cast side of the commentary, we hear the voices of Kate Winslet, Bill Paxton, Kathy Bates, Billy Zane, Gloria Stuart, Frances Fisher, Danny Nucci, Jonathan Hyde, Jason Barry, Victor Garber, Jeanette Goldstein, Ioan Gruffudd, Bernard Hill, Suzy Amis and Lewis Abernathy. It sometimes feels like everyone is interrupting the other conversation although with a good more enthusiasm and humor. The cast, of course, talks more about their characters and performances while sharing anecdotes of the shenanigans during the filming.

  • Historical Commentary — Precisely as the title suggests, this audio track spends more time on the ship, the passengers, the ill-fated event and point out the movie's accuracy. Don Lynch is a historian of the RMS Titanic, and Ken Marschall worked on the production as the visual historian. Though not as lively or engaging as the previous two, the conversation still has much to offer and is a worth a listen for the amount of factual information being shared. Granted, much of what they say has already been covered by Cameron, but they're still worth at least one listen, as they seem genuinely amazed at the film's accuracy.


Disc Two

  • Behind-the-Scenes (SD, 34 min) — A collection of 31 very brief video clips from the set, mostly showing how specific scenes were accomplished. They're very short, with the longest being footage of cast and crew shooting what's now probably the most memorable scene of the movie. Many feature amusing remarks about the shoot and rehearsals while others focus on the CG work, more deep-sea footage, the use of miniatures and creating little people falling during the big finale. In the end, it's a mixed bag of good and okay.

  • Parodies (HD, SD) — Showing that Cameron has a good sense of humor about himself and his work, the filmmaker gives viewers a chance to join in the laughter with this variety of jabs at the film's clichés. The first sketch (5 min) has Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughn pitching a sequel idea during MTV's 1998 Movie Awards. The second is an SNL skit (5 min) from 1999 with Bill Paxton in a different ending to the movie. And finally, Angry Alien's redo of the movie in 30 seconds with bunnies.

  • Deep Dive Presentation (SD, 15 min) — James Cameron plays host to the video footage of his real-life expedition to Titanic's final resting place, which convinced Fox to greenlight his expensive movie project.

  • $200,000,001: A Ship's Odyssey (SD, 18 min) — Originally called "The Titanic Crew Video" on the DVD, the BTS footage is from the production showing the cast & crew having a good time and in good humor while working on the set.

  • Construction Timelapse (SD, 4 min) — Exactly what it implies, and with optional commentary by its creator Ed Marsh. The timelapse footage of the ship and set's construction is really a fascinating watch.

  • Videomatics (SD, 4 min) — Three sections of pre-viz footage used by Cameron for planning and storyboarding the visual special effects.

  • Visual Effects (SD, 8 min) — Each of the four sections takes a closer look at four specific scenes from a visual effects point of view with a variety of shots before adding their final process.

  • Alternate Ending (SD, 9 min) — With optional commentary by James Cameron, the scene is not all that different from the finished product, but it does provide Paxton's character with one final twist to his treasure hunt.

  • Music Video (SD) — Celine Dion performs "My Heart Will Go On," the smash-hit was annoyingly played repeatedly for several months.

  • Deleted Scenes (HD, 58 min) — Cameron offers another optional commentary with this large collection of excised scenes. They can be enjoyed individually or sequentially, and are placed within context of the final cut. Daunting as the set may look, they're actually worth exploring, as they show more of the action taking place in the final moments of the ship's sinking.

  • Still Galleries (HD) — Over a thousand pics broken into six separate groups are presented here: "Titanic Scriptment," "Storyboard Sequences," "Production Artwork," "Photographs," "Ken Marshall's Painting Gallery" and "Concept Posters and One Sheets," which includes stills for the 2012 re-release.

  • Trailers (HD, SD) — Six theatrical previews for the film are accompanied by seven TV spots.


HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?

For this Blu-ray edition of Titanic, producers entice devoted fans to upgrade their DVD copies with two rather nice high-def exclusives, along with a standard-def version of the movie.

Disc Two

  • Reflections on Titanic (HD, 64 min) — A sprawling four-part series the pretty much covers every single aspect of the production, from the beginning stages with the camaraderie of the two young lead actors to the recent 3D re-release. It's really a collection of interview and BTS footage pieced together to give viewers the entire breadth of the film's history. Much of the information being shared is obvious fluff material or feels rather bloated with blind praises that try to elevate the movie as a brilliant masterpiece of classic cinema, as if it's more than just the popular blockbuster it truly is. Of more interest are the discussions of its criticism, however light, along with comments on its rise to box-office success and its place as a product of pop-culture, not film art. You will walk out knowing more about the movie than you've wanting to know, but at least it was an interesting watch.

  • Titanic: The Final Word (HD, 96 min) — Another very well-made documentary, and the one I'd argue is the real highlight of the package, especially for history buffs. Featuring a host of experts and historians that know more about the RMS Titanic than anyone else, the lengthiest piece of the set takes an in-depth scientific examination of what happened that fateful night and the ship's final demise when it hit the ocean floor. Real-life footage is interspersed with several fascinating interviews debating the evidence and sifting through clues. CG video renderings provide a visual understanding of the theories being discussed, and we get to hear from actual survivors describe the event from first-hand experience. It's really a wonderful doc that tops an already fully-loaded supplemental package.


Final Thoughts

One of the biggest box-office successes in movie history features a rather generic and formulaic plot about a pair of star-crossed lovers during the ill-fated maiden voyage of the RMS Titanic. Nevertheless, the incredibly simple story is surprisingly the right approach for immersing audiences in the romance and glamor of the ship once called "The Last Word in Luxury" and its unfortunate plunge to the bottom of the Atlantic. This Blu-ray edition arrives with a spectacular, reference-quality high-def transfer and an interesting audio presentation that expands with the narrative. The package is also brimming with bonus features that will keep viewers occupied for hours, making this a must-own for devoted fans.

Technical Specs

  • Four-Disc Combo Pack
  • 2 BD-50 Dual-Layer Discs / 2 DVD-9 Dual-Layer Disc
  • Region A Locked

Video Resolution/Codec

  • 1080p/AVC MPEG-4

Aspect Ratio(s)

  • 2.35:1

Audio Formats

  • English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
  • French Dolby Digital 5.1
  • Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
  • English Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround

Subtitles/Captions

  • English SDH
  • French
  • Spanish

Supplements

  • Audio Commentaries
  • Featurettes
  • Alternate Ending
  • Music Video
  • Deleted Scenes
  • Still Galleries
  • Trailers
  • Digital Copy

Exclusive HD Content

  • Documentaries
  • DVD Copy

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