Monday, September 10, 2012

Titanic Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital copy Combo Review

The Movie

James Cameron’s 1997 mega hit “Titanic” was an early childhood movie experience for me. Along with “Star Wars,” “The Shining,” “Night of the Living Dead” (yes, I realize I watched scary and gory horror films as a child, don’t judge me) and others, “Titanic” was a film I remembered watching frequently. It wasn’t like I was really invested in the storyline or characters but more because the ship sank. Often times I would fast-forward through the first hour or so in order to get to the sinking part.

I was a fan of “Titanic” (one way or another) like I was a fan of “Star Wars.” It made me go and check out books about it --as well as other famous shipwrecks--from the library. When there was a Titanic exhibit featuring various artifacts from the real ship in town I made my parents take me to it. I even bought a Titanic bathtub toy that would fill up with water and eventually crack in half and sink, exactly like it supposedly did in real life.

So, when the digitally remastered high definition Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital Copy Combo pack came in the mail I figured it would be a great opportunity to revisit the number two highest grossing film of all time (behind Cameron’s own “Avatar”) after all these years.

 And to my surprise and pleasure I enjoyed it quite a bit. It’s an old Hollywood historical epic in the same vein as “Gone with the Wind” or “Ben Hur.” It’s immensely exciting, amusing and emotional. There were certain scenes I remember watching and enjoying as a kid that I still found just as stunning and entertaining. The scene where the ship hits the iceberg is, to me, the best scene in the entire movie. A perfect combination of action, tension, emotion and above all music.

Speaking of music, James Horner’s Oscar winning score still remains one of the most powerful movie soundtracks out there that mirrors the various emotions of the movie perfectly. Hearing it again, a few songs gave me chills.

 Now yes, I think we can all agree that “Titanic” isn’t a profound work of cinematic art. Its central story is a fairly typical romance between the rich but miserable and restless Rose (Kate Winslett) and the poor but happy Jack (Leonardo Dicaprio). When Cameron originally pitched the film he said “Romeo and Juliet on the Titanic.” But that doesn’t make the overall film bad, there are plenty of well regarded movies (“Gone With The Wind” and “Ben Hur” for example) that aren’t profound or considered “high art.”

Like most epics the most fascinating thing about “Titanic” is the shear size of the project and how much work and time went in to making it. Cameron and his crew built an entire ship set almost as big as the actual ship. And Cameron wanted things to be as historically accurate as possible, so each room or section of the ship featured in the movie was faithfully recreated from old photographs. Not to mention, the thousands and thousands of extras and props used. If that isn’t an epic, I don’t know what is.

However, like many epics, “Titanic” also isn’t flawless. The film can be cheesy and overdramatic at times. Cameron’s screenplay isn’t airtight. There are plot holes here and there, namely the overall framing device for the movie, involving 101 year old Rose (Gloria Stewart) telling the entire Titanic story vocally, from memory. It’s amazing that even at such an old age she can still recall every single detail as well as every bit of small talk between people she wasn’t even around to see or hear. In fact you could argue that the whole modern day hook is a little bit too much, especially with all of the other characters and side plots.

Did “Titanic” deserve to win the Oscar for Best Picture? (Especially over a movie like “L.A Confidential”?) I’m not entirely sure but what I do know is that “Titanic” was by far the most accessible movie of that year. It has romance, action, suspense, and tragedy, along with a modern day mystery story. And even if it does have flaws, it’s still a hugely entertaining spectacle movie.

Special Features

As far as special features are concerned, this new addition has a total of six hours of bonus material (and two hours of brand new material, exclusive to this release).

First off there are two new documentaries; one is Reflections on Titanic, an in depth feature on all of the major aspects of the movie. The conception, the lengthy and costly production, the postproduction, the release and instant box office success and the influence it had on culture. And finally the 2012 3D rerelease.

The other is Titanic: The Final Word with James Cameron an hour and a half long doc where Cameron has gathered a number of scientists, naval architects, painters, etc., and they try to come to a conclusion on how the ship actually sank, as well as some of the other mysteries of the wreckage on the ocean floor. This is no doubt interesting and it’s fun to see these guys argue but Cameron has a tendancy to dominate the conversation. I would have liked to see the other experts talk more.

Next up, there are three, count ‘em, three separate commentary tracks; one with just Cameron, the second with various members of the cast and crew and the third with historical consultants Don Lynch and Ken Marschall. In order to get this review written on time, I could only listen to one. I chose Cameron’s track because he’s the writer/director and therefore he should know the most about it. And he definitely knows the movie inside and out. Most of the time he points out how historically accurate something is and pointing out where CGI is used, and where sets and stunt doubles are used. He does pat himself on the back an awful lot and can be arrogant but I figure he’s earned that right.

Then there are a total of thirty deleted scenes, with optional commentary by Cameron. None of them would have made the final movie any better, in fact in some cases I think they would have made it too cluttered and neat, ultimately making it worse. But they are interesting to look at, and listen with Cameron’s commentary to find out why they didn’t make the cut.

Next up there are sixty behind the scenes featurettes. They’re brief, lasting about forty seconds to one minute and they cover a different part of the overall production, from the makeup to the costumes to the use of CGI. They’re all informative but they only scratch the surface.

There are three Titanic Parodies’:
The best one is the 1998 MTV movie award skit featuring Vince Vaughn and Ben Stiller pitching “Titanic 2” to Cameron. The second is from SNL, which is also funny, but like all SNL stunts it runs out of steam towards the end. And finally an animated spoof called  “Titanic in 30 seconds,” reenacted all with bunnies.

And to round things off there is a Construction Timelapse showing the mammoth Titanic set being built. A Deep Dive Presentation, narrated by James Cameron. $200,000,001: A Ships Odyssey (the TITANIC Crew Video), a seventeen minute, light hearted feature showing behind the scenes footage shot on set. Videomatic and Visual effects demonstrations. The original music video for the song “My Heart Will Go On” used in the end credits, sung by Celine Dion. And, trailers, TV spots and Still Galleries. Sigh!

Final Thoughts

“Titanic” is a movie that was destined to make loads of money because it has something for everyone. Even though the special effects and visual effects may look dated nowadays, the movie itself still holds up remarkably well. For those who love “Titanic” this release is worth buying. Not only because of the treasure chest of special features but also because this is the first time it’s on Blu Ray; the sound is sharp and the picture is crisp and clear, with no noticeable problems.

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