What's the big deal about "Titanic?" Sure it's the highest grossing film of all time, gathering over 600 million dollars domestically, it enjoyed a phenomenal run at the box office, spanning months, and is heralded by many as one of the greatest epics ever created.
So then why do I think it's just an average film? At its core, "Titanic" is just an overblown, melodramatic period piece that plays more like a soap opera than a historical narration.
The story tracks Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio), a poor boy who manages to procure on the unsinkable Titanic through less-than-reputable means. Jack is an artist who knows his fortunes lie in America and is following his dreams. On the other hand is Rose (Kate Winslet); betrothed to Cal (Billy Zane at his maniacal best), she is sailing toward the confines of marriage to a man she does not love. Unsurprisingly these star-crossed lovers meet on this ill-fated voyage across the sea, fall madly in love and go through a rollercoaster of emotions that as any viewer knows, is all for naught.
Perhaps that is my biggest beef with the film itself; its lack of poignancy. Going in I knew the love wouldn't last. Even though I love the idea of crossing classes for love, that this is one that can never be.
That doesn't mean that there aren't some brilliant moments contained within this overlong, melodramatic narrative. While DiCaprio and Winslett never connect satisfactorily to this reviewer's mind, they do share a moment on the bow of the ship, the famous scene where Jack teaches Rose how to "fly." Additionally, the early sequence when Jack rescues Rose from her suicide attempt works wonderfully, though more for the banter than the sense of danger.
I would be remiss to make any comments on "Titanic" without talking about the design. From bow to stern, the unsinkable truly came alive for me in this film. Beautiful and awe inspiring, I honestly believed that this was the ship of legend that went down those 90-odd years ago. Unfortunately it was populated with a bunch of amalgamated, stock characters who serve only to fill the gaps between Jack and Rose's encounters. Whereas the 1953 film was obviously less dynamic than its modern equivalent, I felt a greater sense of attachment for the people who filled the cabins, saw them grown and change; something that did not happen in Cameron's film.
In retrospect, however, I do think I understand what exactly director Jim Cameron (Aliens, Terminator 2) was doing with this film; he was creating a cinematic period piece. Essentially, "Titanic" is Rose's memory of what happened on that fateful night and the events that lead up to it, thus the limited perspective. Of course that doesn't explain how she knew so much of what happened to Jack when she wasn't around, but that's rather inconsequential. Her memory, too, is likely marked by what she's seen since then, and in order to process the details rationally she has to omit broad characters in favor of simple ones.
The problem is that, when the inevitable tragedy occurs, I don't feel anything for most of the people who died. Aside from a few scenes (which are my favorites) in the lower decks where the third-class passengers are locked away from the eyes of the easily-offended, most of the passengers are neglected. When they fall to their deaths when the ship splits in two, I feel nothing more than a pity that they died. A wider focus on the people in the ship could have helped elicit a broader sense of tragedy, but that is not the film that Cameron was making. This is a simple story, one that is easily predictable, set against a dynamic historical background.
"Titanic" is beloved by many and most have at least heard of it, if not witnessed it themselves. I forwent its theatrical release and rented it some months later with my brother, both of us feeling thoroughly under whelmed and wondering what the hubbub was all about. Though I've been overly critical in this review, I don't think that "Titanic" is a bad film at all; I'm just not sure that it is as great as everyone say it is. It certainly earned every award it won because most were in technical categories, and the only other real contender for Best Picture was "Good Will Hunting," which had its own problems.
"Titanic" is a phenomenon. Those who love it will not likely be dissuaded by my criticisms and newcomers will view the film with all the trappings that it's accumulated over the years. I just hope I could shed a new perspective on a film that will likely hold as much reverence in history as the event it depicts.
The 2.35:1 Anamorphic widescreen presentation is a smidge underwhelming. It looks washed out and lacks the definition I would expect from an epic film like this. Certainly it needs to posses a touch of unreality to pull off both the special effects and period look of the story, but the colors look off and nothing pops off the screen. It's not bad but simply feels off.
Wow. There are a couple of audio tracks available for your listening pleasure on this set, but the crown jewel has to be the dts 6.1 mix. Featuring outstanding bass response, dynamics that have crystal-clear highs, and wonderfully spread around all channels, I was left stunned by this track. And it also emphasizes James Horner's terrific score. Sound pours from every channel in this track, completely enveloping me in the film. The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is no slouch either. Neither choice is a bad one.
This three-disc set is absolutely packed with extra features. The first thing to mention would be the handsome box that the film comes encased in. Reminiscent of the "Lord of the Rings" slipcover and fold-out set, Titanic has a blue, patterned box that contains the set, and the case itself has a lot of pictures from the film. It's rather classy.
The feature contains three separate commentary tracks. The first is a solo track with director Jim Cameron. Cameron espouses a wealth of information about the historical Titanic, shooting the film, and the creation of the story. There are no dull spaces in the commentary and just about anything I could have wanted to know was discussed.
The second commentary track is with the cast and crew. The producers add a lot to the discussion of the minutia of the film, one of its high points. Thankfully there is a subtitle that identifies each speaker to connect the information they impart.
The final commentary is with Don Lynch and Don Marchelle, the films historical supervisors. They talk about a lot of the technical pieces of the film and the history that was drawn to fashion the movie. It's the weakest of the three, mainly because I felt that the commentators just point out, "That's historical."
The "Behind the Scenes" feature is a follow-the-white-rabbit method of accessing featurettes while the film is running. Each miniature documentary is properly encoded in anamorphic widescreen, which was a wonderful surprise. They are short pieces that illuminate a brief piece of the film. You can also simply play them all back-to-back or select each individually.
An alternate ending to the film is presented on the second disc, along with an optional commentary by James Cameron. He explains why he wanted to tie all the threads together, and why the originally scripted ending was excised.
The music video for Celine Dion's "My Heart Will Go On" is also included on the second disc. It's grainy, muddy, and overarchingly ugly, especially compared to the film itself.
The third disc contains the bulk of the extras, including 45 minutes worth of deleted scenes with optional commentary by James Cameron. They are included with a bit of orienting material. Cameron explains why exactly the scenes were trimmed. The quality of the excised scenes is excellent.
"Marketing" is a selection of materials from the studios, including an hour-long documentary that aired on Fox that houses survivor interviews, the history of the true Titanic, and footage from the wreck.
"Press Kit Featurettes" are a selection of fluffy EPKs designed to promote the film. Good to have in bulk form, but they don't add much more than the previous documentary. There are also a selection of over sixty promotional one-sheets and posters for the film.
Ed Marsh takes us through the news reel he created, along with a time-lapse creation of the set for the ship. Each feature can be viewed with and without Marsh's commentary.
The "Deep Dive Video" is bulk footage of the trip down to the Titanic, the same footage that was cut up and put in the film. James Cameron narrates the fifteen minutes worth of footage and explains his fascination with shipwrecks.
The cast and crew takes us on a… rather funky… tour of the set. It's a light-hearted romp behind the scenes.
Anders Falk provides commentary on a seven-minute walk through the Titanic sets as created for a Titanic Historical Society, done before the movie was released.
As with most modern special effects, pre-visualization is used extensively to help format the films. Three pre-viz sequences are included. The same is done for some of the VFX shots and how they were completed, step-by-step.
And finally… a host of still galleries contain all sorts of promotional, behind-the-scenes, and selections from the final film.
While I may not think much of "Titanic" as a film, I'll be the first to admit that Paramount has put together a top-notch DVD package that will absolutely thrill fans. It's absolutely money well spent to add it to your collection.