Titanic review by Mike Long

I'm not sure why, maybe it's my generally cynical nature, but I'm not the kind of person to easily get caught up in hype. In fact, I'm usually quite dubious of something which is popular with a majority of the population. Thus, in 1997, it was with much trepidation that I went to see Titanic and I have to say that I wasn't overly impressed with the movie. And, I haven't seen the movie since that initial screening. But, with the release of the new Special Collector's Edition DVD set of the film, I decided to give it another chance, just to make sure that my opinion hadn't clouded by the film's seduction of a national audience. It wasn't.

As can be gathered from the title, Titanic tells the story of the mammoth ship which made it's fateful voyage in April, 1912. As the ship is preparing to leave dock, Rose (Kate Winslet) arrives with her fiance Cal Hockley (Billy Zane). We learn that Rose isn't very happy with the chauvinistic Cal, but she's being pressured by her mother (Frances Fisher) to marry Cal, as their family desperately needs money. Meanwhile, drifter Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio) wins tickets aboard Titanic in a poker game, and just barely makes it onto the ship.

Although their quarters are in separate parts of the ship, Jack and Rose meet on the deck of the ship when Rose is contemplating drastic measures in order to get away from Cal. Jack is celebrated as a hero and invited to join the high society crowd for dinner. As Jack spends more time with Rose, he finds himself irresistibly drawn to her. And, despite her knowledge of class boundaries, Rose is attracted to Jack as well. They attempt to hide their feelings for each other by sneaking around the ship. Just as they are ready to commit to one another -- and just as their affair is discovered -- the Titanic strikes an iceberg and begins to sink. Now Jack and Rose must fight for their lives as the gargantuan ship starts to disappear into the icy Atlantic.

Titanic is essentially two movies in one. First of all, we have the docudrama, recreating the doomed voyage of a ship which was said to be "unsinkable". Secondly, there is the fictional romantic story between the upper-crust Rose and the working-class Jack. My problem with the film upon seeing the film for the first and with my recent second viewing hasn't changed -- I don't care about Jack and Rose, thus there is little emotional connection to the movie. Given the amazing detail which writer/director James Cameron placed into the film and the overall mature nature of his body of work, it's surprising how juvenile and pedestrian the relationship between Rose and Jack is. The fact that talented actors fill the roles of those involved in this plot help to make the actions believable, but this doesn't change the fact that this part of the plot plays like a Harlequin romance and doesn't have any truly unique qualities. The class clash portions of the story make things seem even more hackneyed. So, in my mind, Titanic will always be a flawed film because the love story doesn't work.

It's a shame that Cameron decided to place so much emphasis on the Jack and Rose story, because the rest of the film, the portions which focus on the nautical disaster which was Titanic, actually work quite well. While Cameron took some artistic license with the story and the settings on the ship, for the most part, Titanic is an incredibly faithful retelling of the tale of the ship. One would think that this part of the film would be boring, because, let's face it, we know how the story is going to end. So, instead of focusing on the kind of suspense where something shocking happens, Cameron creates tension by focusing on the incredible egos of promoter Ismay (Jonathan Hyde), ship designer Andrews (Victor Garber), and Captain Smith (Bernard Hill). Every time they make a claim about the ship being unsinkable, or decide to move at full-speed through waters which may be icy, the audiences groans with dread as we know where these actions will lead them. Of course, the film's incredible special effects and stunts add an incredible amount of depth to the sinking of the ship and feel very real. Some of the shots give off a CGI feel, but for the most part, they look great and the shot of the back of the ship going into the ocean is still breath-taking.

Watching Titanic today, it's still understandable why it was such a phenomenon. The love story featuring DiCaprio couldn't help but appeal to teenage girls, some of whom probably didn't care about the true story elements. Anyone interested in history will get a kick out of this version of the Titanic's story. While these two elements don't really gel in the move, they combine to make a movie which will certainly appeal to a large audience. For me, I still enjoy Cameron's take on Titanic, but the story of Jack and Rose is completely lost on me.

The newly released 3-disc Special Collector's Edition of Titanic churns onto DVD courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. Due to the amount of extras on the DVD and the length of the film, the movie is spread across Discs 1 and 2. The image is fairly sharp and clear, but there is some noticeable grain on the picture at times. The colors look very good, as the film mixes the dark tones of the Titanic's interior with the bright colors of the costumes and the white of the ship itself. The image's overall clarity adds a great deal of depth to the image. There is a small amount edge-enhancement visible, but other than the grain, the transfer looks good. The DVD features both a Dolby Digital 5.1 EX track, as well as a DTS 6.1 ES track. The audio sounds fantastic, as the dialogue is sharp and clear, with no hint of hissing or distortion. The surround sound effects and subwoofer effects are abundant and add a great deal of presence to the home viewing experience. The ship sounds and crowd noise give ample opportunity for rear channel action, and the sinking of the ship invites wall-shaking bass response. The DTS track is slightly clearer than the Dolby track, but both rock.

Many fans of Titanic have been waiting years for a comprehensive release of the film on DVD, and while this 3-disc set contains many extras, I feel that some may still be disappointed by it. The film is accompanied by three audio commentaries. The first features writer/director James Cameron, as he shares his thoughts on the film and gives many details about the making of the movie. Cameron sounds surprisingly emotionally detached at times, given his work on the film, but his talk is very informative. The "Cast and Crew" commentary features comments from many speakers who share their thoughts on the film. Most were apparently recorded separately and then edited together. The best thing about this commentary is that the name of the speaker appears on-screen, so there is never any confusion as to who's talking. The "Historical" commentary features historians Don Lynch and Ken Marshall. Their talk is by far the most technical, as they comment on which parts of the film are more realistic than others. The commentaries are spread across Discs 1 and 2. The film can also be viewed with "Behind the Scenes Mode", which branches into "Pods" which give information about the making of the film. Disc 1 contains 30 "pods" which comprise 30 minutes of footage, while Disc 2 has 20 minutes worth of material residing in 30 "pods".

Disc 2 features a 9-minute "Alternate Ending". Yes, the ship still sinks but the fate of Bill Paxton's character changes somewhat. It's easy to see why this ending was cut, as it would have been a groaner. This can be viewed with optional commentary from Cameron. Disc 2 also has the music video for Celine Dion's "My Heart Must Go On".

The rest of the extras are found on Disc 3. This disc contains 29 "Deleted Scenes" which run a total of 47 minutes. These can be viewed with commentary by Cameron. Most are actually extended versions of scenes from the film and over 1/2 take place after the iceberg has struck the ship. "Fox Speical: Breaking New Ground" (43 minutes) is a very detailed "making of" which explores the production of Titanic while also offering a historical view of the disaster. There are 7 "Press Kit Featurettes" (18 minutes total) which explore the story, actors, and special effects. There is a still gallery of posters and poster concepts. The "1912 News Reel" (2 minutes) may be the most disappointing extra on the DVD, as it's not real, but merely made up of footage from the film. This has optional commentary by Ed Marsh. Marsh also provides commentary on "Construction Timelapse" (4 minutes) which details the building of the Titanic for the film. "Deep Dive Presentation" (15 minutes) offers footage from actual dives to Titanic and is narrated by Cameron. The oddest extra is the "Titanic Crew Video" (18 minutes) which is simply behind-the-scenes video with occasional comments from cast and crew. We get a tour of the Titanic sets in "Titanic Ship's Tour" (8 minutes) with optional commentary by Anders Falk. The extra are rounded out by 3 "Videomatics", 4 "Visual Effects" breakdowns, and 8 "Still Galleries" on various subjects.

6 out of 10 Jackasses

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