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Blu-Ray Review: Titanic

Titanic

Directed by James Cameron

Blu-Ray, Paramount, 2012

The RMS Titanic! It was called the ship of dreams, sailing across an ocean that, like a woman’s heart, was full of many secrets, and buoyed by scads of heavy-handed comparisons (or something). It’s also the basis for a movie I’ve avoided seeing for fifteen years. I had no real reason to see it: large-scale epics usually aren’t my thing, I already knew the ending, that damn song was playing on every radio station and if I had to listen to it again I’d dive into the Atlantic Ocean, etc. But Titanic remains extremely popular and made somewhere around all the money in the world on its initial theatrical release in 1997, so I gritted my teeth and strapped on my lifebelt and decided to check out Paramount’s shiny new four-disc Blu-ray / DVD combo pack.

James Cameron’s movie is both so familiar and so simple that any in-depth review of the plot seems excessive. The basic gist is the classic story of boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy is drowned by vengeful ocean. Poor little rich girl Rose (Kate Winslet) is returning to America with her wealthy cad of a fiancée, Cal (Billy Zane). In the midst of one of those spur-of-the-moment suicide attempts, Rose is rescued by rich little poor boy Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio). Jack then proceeds to rescue her in less concrete ways by showing her the true joys of life, like spitting into the ocean and naked sketching, and the two gradually fall in love. Then one of the crewmembers notices an iceberg in the distance. Raise your hand if you think it will end well for the young couple.

The biggest impression Titanic left me with was that it was neither as good as its fans make it out to be nor as bad as its detractors claim. Despite a three-hour plus runtime, the story bobs along relatively well, though I still suspect the fat could’ve been trimmed in a few places (I have a particular aversion to historical in-jokes, i.e. Cal commenting on how no one will ever talk about some artist named Picasso in years to come). I also find that the second half of the film, where everything goes to hell, works better than the first, but that might just be because the historical disaster angle is more appealing to me than the doomed romance one.

Acting-wise, DiCaprio and Winslet turn in generally agreeable performances and their various established co-stars all fill out minor roles capably (notably Victor Garber as the ship’s designer and David Warner as the eeeevil manservant). The only aspect of the movie that left a genuinely foul taste in my mouth the dialogue, much of which I found stilted at best and melodramatic at worst. I continually debated if Cameron was intentionally trying to mimic the flat conventions of big old Hollywood films or if he is just not that great at writing. Had I seen the movie in 1997 I’d probably be more sold on the former, but in a post-Avatar world I’m inclined to think the latter.

Thankfully, if hearing old Rose ramble on about how her diamond necklace reminds her more of a dog collar makes your ears bleed, you can take genuine satisfaction in knowing that the movie looks excellent on Paramount’s Blu-ray release. I never noticed any sort of digital noise, particularly impressive given the decision to not split the lengthy film over two discs, and colors seemed well-represented if slightly skewed to a warmer palette, perhaps again to mimic a more dreamy 1950s movie feel. Titanic is presented in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio here, as opposed to the slightly taller 1.78:1 ratio used for the recent 3D release.

The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is likewise beyond reproach, providing excellent atmosphere particularly during the later bits where all the water starts sloshing about. James Horner’s synthy New Age score is given solid supporting treatment as well, and the alternate Dolby Digital 2.0 track works well enough for those without surround sound. Three audio commentaries from 2005 are also included so that you can watch the movie four times and continually get something else out of it, sad lifeless sap that you are.

Titanic also features a bonus disc including over six hours of extra features, so you can spend more time dwelling on Titanic than any of the passengers ever did. Only two lengthy features are new: a comprehensive making-of and a documentary where Cameron and several experts try to determine precisely how the ship sunk (like the movie itself, this feature is interesting but overstays its welcome by the end). All the other supplements are ported over from Paramount’s older three-disc DVD set, most notably a slew of behind-the-scenes shorts, a lengthy cast and crew video, and an hour’s worth of deleted scenes which, in a nice touch, have all been presented in HD. Of particular note here is a truly appalling alternate ending in which old Rose makes obvious points obviously and provides Bill Paxton’s explorer character with some unnecessary resolution. Just watching this ending gives more support to my “Cameron can’t do dialogue” suspicion. As a nice bonus (or drinks coaster, depending on your perspective), two DVDs containing separate halves of the movie are included, along with a code to download the film onto your computer which apparently the kids today seem to like doing.

I will concede, bitter so-and-so that I am, that Titanic is worth seeing. If nothing else, it remains both a nice dramatization of a fascinating tragedy and an effective guidebook on how to make lots of money off a story even when everyone already knows the ending. Whether you really respond to it or just tolerate is ultimately very much a personal call, but should you feel the need to give Mr. Cameron even more of your money, you won’t be disappointed by this Blu-ray.