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TITANIC
10th Anniversary Edition

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Billy Zane, Kathy Bates, Gloria Stuart, Bill Paxton
Director:  James Cameron
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1 EX, DTS 6.1 ES, Dolby 2.0 Surround
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio:  Paramount
Features:  See Review
Length:  194 Minutes
Release Date: 
November 20, 2007

"They said Titanic was the ship of dreams.  And it was."

Film ****

Oh, what a tale is the story of Titanic.  It plays like a modern day parable, a tale of caution, a message with a moral, yet it was no fable.  It's fraught with so much dramatic irony that it would almost be implausible if it weren't so horrifyingly real.  It was said not even God could sink her, but sink she did, though it took an extraordinary number of factors to fall into place for her to do so.  If the ship hadn't been running full steam, if the voyage hadn't taken place that time of year, if the lookout hadn't lost his binoculars, if the sea hadn't been so calm as to conceal the iceberg, if the ship had hit it dead on instead of making the fateful swerve that allowed the berg to rip open her side...and if only she had been equipped with the correct number of lifeboats. 

It's no wonder the fated ship has been the subject of films ever since the silent era, but at long last, the responsibility of telling the story fell into the hands of the right filmmaker, James Cameron.  He's a director with enough of an action background to convey visually what a nightmare the sinking was, and with this movie, he proved he also had what it took to tell the story in the best possible way, combining remarkable historical detail with a fictional story of two young lovers who unknowingly were doomed to fate just by stepping on board.

What always impresses me about this film is how much the two elements of the story feed off one another, and each grows stronger in the process.  Had it been only the love story, it might have been a decent film, but one that played too closely to the numbers to achieve greatness.  Likewise, had Cameron merely told the tale of the ship sinking, it would have been a thrilling marvel of special effects, but probably leaving the audience curiously detached.  The right balance is struck here, and with an impeccable sense of rhythm and timing, Cameron allows both to develop and breathe in their own time and space, and doesn't merely rush through one to get to the other.  The resulting film is long...three and a quarter hours, to be exact...but it never gets boring.  Consider especially that the ship sinks practically in real time in this movie.  Witnessing the peril of those aboard, we don't want it to hurry up any more than they do.

When the film debuted, it was well received critically, and even more so by the audience, who sent the box office totals for this film soaring all the way to being the number one money maker of all time in this country, and a world wide record of over a billion dollars.  However, as with anything that achieves that kind of popularity that quickly, backlash was swift and inevitable.  Soon, it seemed to become intellectually chic to dislike this movie, to dislike Leonardo DiCaprio, and especially, to dislike James Cameron.  The record tying 11 Oscars won did nothing but fuel those fires.  And that's a shame, because it's all unmerited.  

This is a great film-one that reaches down into the annals of Hollywood history to bring good old fashioned storytelling to the big screen, but also one that took every advantage of 90s resources to assure that every moment in the life and death of the great ship was as real as could be.  This movie cost about $200 million to make, but not a cent of it was wasted, and not a bit of it was gratuitous.  The weaving of effects into the storyline to create powerful and memorable images replete with emotion set a new standard in filmmaking, and left movie audiences cold when it came to the empty special effects films that followed like Godzilla and Wild Wild West.

The backlash against Leo was equally unwarranted.  He may be a teen idol to millions of young girls everywhere, but still-he is a talented, strong actor.  If you don't seem to remember that, go back and see The Basketball Diaries or What's Eating Gilbert Grape.  Or check out his recent triumphs in The Aviator or Blood Diamond.  In this film, he brings a likeable charm to the character of Jack Dawson, a man who's poor in status but not in spirit. 

Equally good, though, is the beautiful Kate Winslet as Rose, who not only is one of the best actresses of recent years, but also has the most luminous face to radiate from the screen since the golden age of Hollywood.  And of course, my favorite lady, Kathy Bates...as usual, she steals every scene she's in.

And lastly, why criticize James Cameron?  Some may not like the man's ego, but I strongly suggest this picture could not have been made without it.  It went so far over budget that two studios had to unite to pick up the tab.  After many delays and reported problems, the press was watering at the mouth to ravish this film upon release as they did with the equally troubled Waterworld.  It took a man who believed in his heart that he knew better than everyone else to stake his reputation and his future on the financial success of this film, which would need to gross at least $400 million at the box office to break even.  

And he was proven right.  The "king of the world", indeed.

Video ****

"This ship can't sink!"

"She's made of iron, sir...I assure you, she can."

Paramount celebrates 10 years of Titanic with a terrific anamorphic transfer, and the results are quite glorious.  Gone are the one or two minor flaws of the first DVD...there's nothing but smooth sailing in the video department here.  The colors, intricate sets and lush art direction make for a visual banquet, and every detail is rendered with crispness and clarity.  The final stretch of film, which takes place mostly under a night sky, looks sharp and superb.  With all the extras and such, this movie is now spread over two discs.  Maybe not ideal, but certainly a better decision than using extra compression. 

Audio ****

"The water is freezing and there aren't enough boats...

Half the people on this ship are going to die."

The Dolby Digital and DTS extended soundtracks are completely remarkable, too, with well deserved Academy Award decorations.  The sound is integral to the emotion-the screams of the dying, the ship ripping apart, the panic and chaos, and of course, James Horner's excellent score.  The multi-channel mix makes excellent use of front and rear stages, with strong balance and excellent, smooth crossovers (notice, for example, early on when the helicopter zooms overhead).  The discretion is perfect in this mix, and even the .1 channel gets a good workout when the ship starts going down.  This is what DVD sound is all about. 

Features ****

"Don't you say goodbye, Rose!"

Now THIS is more like it.  The original release had only a trailer; this special collector's edition has everything BUT.  For starters, there are three terrific commentary tracks.  One has James Cameron, who had resisted commenting on his film before, but acquiesced to fan pressure and stepped up to the mike to deliver the details.  It's a rich, fascinating listen.  A second commentary features the producers and cast members, cut together and using the subtitle feature to keep track of who is who.  You'll hear from Kate Winslet, Bill Paxton, Gloria Stuart and others.  The third commentary features two of the film's historical consultants, who connect what we see in the movie to actual events.

Also on the discs is a behind-the-scenes collection that can be accessed during the movie by branching so that they're scene specific, or you can pick them from the menu as you like, or play them all in a row by themselves.  The second disc also features an alternate ending and the Celine Dion video for the Oscar winning "My Heart Will Go On".

As mentioned, no trailer, and though I'm bowled over by the generous helping of quality extras here, I have to say I'm bummed the trailer is no included...I thought it was one of the all time best.

Summary:

Are you ready to go back to Titanic?  If it's been ten years since you took the journey, now is the time to revisit.  It's a terrific, unforgettable film, well deserving of its accolades, not to mention a great looking and sounding disc packaged with nice extras.

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