Looking back now nearly fifteen years on the release of the epic film Titanic, it amazes me to think it's been so long since I first saw this film when it debuted in theaters. In fact, it was the film, due to its subject matter, content and popularity, that inspired me to begin writing movie reviews for this very website in early 1998. You see, I grew up with a morbid fascination of Titanic and its horrific and unthinkable disaster. Because of Robert D. Ballard's history-making discovery of the wreckage in 1986 spawning numerous books and documentaries, I just marveled at the photos and paintings of the wreckage and wanted to know more about how this massive ocean liner could have possibly become nothing more than twisted, rusted hunks of metal and ghostly images hidden deep beneath the ocean's surface. It all sounded like a movie, and in 1997, acclaimed director James Cameron made that idea a reality.
Granted, Cameron's Titanic was NOT the first time this story had been told in film. As a book and a movie, A Night to Remember was previously one of the more well-known tellings of this story (And Cameron admits to that film being the inspiration for making his movie). And even since Cameron's epic, the story has been retold in television films and miniseries. (I wonder what survivors, if they could see all of this today, would say about such milking of a terrible disaster.)
In 2012, 100 years after the sinking of Titanic on its maiden voyage, James Cameron's once-top-box-office-hit (his follow-up Avatar dethroned Titanic in 2009) was re-released to the cinemas after a 3D conversion. Now, in the late summer of 2012, Titanic finally makes its blu-ray debut. But before I get to the high definition transfer and remastering of the 1997 movie, I'd like to briefly re-evaluate the film.
I had first seen Titanic in theaters (three times, too, I think) as a teenager in the close of '97 and beginning of '98. The love story did pique my young love interests, but it was also the film's setting: at sea on the glorious ship of Titanic that really interested me. The fact that Cameron recreated much of the ship to 90% of its original scale, using many of the original manufacturers of the same things featured on the ship (like carpet and fine china and such), just further interested me. Cameron was bringing to life the disaster on screen in a way no one had ever seen before (or since). Using the story of lower class and upper class teens who fall in love on this doomed vessel catered to my generation and reeled us in by making us care for dear Jack and Rose and their ill-fated romance.
While Cameron's script wasn't necessarily the most brilliant you might read for a romance or historical film, he was certainly no dummy for casting two beautiful actors as the leads and surrounding them with respectable acting talent. Somehow, Cameron found just the right ingredients to forumlate cinematic success, and it showed as the film sustained box office domination for months after its initial release (which just doesn't happen). And still today, it's a big deal to finally be getting a blu-ray, high definition release of Titanic.
In January of 1998, it was partly due to its edgy content that made me want to review Titanic for the growing JFH readership at the time. The most memorable, obviously, is Kate Winslet's topless nudity during a scene where Leonardo DiCaprio's Jack Dawson is drawing her character, Rose, in her stateroom. Rose drops a sheer shawl (which briefly shows some see-through nudity, and climbs onto a couch to be sketched by Jack. At first, nothing explicit is revealed, but we see her bare breasts as she starts settling onto the couch and again while we see Jack in the midst of drawing her there. We see the full nude drawing a few times during the movie, but it's in this scene that Winslet's topless nudity is pretty significant. It was startling enough to viewers (and for a movie aimed at teens?) to make many question how it could have squeaked by with a PG-13 rating at all. On top of that, there's a pretty sensual scene where Jack and Rose have sex in the back of a car they find on board. We see her hand slap against a foggy window (from the outside) to represent her climax, and then we see the two in a sweaty embrace inside afterward (again... this is a movie aimed at teens?). For language, there's at least one usage of the "F" word (which still irks me to this day, too; the character uses it flippantly and then apologizes for it), an array of other colorful language - including quite a bit of blasphemy - and pretty intense violence once the sinking and pandemonium begins. The finale, from the ship going down to survivors of the sinking seen frozen to death in the water hours later, is all very intense and even disturbing for some viewers. The movie as a whole really pushes the PG-13 rating, so parents who see it and think it may be safe for 13 year olds will want to think twice. It's unfortunate, too, because the language was a bit gratuitous and the sensuality puts it over. Considering that this is a fictitious love story set within an historical event, it's disappointing it wasn't made a bit more family friendly.
There's a lot of emotion packed into a film like Titanic. Because I saw it as a teen, it represents a certain time in my life for me, and takes me back every time I watch it (for better and worse). And, as you watch it through the years, you can see it through a different set of eyes as you grow from, for example, the teenage years of the main characters to the adulthood of some of the victims and even the parenthood of some as well. Cameron did a great job bringing a relatable human element to the story that spans generations. It's no wonder a movie like this has endured and been embraced by so many. Since its runaway success, the film has gotten a lot of hate from people who think it's uncool to like the movie due to the romance elements, sappy moments, cheesy one-liners ("I'm the king of the world" and "Jack! I'm flying!" anyone?) and over-played Celine Dion song. But I firmly believe more people like it than they have the guts to let on. It's a far from perfect film, clearly, but when you consider the work Cameron put into it, the detail in the sets, the acting performances, the memorable score, the groundbreaking effects for its time, and its grim finale, Titanic was quite the achievement in filmmaking.
Now, when a film is converted for high definition, the end results are often mixed. However, the conversion for Titanic was a painstaking frame-by-frame remastering and it really shows in Blu-Ray. The film has never looked better. From the vibrant colors to crisp visuals, the movie certainly doesn't look fifteen years old. One thing that would irk me about DVDs is how the darkest scenes often had flashes of red in them, looking rather synthetic. But this high-def Blu-Ray transfer is really fantastic. And the sound has never packed such a punch in a home entertainment release before.
Fifteen years later, Titanic still holds up as an entertaining, sobering, and moving story. It's easy to see why some viewers wouldn't quite warm up to a teen whirlwind love story, but the film is rich enough with human elements and tragedy that it's tough not to feel something while watching it. To this day, the movie's final moments sparks emotions I felt when I first saw it. Even with its flaws, Titanic is still a cinematic wonder.
- John DiBiase (Originally reviewed: January, 1998; Re-evaluated September, 2012)
Blu-Ray Special Features Review
Titanic has been released on DVD a couple times over the years, but never before on Blu-Ray. Now, you can own the famed epic on Blu-Ray and 3D Blu-Ray in a couple of different combo pack options. The regular, 2D Blu-Ray release includes two Blu-Ray discs containing the feature film all on one disc (with commentaries) and then the special features on their own separate disc. The other two discs in this set are the DVD version split into two parts. Lastly, there's a code on a sleeve inside the set to download your own digital copy of the movie. The Blu-Ray special features disc contains a wealth of extras, but only a couple of them have been converted to HD. The bulk of the behind-the-scenes material is in SD, just as you would see it on a DVD.
Reflections on Titanic (1:03:47) - There are two brand new documentaries exclusive to the new blu-ray releases. The first one, Reflections on TITANIC is about the phenomenon of the movie. It opens with media audio clips and then moves right to a talking head of James Cameron explaining how he got the idea and pitched it to FOX. Most of the cast and crew from Cameron to Kate Winslet and Billy Zane look back on it. Cameron talks about the pressure on him while the film was being made, with budget overages and pre-release press slamming it from the beginning, dooming it to fail. Through this, we see some behind-the-scenes footage (which shrinks to a non-widescreen format momentarily) and hear from Winslet relating her experiences with working with Leonardo and having to deal with her sudden popularity and success. "Reflections" also gives details on the movie's week-to-week box office success (which I remember following, too, back when it was happening) and worldwide impact upon its release. They then take us to this year when Winslet appeared at the 2012 London premiere of the 3D re-release of the movie to theaters. Cameron also talks about why he believes people went back to see the movie over and over again, and then touches on Celine Dion's iconic song and its impact (Celine also briefly talks about it). Even composer James Horner reflects on his film score for the movie and how shocked he was by how well it did. Cameron then touches on some of the parodies of the film and the way it affected pop culture, before "Reflections" moves on to Oscar night and its success at the Academy Awards. It's funny, too, because Cameron reflects on having exclaimed "I'm the king of the world!!" after the film won 11 Oscars and admits he was just caught up in the emotion of the moment and shouldn't have said that (he caught flack for it afterwards, too). Finally, the American Film Institute talks about how the movie has placed on many of their best-of lists and is shown to film students still today. And then Cameron closes with more about the 2012 Blu-Ray and 3D conversion, the London premiere and a live concert with James Horner conducting the score for the first time with an orchestra and crew (It would have been great to include the concert in this set!). Interstingly enough, producer Jon Landau said the experience was closure for Titanic for him (which seemed a little odd since most films don't have as lasting an impact as Titanic, so why need 'closure'?). Overall, it's a solid and thorough feature, but one thing fans will notice is... Leonardo DiCaprio never makes an appearance throughout the whole of Reflections. He's talked about, shown in behind-the-scenes footage, but he's glaringly absent from the reflective interviews and even the London premiere.
Titanic: The Final Word with James Cameron (1:36:16) - The second of the two new documentaries has Cameron rounding up 8 experts about Titanic, Naval ships, and other relevant fields to try to come to a final decision of exactly how Titanic sank, broke apart, and landed on the ocean floor. For those who don't really care about the actual sinking, this won't be interesting, but given my longtime fascination with it, I found The Final Word to be wholly interesting. The team take a look at the crash site on the ocean floor and try to use it as a forensics team would use a crime scene to reconstruct the sinking and the ship's breaking apart that night. Cameron takes the reins and leads the discussion, but he ultimately monopolizes the investigation, quickly shutting down suggestions from other experts to decide that his deductions are final. It makes the investigation a bit slanted at times, but what the group collectively deduces by the end seems to make sense. What's interesting, too, is they discover that some of the sinking details in Cameron's 1997 film are wrong, but James admits to not wanting to change the movie, as he says that once he starts, he's not sure where he would stop. The documentary utilizes clips from Titanic, his Ghosts of the Abyss documentary and new animatics to piece together the sinking visually. The discussion closes with the group hypothetically discussing how more people could have been saved if they all were transported to the ship a second after the iceberg hit (And Cameron confidently insists he could have saved everyone). The final animation of the "actual" sinking (as per the group's final word, mainly Cameron's) is very spooky. But the documentary, unfortunately, doesn't stop there. Instead of leaving it all about Titanic and that tragedy, the film director tries way too hard to relate the disaster to today's political state in end, saying the next great disaster will be "climate change." The documentary should have ended with the final animation of the sinking; we really don't need Cameron's final word. With that, it no longer is about the ship at all. But despite the weird ending, The Final Word is still a fascinating addition to this set.
Deleted Scenes (57:32) - There are 30 deleted scenes with optional commentary from James Cameron, as well as his 2005 introduction audio to the scenes. All of them have finished effects and music, which is a nice touch (Hey, they could afford it, right?). All of these scenes are remastered for high definition, which is excellent. ["Spoilers" of these scenes are ahead!] The first scene, "I'll Be The First," is an extended sequence of Rose unpacking her art on the ship, with a cold exchange between her and Cal. While it's a little corny, it really sets up the fact that she just doesn't love him. "Rose Feels Trapped" takes place just before Rose heads to the back of the ship where she first meets Jack. She comes to her room alone and throws a bit of a tantrum, panicking about her life's situation. "Brock's Dilemma / Rose Visits Third Class" inserts another present day scene into the past story and interrupts the flow of Rose recalling her story all in one night. Brock tries to get more info out of her, and then feels the loom of defeat in his pursuit of the heart of the ocean. While the scene does slow down the movie, it adds more meat to Brock's plot. This all transitions back to the past with a new scene where Rose goes to third class to find Jack in a setting we otherwise don't see in the movie. It also shows more of Jack's friends on the ship. It's a nice scene that I kind of wish was still in the film. "Rose's Dreams" is a conversation between Jack and Rose where Rose vents about all of these wild dreams she wishes she could experience. Some of them actually come true in the photos we see in her room at the end of the film. Here, you really see the spitfire that Rose is beneath the surface. "Come Josephine..." takes place after the third class party and we see Jack and Rose walking and singing "Come Josephine" on the ship's deck. Sadly, it brings weight to her singing it at the end of the movie and probably could have been left in the finished film. It's also a nice moment between the two that shows more of their romance blossoming. "Extended Sneaking To First Class" shows more of the gymnasium (which is a famous sight from the Titanic wreckage). "Extended Escape from Lovejoy" shows more of Jack and Rose running through the ship evading Lovejoy. Here Rose tells Jack more about who Lovejoy was to Cal (1 "S" word). "A Kiss in the Boiler Room" soon follows as they pause for a romantic embrace while running through the boiler room. It's a bizarre place to share a moment, but the way it was shot does look pretty cool. "Wireless Room/The Californian" shows the Titanic communications team telling off The Californian team for warning them about ice. It was wise to cut this one (1 "bloody h*ll," 1 "Chr*st," 1 "b*stard"). The tenth deleted scene, "How 'Bout A Little Ice?" is a unique shot of Molly Brown asking for ice in her glass at the moment the huge iceberg passes by the window behind her. It's meant to be for a laugh/irony, but I can't say it fits the mood (1 "bleeding Chr*st"). "Flirting With Ice" has Rose shoving ice down Jack's shirt after the ship hits the berg. "The First S.O.S." shows Captain Smith ordering the sending out of a distress call and the wire team decide to use "S.O.S." for the first time. "Ismay Panics" shows a brief moment where Ismay hysterically tries to board a lifeboat (1 "For G-d's sake"). "Molly Brown's Rowing School" shows Molly teaching people how to row in her lifeboat. "Irish Hospitality" is a brief moment where some third class passengers give Rose a blanket and a swig of alcohol from their flask. "Ida Straus Won't Leave" is a little moment where Ida argues with her husband that she won't leave him. "Farewell To Helga" is an unnecessary but melancholy moment where Fabrizio is forced to leave Helga with her family as he joins Jack and Rose to try to make it off the ship. "Boat Six Won't Return" is a sad but great scene where Captain Smith calls back boat six to add more people but the crewman in charge of the boat refuses to return. This is followed by a short moment back in the gymnasium with some of the first class passengers talking and then a shot of the famous baker (who really did survive) chugging alcohol from a bottle. "Release The Hounds" is more of Cal trying to strike up a deal to get on a lifeboat. "A Husband's Letter" is a brief scene where a random man gives Rose a letter to give to his wife if she (Rose) survives. The twentieth scene, "Jack and Lovejoy Fight," is a good one. It's much too long, and slows the film down, but it gives explanation as to why we see Lovejoy with blood all over his head during the sinking. Cal gives his gun to Lovejoy and tells him he can have the diamond if he retrieves it from Jack and Rose. He then pursues them through the dining area where there's a cat-and-mouse exchange between the three of them. Jack and Lovejoy then fight it out a bit -- which has some really, poorly obvious stunt double moments for Jack, making the scene cheesier than it should have been (1 "S" word). "Guggenheim and Astor" is an unnecessary moment where the two briefly run into each other before the end (1 "d*mn"). "I'm Not Going" has one of the guys in the communications room insisting he won't leave his post. "Cora's Fate" is a miserable shot that reveals that little Cora gets caught behind a locked third class gate as water rises around her. "Extended Jack and Rose in the Water" shows Jack threatening a man who wants to join Rose on her floating door raft. "Out of the Question" is just a shot of a lifeboat listening to the cries of those in the water and a passenger saying they should help, while another refuses to help them. "How Dare You!" is where a crewman finds a man posing as a woman in a lifeboat. "Chinese Man Rescue" is from the 'Is there anyone alive out there?' sequence where they find a Chinese survivor and rescue him (in other words, it wasn't just Rose who got saved from the frozen waters). The last two scenes make up about fifteen minutes of footage. "Extended Carpathia Sequence" shows a lot more of Rose's arrival on the Carpathia and being rescued. It also shows a bunch of the survivors - some familiar faces - and Ismay doing a kind of 'walk of shame' before other survivors. The montage in the final film works really well, but here you see more of Cal looking for Rose on the ship and the tension of her hoping he doesn't find her. There's also some more dialog from old Rose. Finally, there's the Alternate Ending, which has more dialog between Brock and Rose's granddaughter as the rest of the crew celebrate the end of the searching for the diamond. And instead of Rose tossing it into the ocean (like in the final film), the granddaughter spots her just before she drops it and she and Brock rush to stop Rose. Brock begs her to let him hold it and after she lets him have a moment with it, she tosses it overboard (1 "S" word, 1 "G-d forsaken," 2 "Oh my G-d," 2 "J-sus," 1 "s*cks"). It's a pretty terrible scene that ends with everything laughing. I'm thankful it didn't end so corny (But it is slightly neat to see little cliche references to the Jack and Rose story here, like a shooting star, which is also from a deleted scene, and Rose telling Brock to live in a way to make every day count). Overall, these scenes are a good viewing -- even if the alternate ending is pretty awful.
The remainder of the bonus features are from the original DVD releases and appear here in regular standard definition.
Behind the scenes (1:03:34) - There are over an hour of behind-the-scenes material from the original making-of DVD featurettes. It's all broken down into little sub-featurettes too.
Construction Time Lapse (4:20) is a sped up time lapse of the construction of the ship set in Mexico. It's pretty fascinating to watch what all went into its construction.
Deep Dive Presentation, Narrated by James Cameron (15:30) - This is a great batch of footage that Cameron and his crew filmed of Titanic when they went down to the wreckage for the first time in 1995. Cameron narrated in ten years later for a DVD release.
$200,000,001: A Ship's Odyssey (The Titanic Crew Video) (17:52) is a candid montage of cast and crew cutting up on set. They even work in clips from Poseidon Adventure and other classic films as part of the gag. It wraps up with a very long montage of clips of various members of the film crew who you generally would never see otherwise.
Videomatics (3:18) - There are a few videomatics, aka video storyboards, of the sinking and deep dive, all accomplished with miniatures and a lipstick size camera. Nowadays, these storyboards would be done with computer animation.
Visual Effects (7:50) - This is a breakdown of the effects used to create the engine room, "I'm Flying" scene, first class lounge (which kind of ruins the scene in the film as they reveal the background was all miniatures with the actors being shown in front of a green screen), and the sinking simulation animation that's shown to 'old Rose' in the beginning of the movie.
- John DiBiase, (reviewed: 9/3/12)
In this section, we have stuff like Celine Dion's "My Heart Will Go On" music video, Theatrical Trailers, TV Spots, and Still Galleries. The most unique additions here are probably the Titanic parodies (10:16). The first is an MTV 1998 Movie Awards Skit where Vince Vaughn and Ben Stiller play movie execs who pitch the idea of a Titanic sequel to [the real] James Cameron. Next is an SNL Skit from January 9, 1999 where Bill Paxton reprises his role as Brock for a fake "alternate ending" where the SNL team beat up old Rose (played by Cheri Oteri). And finally, there is a video called Titanic in 30 Seconds, reenacted by Bunnies... which is pretty silly.
Parental Guide: Brief Summary of Content
Sex/Nudity: While Ismay is talking about the name "Titanic" intending to represent the ship's sheer size, Rose asks if he's heard of Dr. Freud and his talks about the male preoccupation with size; When Jack talks Rose off of jumping off the back of the ship, she slips and he pulls her up, but he lands on top of her back on the deck. Some crew see them like this, with Rose looking shaken up, and assume Jack was trying to take advantage of her; Jack’s drawings of nude females are shown, including full-frontal and Rose’s portrait, showing her bare chest; Another scene includes Jack drawing Rose nude, and we see her bare chest in full a few times, including her bare backside; Old, present-day Rose says the drawing session was "the most erotic moment of my life" and adds "until then at least." Bodine asks "What happened next?" and Rose responds, "You mean, did we 'do it'?" and says that Jack was strictly professional; While being chased through the ship by Lovejoy, Jack and Rose find themselves in storage where a car is being kept. Jack sits in the front, but Rose pulls him into the back seat. He holds her and asks if she's nervous. She says no and starts kissing his fingertips sensually. She then tells him to put his hands on her and he puts his hand on her clothed chest and kisses her. The scene cuts away and comes back to find the car with steamed windows. Rose's hand slaps against the window (as she climaxes), leaving a print in the steam on the window as her hand slides down. We then see inside the car with Jack on top of her, both sweaty and trembling (she has a blanket over her chest); Cal calls Rose a slut and slaps her; Cal calls Rose a whore to a gutter rat and she remarks that she rather be Jack's whore than Cal's wife.
Vulgarity/Language: 1 "f" word (and 1 in Italian), 12 "s" words, 9 "g*d*mn," 8 "d*mn," 6 "h*ll," 3 "a" words, 2 S.O.B.'s, 2 "J-sus," 1 "J-sus Chr-st," 1 "Chr-st," 8 "G-d," 4 "For G-d's sake," 1 "Oh my G-d," 1 "G-d Almighty." Rose gives Lovejoy "the finger."
Alcohol/Drugs: People drinking champagne, brandy, wine, etc... during the present-day celebration scene and numerous times on the ship during the flashback in first class and third class (Rose downs a glass of beer while she and Jack party below decks); The ship's baker is seen drunk and drinking from a flask as the ship goes down.
Blood/Gore: Rose punches a hysterical crewman on the ship and gives him a bloody nose; A man is shot and we see some blood on his life vest; A passenger hanging on to the ship as it breaks in two has blood on his head; A man shoots himself in the head, but we don't see any blood or gore, just his body falling into the water; A man takes a bloody life vest off a dead passenger and puts it on; We see many frozen, dead bodies floating in the water. Some with their eyes frozen open. They're not particularly gross, just disturbing to see; One of the guys in the present is wearing a shirt with a happy face on it with a bloody bullet hole in the face
Violence: Lots of it. Mainly disaster-related. You should expect to see people falling off the ship, getting hit by things, hitting objects as they fall of the ship, etc; A large ocean liner sinks, killing over a thousand people; Rose and Jack are shot at by Cal; Rose punches a hysterical man in the face; Jack punches a hysterical man who is dragging Rose under water; A crewman shoots himself in the head after sort-of accidentally shooting and killing two hysterical passengers when things get out of hand; Lovejoy suckerpunches Jack in the stomach; etc.
** Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's rating.