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Featured Blu-ray Review: Titanic

September 10th, 2012

Titanic - Buy from Amazon: Blu-ray Combo Pack or 3D Combo Pack

For a long time, Titanic was the highest-grossing movie of all time. It made $600 million while the second highest-grossing film at the time had barely topped $400 million. It made more internationally than any film up to that point had made worldwide. It crushed the competition. It then went on to earn a record-tying 14 Oscar nominations and won a record-tying 11 wins. Everyone has seen this movie. ... Everyone it seems but me. It was recently re-released in a 3D format, and that version of the film made its home market debut on Monday the 10th, and I was going to get it to review, making me one of the few people to have seen the movie first in 3D. Except that 3D version didn't arrive, so I have to review the plain 2D version instead. So is the film as good as its box office? Or is it as bad as the backlash that hit it afterward? And are there any new extras on the Blu-ray to warrant a double-dip?

The Movie

Titanic is 3 hours and 14 minutes long and the big boat sinks in the end. Okay, we need more details than that. The film begins in the modern day, or at least the modern day for its release date. We watch as a submersible explores the bottom of the ocean where the Titanic come to its final resting place. After exploring a bit, they pull up a safe; however, when they pull it up, there's nothing of value there. The leader of the expedition, Brock Lovett, is looking for a diamond necklace, The Heart of the Ocean. They do find a picture of a woman, and when that picture is shown on TV news, a woman, Rose, claims the woman in the picture is her. She's flown to the research vessel where Brock and the crew ask her to tell them anything she can remember. We then flash back 84 years... the launching of the Titanic with Rose boarding with her mother, Ruth, and her fiancee, Cal Hockley. He's rich and should be a dream catch, but Rose compares marrying him with slavery. Meanwhile, Jack Dawson and his friend Fabrizio are in a poker game with two Swedes. In the pot are two tickets on the Titanic. Jack and his best friend win, but with just five minutes before the ship leaves, they have to run and barely make it. The Titanic wasn't a non-stop trip to New York City and first went to Cherbourg, France, where it took on additional passengers, including Molly Brown. After that, it headed to Queenstown, Ireland, before heading out to the Atlantic.

After a day or so on the ocean, Rose begins to panic about her life with Cal and decides to end it before getting to America. However, while attempting suicide, she is stopped by Jack, who had previously seen her on deck. While he does save her, he is mistaken as an attacker. When Rose defends him saying she slipped and he saved her life, omitting anything about a suicide attempt, Cal thanks Jack and invites him to dinner, but not out of kindness, just to see Jack so out of place. The next day, Rose speaks with Jack one-on-one and thanks him for saving her, and for not telling the truth of the situation. As they talk, it's clear the pair have a connection that Rose doesn't share with Cal. In preparation for that night's dinner, Molly offers to clean up Jack and lend him some clothing, so he at least looks the part. At first Cal just dismisses Jack as a commoner and someone unimportant. But as Rose spends more time with Jack, Cal become very jealous and more controlling.

That's enough of the setup of the central plot to Titanic. We can't get much further without getting into spoilers about the characters in the movie. Of course, we haven't got to the part where the iceberg enters the movie, so we haven't even gotten close to talking about what happens to the boat. (Spoiler warning: It sinks.)

As I've said a number of times, I have never seen this movie, until I watched it on this version of the Blu-ray. However, after seeing it, I had two main reactions. Firstly, it turns out I had seen every frame of this movie. That's a bit of an exaggeration, but it has been parodied so many times that I recognized all of the key scenes. That's probably my biggest reaction to the film. My second thing that jumped out at me was the special effects. Wow, computer effects have improved over the past 15 years. It doesn't look bad, but it does look dated on occasion.

As to the main question, is Titanic as good as the film's box office numbers and its Oscar performance? Or is it as bad as the backlash makes it out to be? Well, as it often the case in these situations, it's somewhere in the middle. Titanic is not one of the best movies ever made, which it would have to be to live up to its box office numbers. In fact, it's not even the best movie that was nominated for the Best Movie Oscar that year. Had I voted, I would have gone with L.A. Confidential. However, 'not among the best movies ever made' is hardly an insult and Titanic is still a very well made movie, even if it is far more impressive on a technical stand point that it is on a narrative stand-point. The characters are painted rather broadly and some of the dialogue is inauthentic. The plot has an old-fashioned feel to it, but that could be seen as an homage to more period piece romances. On the other hand, Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio do have good chemistry together and that does lift that portion of the film.

That brings us to the disaster portion of the movie. While one could argue that James Cameron has a bit of trouble with dialogue or with the human aspect of his films, no one would argue he doesn't have the technical side down. This film is a masterpiece once the the titular boat does begin to sink. The term "Epic" applies here in all its force. It's massive in scale, powerful as well. We get an emotional punch as well, even if it is a little ham-fisted at times, and even if your attention waned during the romantic moments, it will be worth it to get to the finale.

The Extras

Most of the extras on the Blu-ray are carried over from the previous DVD edition, including three audio commentary tracks. If you were to watch the movie by itself and then once each with the audio commentary tracks, it would take 13 hours. Disc two has half an hour of behind-the-scenes, an hour of deleted scenes, alternate ending, featurettes on the special effects, some parodies of the film, etc. It's a huge amount.

The Blu-ray has two new extras: Reflections on Titanic and Titanic: The Final Word. The former is a hour-long retrospective about the movie with archival clips and interviews with the cast and crew. The latter is close to 100 minutes long and goes into greater detail about the real life Titanic. That's a pretty good selection of new extras added to an already stuffed home market release.

As for its technical presentation, while the special features might look a little dated at times, the Blu-ray never does. It is nearly reference level material here. The details are amazing, even when compared to first-run releases. Blacks are deep, colors are vivid, contrast is never a problem. There are no compression issues or signs of print damage. The audio is equally impressive and your surround sound speakers will get a workout, especially your subwoofer, without ever losing clarity.

As I said, I don't have the 3D Blu-ray, but hopefully it will arrive late.

Finally we get to the price. The regular Blu-ray Combo Pack cost $23, which is normally a little high for a catalogue title; however, this is more than forgivable given the amount of extras on the Blu-ray. It is absolutely loaded. The 3D Combo Pack costs $30, which is an acceptable premium to pay, assuming the 3D effects add to the experience. I won't know till that screener arrives.

The Verdict

Titanic isn't a cinematic classic, but a film aimed at the populous. It's a big-budget disaster film with a central romance and that means it works well with most demographics. The Blu-ray Combo Pack is worth picking up, while the 3D Combo Pack is a reasonably priced compared to the Blu-ray.

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Filed under: Video Review, Titanic