The Ship of Dreams
Mixing hubris, romance, disaster, and drama, James Cameron snatched Irwin Allen’s disaster movie formula, applied it to a historical context, and Titanic was born. It worked then. It works now. Titanic isn’t a masterpiece, but much like the men who designed the ship, Cameron and the studio sold it as such. Audiences responded.
Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Rose (Kate Winslet) are ancillary to the disaster around them. At over three hours, Titanic is bloated, even obnoxious, and with the sensibility of the most mainstream cinema. Showcasing wealth disparity and pompous attitudes, Titanic tells the most obvious take on the disaster, ensuring the smug villain Cal (Billy Zane) is nothing less than a grotesque, abusive, and controlling fiancee to the art-loving Rose. The flirtatious affair between Rose and Jack is lively, colorful, and sensual, making her eventual decision blatantly clear.
Titanic is a strikingly authentic work
Titanic is a strikingly authentic work
However, for its at times grueling love affair (an Irwin Allen staple), Titanic is a strikingly authentic work, whose visual enormity and real world tragedy appear near faultless on screen. At a time when still much of movie production remained practical (especially the key interiors built to exacting specifications), the reality of Titanic is what keeps the film an enthralling document.
Even without Jack and Rose, Titanic depicts the peril in assuming invulnerability against nature’s will. Hearing men boast about their unsinkable design, doubly so knowing the inevitable climax, is infuriating. It’s Billy Zane spouting the best lines early on, boasting about how great the ship is, a flawless encapsulation of how marketing and promotion can make anyone blind to reality. There’s an interesting spin on Titanic lore there that doesn’t require fictional characters in that context alone; Cameron aimed for mass appeal first though.
Cameron stages this all in flashback, a means to embrace his own fascination with deep sea dives, even defensively. Challenged by a reporter on TV that he’s a grave robber, deep sea salvager Brock Lovett (Bill Paxton) defends his actions, even as his ultimate goal is financially appealing – a diamond more valuable than the Hope Diamond itself. It’s a bizarre, dare it be said even hypocritical stance to make the villain obsessed with wealth, and have Brock be the same (albeit minus the pomposity and abusiveness).
But Titanic ends with an elderly woman (Gloria Stuart) at peace, reconciling her loss from a near century beforehand. No matter Titanic’s faults, the final moments work at a core emotional level, which is a sign Cameron knew what he was doing all along.
At first glance, Titanic is a 4K marvel. The detail, texture, and resolution appear remarkable, doubly so in close. A slight, minor grain structure poses no challenge to the encode unless underwater where the murkiness can (and will) introduce slight noise and artifacts. A spot or two above the water, inconsistently, appears smeary as well.
For all of this incredible fidelity, there is a cost, whether the filming process, film stock, or the mastering. Slight edginess and ringing mars medium shots in particular, gumming up the imagery. Halos, however thin, do cause issues, removing Titanic from perfection on this format. The slight gloss of DNR is evident too, but it’s a subtle touch that keeps the grain – mostly. The third class dance party just past the hour mark is especially smeary at its start. Note the renewed clarity exposes the early digital composites in full too, but that’s no fault of the encode, rather a weird way to indicate the mastering’s success.
Luckily, the Dolby Vision pass adds the spark needed, giving those first images back in 1912 a fantastic glow. The vividness of the sun glistening off new metal is special, the blinding white paint of the ship itself notable, and when nightfall comes, the interior lights glow brilliantly. Sensational density to the color gives flesh tones pop and other primaries a richness they lacked previously. The wealthy outfit and their hats, decorated with flowers, look sensational.
The constant presence of water keeps the surrounds and stereos filled for much of the duration. Early scenes in the present day feature submersible effects sweeping the Dolby Atmos soundstage, including the height channels. Wealthy areas of the ship, with their live orchestration, echo marvelously through every channel.
Engines firing and the boiler room mark the first instances of the bass to come, a throbbing, thick rumble that perfectly accentuates the action. When the iceberg hits, the hull begins splintering, and water begins rushing in, it’s pure reference grade. Height channels begin to splash water across the soundstage, in a great moment ice breaks off clearly in the overheads, and the panic escalates into every channel. This is a marvelous jump from the previous discs.
Paramount ports over three commentaries from their previous DVD special edition, the first with James Cameron, the second with historians Don Lynch and Ken Marschall, the third with a smattering of cast and crew. A second Blu-ray contains the additional bonuses. New to this set is Stories from the Heart, a half-hour retrospective that’s a joy to watch. A National Geographic special runs just over 40-minutes, discussing the film and the disaster itself. Producer Jon Landau hosts a new behind-the-scenes feature that runs 34-minutes, and a special look at the trailers. Other bonuses port from the original Blu-ray, although a few have gone missing, notably a 90-minute The Final Word that featured Cameron extensively.
While not complete, the wealth of galleries, scene breakdowns, a look at the ship itself, EPK featurettes, and of course a music video make this an excellent set.
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While unnecessarily overlong, Titanic still remains an absolute spectacle at its best showing humanity’s hubris.
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The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 56 full resolution uncompressed 4K screen shots grabbed directly from the UHD: