Titanic: Special Collectors Edition DVD Review

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by Chris McEneany Oct 1, 2005 at 12:00 AM

    Titanic: Special Collectors Edition DVD Review
    SRP: £18.59


    Having not seen Titanic's previous DVD incarnation, I can't say for certain whether this release in an improvement. However, this 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer is certainly something to savour, colour-wise. The image, though quite surprisingly soft for much of the time, possesses a rich hue of colour fidelity that is captivating - especially in close-ups. Check out the infamous sketching scene for some delightfully burnished tones, the astonishing warmth of the picture literally something that you could dry your smalls with. Likewise, the flying sequence with its pretty rainbow-sky - it looks positively painted on with such richness that you just want to hang it on your wall. Rose's bright red suicide dress is like a distress beacon flaring out of the screen. The darker hues work well, too. When things start to turn blue, the disc keeps a fine balance and often provides some strikingly clear imagery - Rose hanging on to a frozen Jack, for example.

    Skin tones are incredibly good. Sample any one of the thousand or so close-ups and you get a pore-perfect example of healthy Hollywood sheen. Again, it's all very warm and a touch soft - in that dreamy kind of way used to evoke a bygone era - but still very impressive.

    But, there is a downside to all this gloss. The soft palette, whilst it may be intentional, still plays havoc with some of the detail. Backgrounds are often jeopardised, particularly when crowded, and some distance shots are indistinct and hazy. When the sunlight shines on the open decks, for instance, the contrast seems not to handle it too well, and the image can be subject to some slight glaring. Bright scenes seem to suffer in general, in fact. For example, look at the scene of old Rose at home in the beginning and you'll notice that the brightness seems to render the interior of the house quite vague. I must stress that this is not a serious detriment, just a slightly curious note that a DVD of this calibre, from such experts, lacks the visual bite I'd expect.

    Black levels range from slightly off - in some earlier sequences - to very good. The underwater shots look great, with nice degrees of variance in the darker areas of the image. The sinking, naturally enough, copes exceedingly well with pitch black seas, tremendous shadow-play in the Engine Room and a marvellous star-etched night sky. The uniform jackets of crewmen are nice little dots of black bobbing about in the chaos, too.

    The disc displays no serious evidence of compression, bleed or dot-crawl that I noticed. But, on a 44 inch screen, I noticed some edge enhancement on the character silhouettes, the railings and on some signs. It's also worth pointing out that the transfer, whilst soft, is still sharp enough to make some of the effects work, and particularly some green screen shots, appear glaringly obvious.

    So, overall, the picture is very nice - but not as nice as I expected
    Titanic: Special Collectors Edition Picture


    The track of choice has to be the DTS-ES, which is wonderfully steered and full of well-designed activity. Quick comparisons to the DD EX track confirms that it is louder, deeper and much livelier. The bass levels are suitably crunching - take your pick of the many soul-juddering impacts, from the initial iceberg/ship interface to the sea roaring down the corridors of first class and wrenching doors off their hinges. There is certainly a lot of weight to the effects, such as lifeboats tumbling from their ropes, the windows caving in on Captain Smith and the phenomenal breaking in two of the ship.

    But, perhaps it is below decks where the most extensive aural work is delivered. The Engine Room is literally a tour-de-force of sonic bombast, full-on acoustic involvement and sub-jumping machine-chaos. The poor-people-party that sees Rose on her toes is an Irish jig dance-off festival re-enacted live in your living room, full of fantastic percussion and the music literally storms in on you.

    The ambience is fabulously delivered, too. Listen to the slapping of the water during the final freeze-out, or the voices in the state-room - understated and full of quiet echo, but nicely steered. There are also many scenes, pre-sinking, were the mighty rumble of the sea provides a great and realistic presence. You are on board, that's for sure. Don't be surprised if you find yourself reacting to the many whistles and bells sounding across the soundscape.

    Dialogue is never fumbled or drowned out. Even during the madness of the finale, voices are clearly heard and marvellously directed. The sad final act of the Titanic's band is hauntingly clear and, of course, James Horner's magnificent score has every speaker hitting the right notes and filling the room. The immersive effect of the 6.1 ES track is exemplary and my advice is to turn it right up. The DD 5.1 EX is no slouch, but flicking from one to the other reveals the outright winner.
    Titanic: Special Collectors Edition Sound


    Whoa-boy, this release sets its course with an almighty fleet of bonus materials. The movie itself contains three whopping Commentary Tracks - and they are all fabulous. Honestly, there is so much information and anecdote covered that I'm not only convinced that I worked on the film, but that I actually sailed on the Titanic all those years ago. The amount of time that you can spend gleaning fact and trivia from these tracks is akin only to those commentaries on Peter Jackson's Rings trilogy and, just like them, you begin to feel privileged to be along for the ride. I'm not going to state that they turned my opinion of the film around - because they haven't - but they certainly made me wish that I could. Of the three James Cameron's is the most engaging, and I found this immensely surprising. In the past I have always thought he was an arrogant and impatient individual - interviews and a few making-of's have revealed exactly this quality - but here, I must confess, I warmed to him considerably. His passion for the whole Titanic saga, and his dedication to getting this story on screen as well as his admirable discoveries down in the actual wreck lend his insights an amazing level of depth and importance. He's also very technical about the filming process and the thematic beats of the tale in a richly rewarding and accessible manner that keeps you interested and entertained throughout. He gives a smart on-going narration of the actual events with a wealth of historical information. Plus, he gives real value for money with precious few seconds of silence - a non-stop verbal delivery that he carries on over the top of the Deleted Scenes and Alternate Ending, as well.

    The Cast and Crew Commentary has a fair few participants who, handily enough, are named on-screen whenever they speak. Their enthusiasm, again, is infectious and each brings a terrific set of recollections that covers literally every facet of what you see in the movie. The main speakers are producers Jon Landau and Rae Sanchini who supply literally tons of information - from CG talk to the casting of Billy Zane after they saw his performance in The Phantom! Danny Nucci (Fabrizio) reveals that the Titanic below-decks band jammed to Oasis songs between takes. James Horner claims to have written the main thematic elements of the score in twenty-five minutes. Kate Winslet recalls championing an edginess to the whole rich girl-poor boy scenario over Cameron's original bittersweet version, although sadly I think her campaign failed. And the lacing of the crew's chowder with something ... a little more hallucinogenic gets covered, too. A great track, folks.

    The Historical Commentary, by historian Don Lynch and visual historian Ken Marschall is the driest of the trio. This track has the most silences, though it is not as bland as you might have expected. The two have a good laugh from time to time and manage to keep the whole thing fairly light in tone. Their main agenda is to reveal how the historical accuracy was woven into the finished movie. I doubt you'd return to this track after the first listen, though.

    Discs 1 and 2 also contain the white rabbit-style (or, in this case, sinking ship) feature of seamlessly-branched behind-the-scenes mini-docs for literally every chapter in the movie. You can access these by hitting enter when you see the sinking Titanic icon on the screen, or access them individually or as Play All option from the menu. They are predominantly quite short but they cover everything from miniatures to wardrobe, from little CG people falling big distances to rehearsals of people sliding down tilted decks. There is some great stuff dotted around here, with lots of mini sound bites from the actors and the technicians, although some segments are, inevitably, a little superfluous. Love those CG bodies smacking into stuff!

    Disc 2 also contains the Alternate Ending, entitled Brock's Epiphany. And no, there's nothing here that saves the ship from sinking. Running for 9.25 mins, this features more of Paxton's Brock party scene and, as Cameron says in his optional commentary, breaks the spell of the past. It gives an extra twist and destiny-inspired frisson for Brock's treasure hunt. Cameron's commentary here contains possibly more dialogue than there is in many full-length movies.

    The second disc also contains the music video for Celine Dion's “My Heart Will Go On” - the less said about this, the better.

    Disc 3 contains the bulk of the extras, so, eyes down and we will begin. We get 47.12 mins of Deleted Scenes, fully completed in 5.1 surround and anamorphic widescreen, with an optional commentary, again from Cameron. These can be viewed individually, or as a Play All. Lots of individual fates are addressed here - people's farewells and final moments etc. But the inclusion of 5.30 min sequence detailing the suspenseful chase of Rose and Jack after Cal hands Lovejoy the automatic is, perhaps, the key scene. It is cool to watch, but Cameron was right to have removed it in the long run. As he explains in his, by now, exemplary commentary, he felt at the time that the audience wanted more action and suspense - but test audiences consistently proved him wrong. He often cuts to the quick about the often painful reasons for scenes getting the chop. It's also nice to see the cameo by the guy who put this entire DVD collection together, Cameron's friend Vin Ling's deleted rescue scene. The longest exclusion is the extended aftermath of Rose's recovery from the sea and runs for 6.40 mins. Overall, this is a very good selection.

    Under the heading Marketing, we get the Fox Special: Titanic Breaking New Ground documentary which runs for 42.42mins. Narrated by Peter Coyote, this marvellous feature splices together the process of getting the film made - from incredible footage of Cameron's own deep dives to the wreck to casting people on their likeness to their real-life counterparts to storyboards and behind-the-scenes gubbins, stills and film from the period. But the inclusion of Titanic survivor recollections, featuring Eva Hart, Marjorie Robb and Ruth Becker-Blanchard brings this examination full circle. Unsurprisingly, there are some segments here that are genuinely moving. The controversy surrounding Ismay's coercing of Captain Smith to increase speed into the ice-field, the treatment of the lower classes and the infamous shooting incidents are addressed as well, with eye-witness statements offered up. With loads of interviews and a fairly comprehensive assessment of the colossal undertaking, this is a great documentary all set to Horner's score, making it feel that bit more dramatic. Cameron even says of the true story at one point, that you “couldn't have written it better.” Despite my warming to the guy throughout all this, I still think that his own screenplay has proved that.

    Then we get seven Press Kit Featurettes with a Play All option. Together they run for 18.29 mins and cover Story Focus, Actor Focus, Building The Ship, Populating The Ship, Sinking The Ship, Cameron Focus and Deep Dive Focus. To be honest, though, these really aren't very good as they are just miniscule bits of fluff that reveal nothing that hasn't already been tackled far more comprehensively. Also contained here are Concept Posters and One Sheets. There are 62 images here, with some of them quite striking. I like the one that has the iceberg as the star of the movie.

    The 1912 Newsreel (2.19 mins) is not actually a newsreel from 1912, at all. This is a bizarre piece that has the cast acting for a vintage, hand-cranked camera to grainy, scratched and sepia-tinted glory as they board the doomed vessel and prance about on the prom deck. Ed Marsh, who made it, provides an optional commentary, too.

    Construction Timelapse (4.19 mins) does exactly what it implies and shows the construction of Cameron's dream-ship. This is stunning to watch, folks. Say what you want about the movie - as, indeed, I have done - and the amount of money thrown at it, but this level of craftsmanship and dedication is purely inspiring. Ed Marsh provides an optional commentary again, and his comments are occasionally riveting. Riveting, geddit?

    Titanic Crew Video (17.44) carries a disclaimer at the start stating that the light-hearted tone of the feature means no disrespect. This is, indeed, a jolly jape - full of quips, wise-cracks and funny interludes from during the production. This is great fun and I loved every minute of it. Providing a marvellous handle on the frivolity of making a movie. Check out Bernard Hill's clumsy wheel turn and Zane's impromptu cane-fighting. Even DiCaprio got me laughing. There are some smart cut-aways to The Poseidon Adventure sprinkled throughout, too. This has great repeatability value.

    Titanic Ship's Tour (7.38 mins) carries an optional commentary from Anders Falk and is a full-flowing tour of the sets, as was shown to the Titanic Historical Society for their appreciation and blessing. Nice.

    Videomatics has a Play All (3.18 mins) have an introduction and a running narration. Some wacky model-work and storyboard combinations feature here.

    Visual Effects (7.45 mins) has a Play All option, too. This features VFX breakdowns for the Engine Room, the “I'm Flying” sequence, First Class Lounge and the Titanic Sailing Simulation, cut to Horner's score. We get composite shots, green screen and miniatures shot with motion control camera. This is fascinating, but possibly only a one-watch deal.

    Next up, we get the fully-stocked Stills Galleries. Here we can find literally hundreds of images under the headings Titanic Scriptment, Storyboard Sequences (for none scenes), Production Artwork - which contains paintings by Tom Long, Costume Art from David LeVey and Wreck Sketches from Cameron - Photographs, Ken Marschall's Painting Gallery of 82(!) works and something called By The Numbers. This piece is actually a table of box-office takings charts for Titanic and other releases, showing the impact of the movie around the global market place - a novelty. There is even a Bibliography suggesting further reading on the topic of the Titanic and the film. A word of warning here, the Stills Gallery locked-up two of my machines on two separate occasions apiece, though this may be unique only to my copy of the release.

    Well, I have to admit that I thoroughly enjoyed the majority of the features presented here. They do tremendous justice to the film and have helped re-shape my thinking towards it. I still believe that it is fundamentally flawed, but now I have an understanding as to how Cameron became so enamoured by his story. I really wish that I could share in his enthusiasm a bit more. For fans, this stuff is dynamite. There is literally enough here to have sunk the blighter in the first place. Perhaps what is missing though, is a documentary set entirely around the real-life Titanic - but then again, so much factual evidence is delivered throughout the course of the material that is here that it would perhaps have been unnecessary, anyway. I may not be a fan of the film but I can clearly see that this release deserves top marks for its rich supply of bonuses. They chronicle the film from rivet to rivet, character to character, from launch to sinking, and beyond. You couldn't really ask for more.
    Titanic: Special Collectors Edition Extras


    There's no mistaking the fact that this is a handsome package, my only caveat about its physical presentation being the image on the cover of James Cameron directing his leads, which lessens the grand look, somewhat. Of the film, I remain unconvinced. It is still a formulaic period-romance dressed up in the clothes of an epic disaster movie. I still have no emotional connection to the plight of Jack and Rose, still roll my eyes at the cloying pointlessness of their romantic story, and despair only at the whole overblown sight of all that money that was used to decorate such a hollow sham. The disc has great AV quality - although I'm not exactly overwhelmed by the picture considering what a perfectionist Cameron is and, thus, what could have been achieved, but the DTS-ES track is a real treat. The raft of extras would have sunk the Titanic, though. And there is some quality here, and no mistake. Cameron, himself, coming out of it smelling of roses. I have to admit that I see him in a different light now. His obvious, and on-going, passion for this project is truly admirable - and, after hearing his thoughts detailed with such eloquence and commitment, I could almost weep that I cannot share his depth of emotion.

    For fans, this is an essential purchase. If I loved the movie then I would be in seventh heaven with this release, and there are many out there who most certainly will be. There is enough material here to gain you a few thousand nautical miles on the clock. The commentaries alone are worth their weight in gold - often far more enjoyable and interesting than what is happening on screen - but they do mean that you will be spending a hell of lot of time aboard the ship.

    Without a doubt, one of the biggest films of all time just got the attention its devotees craved. Highly recommended for fans and gift-seekers, but still a looming chunk of bland flotsam that should be steered clear of by everyone else.
    Suggested retail price when reviewed: £18.59

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