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Titanic (2012 Miniseries) (Blu-ray Review)

2 May, 2012 By: John Latchem

$29.98 two-DVD set, $34.98 two-BD set, $39.98 Blu-ray/DVD combo
Not rated.
Stars Linus Roache, Geraldine Somerville, Perdita Weeks, Lyndsey Marshal, Lee Ross, Jenna-Louise Coleman, David Calder, Steven Waddington, Toby Jones, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Dragos Bucur, Peter McDonald, Ruth Bradley, Sophie Winkleman.

The massive success of James Cameron’s Titanic has made in next to impossible for anyone trying to produce another dramatic re-telling of the sinking of history’s most famous doomed cruise ship. Cameron’s version has become so definitive, there isn’t much reason to try. And yet it wouldn’t do to let the 100th anniversary of the sinking go by without at least something new to add to the likes of Cameron’s film, 1958’s A Night to Remember and other fictionalized re-enactments of the disaster.

This new Titanic miniseries, a British-Canadian-Hungarian co-production that recently aired on ABC, smartly avoids re-creating any scene featured in Cameron’s movie. In fact, statements from the producers about their desire to avoid comparisons are littered throughout the featurettes. Instead, writer Julian Fellowes uses the voyage as the backdrop for tales of class and ethnic struggles reflecting English society in 1912.

As such, this version plays as somewhat of an addendum to Cameron’s version, focusing on several fictional passengers as they weave their way through real-life events. Rather than tell one long narrative, the piece is broken into four chapters that cover roughly the same timeline from the points of view of different characters, with stories criss-crossing to give the audience a new perspective on what has already been seen. The result is largely effective and entertaining.

Linus Roache, best known for his stint on “Law & Order” (and as Bruce Wayne’s ill-fated dad in Batman Begins) leads the ensemble as a wealthy aristocrat dealing with family secrets. His underling, played by Toby Jones, must toe the line between respecting his boss and maintaining an air of self-respect in the presence of his own wife.

Another story deals with a lower-class Irish family hoping to make a new start in America, even as the mother becomes infatuated with the terrorist her husband has befriended. And then there’s the tale of charming Italian waiter Paolo, who falls instantly for chambermaid Annie and tempts her with a new life in the New World. (Annie, incidentally, is played by Jenna-Louise Coleman, slated to become the newest companion on “Doctor Who.”)

The gimmick keeps the ultimate fate of the characters a secret until the final episode, when the boat finally sinks (SPOILER ALERT) and we learn who lives and who dies with the melodramatic curtness to be expected of a TV miniseries.

As seen in the extras, the miniseries does a good job re-creating the look and feel of the Titanic using a much smaller set than Cameron had to work with, and a judicious use of CGI.

Interestingly, the filmmakers spend much of the bonus material harping about the fact that the miniseries format should give them more space to explore their characters and settings. And yet, at 187 minutes the total running time of the four parts is actually seven minutes shorter than Cameron’s film.

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