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Titanic (3D Blu-ray Review)

12 Sep, 2012 By: John Latchem

$29.99 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray/DVD combo, $54.99 3D Blu-ray combo
Rated ‘PG-13’ for disaster related peril and violence, nudity, sensuality and brief language.
Stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Billy Zane, Gloria Stuart, Bill Paxton, Suzy Amis, Frances Fisher, Kathy Bates, David Warner, Victor Garber, Bernard Hill.

The 100th anniversary of the ill-fated voyage of the Titanic on April 15, 1912, was not going to go unnoticed by Hollywood, which has been obsessed with the tragedy since it happened. Amid the countless DVDs about the disaster, Criterion earlier this year released 1958’s A Night to Remember on Blu-ray and eOne followed with a new miniseries. But the coup de grace was April’s 3D theatrical re-release of James Cameron’s epic 1997 Best Picture Oscar winner, setting up the film’s eventual debut on Blu-ray.

Titanic still holds up as a remarkable piece of entertainment. Most detractors cite the fictionalized love story between Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jack and Kate Winslet’s Rose (recounted by Cameron in the extras as his pitch, while pointing to a painting of the Titanic at sea, to make “Romeo and Juliet on that ship”), though from a screenwriting perspective it proved an ingenious plot device to guide audiences through almost every aspect of life aboard the ship, especially in how it handled the differences between upper- and lower-class passengers. And at least the ship is germane to the romance; contrast this to other films that tried to capture the same spirit, such as Pearl Harbor, which offers the love story while half the film takes place anywhere but Hawaii (With one scene taking place at Titanic-lookalike The Queen Mary!).

Sure, the dialogue tends toward the cheesy side, but the emotional core of the story is real (helped by James Horner’s haunting and lyrical music), and Cameron’s skill as a writer relates to his ability to craft the narrative to lead the audience to an unexpected destination even when they think they know how it ends (spoiler alert: the ship sinks). And even if for repeat viewings you can just skip the love story and advance start with the ship hitting the iceberg, it’s still a harrowing journey because the production values are impeccable, primarily due to Cameron’s perfectionism. That he built a near-life-size replica of Titanic in Mexico is the stuff of Hollywood legend and sure to be the subject of its own movie in the decades to come. There is a reason the film won 11 Oscars, tied for the most of all time.

The 3D conversion is generally rather good, especially during the climactic sinking (as well as a certain Winslet scene), though its use in some of the more mundane scenes is rather unusual. In these instances, instead of trying to add depth, the conversion tries to make foreground objects pop out, even when they are out of focus. In other shots, the camera movement betrays the effect by exposing where the image was cut to render the 3D.

The 2D original also is included, and the main difference in the presentation from the DVD is that Blu-ray allows the film to fit on one disc, whereas it was spread over two on the DVD (the 3D version still requires two discs).

Most of the extras from the 2005 special-edition DVD have been carried over, including original production featurettes and three commentary tracks. Cameron goes solo on one, and cast and crew reflections are assembled for another, but my favorite might be the third one by a couple of Titanic historians.

The Blu-ray also carries over the deleted scenes, including the alternate ending in which Bill Paxton’s treasure hunter finally gets his hands on the Heart of the Ocean diamond that links past and present, only to watch Gloria Stuart’s older Rose toss it overboard anyway.

Though clunkier than what wound up in the film, this ending does at least pay off Paxton’s character arc and reminds us of why he was poking around the Titanic to begin with, and sets up a great “Saturday Night Live” sketch (also included) in which Paxton and the rest of the crew beat up the old woman for wasting their time telling stories for three hours when she had the jewel in her pocket the whole time (a sentiment with which many viewers undoubtedly still agree).

New to the Blu-ray is an hour-long retrospective documentary that reflects on the legacy of the film up to the 3D release. The disc also includes the two-hour Titanic: The Final Word documentary that aired on the National Geographic Channel earlier this year, and features Cameron (still obsessed with Titanic after all these years) and a panel of experts deconstructing the final moments of the ship and in the process points out everything the movie got wrong. The best part of this one may be when Cameron seems to use a banana to solve a lingering question about how the ship broke apart.

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