Titanic: Special Collector’s Edition
October 25, 2005
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Billy Zane, Kathy Bates, Frances Fisher, Gloria Stuart, Bill Paxton, Bernard Hill, David Warner, Victor Garber, Jonathan Hyde, Suzy Amis, Danny Nucci, ,
For years people have been fascinated with the tragic sinking of the Titanic. James Cameron has been interested deep sea diving and exploration from an early age. It was this interest that turned him on to the story of the Titanic. Many theories have been posited that try to explain the hows and whys of its demise. Aided with footage he shot of the actual wreckage, Cameron presented his take, using it as the backdrop to a sweeping yet ultimately doomed romance between two young people. The film’s costs went wildly over-budget as the notoriously egotistical director realized his vision with obsessive fervor. He was rewarded as Titanic (1997) went on to become the highest grossing film ever, winning many Academy awards and tapping into the cultural zeitgeist in a way people hadn’t seen in years.
Our story begins in the present as treasure hunter Brock Lovett (Paxton) searches the wreckage of the Titanic for the priceless diamond, La Couer de la Mere (The Heart of the Ocean). Instead, he finds a sketch of a beautiful girl with the jewel around her neck. Soon, a very old woman (Stuart) contacts Lovett claiming to be the one in the picture. Intrigued, he sends for the lady who recounts her experiences on the Titanic and the final hours of the ship.
The film takes us back to the ship’s maiden voyage where we meet the younger version of this mysterious woman. Her name is Rose DeWitt Bukater (Winslet), a prim and proper young lady destined to be married to Caledon “Cal” Hockley (Zane), a quick-tempered businessman. Rose is trapped in an aristocratic upper class lifestyle that threatens to stifle her free spirit. But along comes Jack Dawson (DiCaprio), a care-free artist who lives in the moment and survives on his wits. He soon catches Rose’s eye and she begins to see in him everything that she could and wants to be. After saving her life, the two begin to develop a deep, meaningful attraction towards one another and this love story is played out against the tragic demise of the Titanic.
The film’s weak point is its screenplay that is riddled with cliché stereotypes and clunky dialogue. Cameron may be good at writing contemporary and science fiction films (see The Abyss) but his attempt at a period piece falls flat. Most of the characters are crudely drawn. Jack’s best friend is the most obvious Italian stereotype imaginable and Cal is such an obvious, sneering villain (all that’s missing is a scene where he twirls an oily moustache). Cameron’s strengths lie in exciting, tension-filled action sequences and the film is at its best once the Titanic begins to sink and its inhabitants desperately try to escape.
Many people forget because they are big name stars now but casting up-and-coming stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet was considered a big risk at the time – especially for such an expensive movie. In particular, Winslet deserves praise for her performance. Once again, Cameron placed a strong female character at the centre of his film. Besides an alluring presence – the camera absolutely loves her – she does a wonderful job of showing the transformation her character undergoes during the film from a snobby rich girl to a headstrong woman in control of her own destiny. DiCaprio doesn’t fair as well but he’s hindered by Cameron’s badly written dialogue. Fortunately, both have survived the hype left in the wake of this movie and have gone on to illustrious careers with DiCaprio working with Scorsese and Winslet appearing in challenging movies like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004).
Cameron has wisely kept a low profile after the media saturation of Titanic and his shameless ego trip at the Oscars. He made two underwater documentaries while developing technology for his next big blockbuster (whatever that might be). The success of his film paved the way for bloated historical blockbusters like Pearl Harbor (2001) but none have come close to the kind of phenomenon that Titanic spawned. Fans of Cameron’s movie will be in heaven as there are hours upon hours of extra material to go through covering every aspect of the filmmaking process. Love or hate Titanic there is no question that this a quality DVD set with a superb transfer of the movie.
On the first disc are three audio commentaries, the first being done by James Cameron. For someone who admits that he’s not into doing commentaries he has no problem talking us through his movie. He points out the parts of the film that are authentic to the real Titanic and what parts he took cinematic license with. Cameron admits that his theory of the Titanic’s demise is not the definitive one because no one knows for sure but he believes that it is the most accurate based on the available information. He also talks about how he worked with DiCaprio and Winslet in rehearsals on their characters in this very informative track.
The second commentary features several cast and crew members, including Kate Winslet, Gloria Stuart, Lewis Abernathy, Bill Paxton, Kathy Bates, Frances Fisher, Danny Nucci, composer James Horner, cinematographer Russell Carpenter, producer Jon Landau, executive producer Rae Sanchini and many others. Thankfully, subtitles let you know who’s speaking at all times as everyone provides their perspective on the making of this movie. Stuart talks about meeting Beatrice Wood, an elder artist whom Cameron based Old Rose on. Winslet speaks of the challenges of acting in front of a green screen and how she and DiCaprio reworked scenes that they felt were “too sickly sweet,” much to Cameron’s chagrin. And yes, the infamous PCP poisoning incident is covered with refreshing candour (although, no one admits who was the culprit).
The final track is by two historians that worked on the movie, Don Lynch and Ken Marschall. They go into great detail about how accurate the film really is, pointing out things like the authenticity of the clothing worn by characters and the incredible attention to detail on the ship, right down to the rivets on the hull. History buffs will enjoy this track.
One also has the option of playing 30 brief, behind-the-scene featurettes while watching the movie or on their own. They shed light on how certain scenes and sequences were done. Together, they provide insight into how a massive blockbuster like this comes together. Also included is excellent on the set footage of Cameron rehearsing with DiCaprio and Winslet.
The second disc features an “Alternate Ending” with optional commentary by Cameron. This was the originally scripted conclusion that wrapped up various threads with a party scene on the expedition ship in the present but the director felt that it spelt out the film’s central theme too much and cut it out.
If you didn’t get enough of it when it aired on TV all the time back in the day, there is the music video for Celine Dion singing “My Heart Will Go On.”
Also included are 30 more behind-the-scene featurettes that provide insights into how the sinking of the Titanic was achieved – mainly through the use of models, actual sets and elaborate CGI. We see how they flooded parts of the sets and simulating the tilting of the ship and so on.
The third disc starts off with 29 deleted or extended scenes with optional commentary by Cameron. Some footage fleshes out existing scenes, for example we see what made Rose so upset that she wanted to commit suicide. There is also more footage of Jack and Rose on the run from ship security and then stealing a very passionate kiss in the ship’s boiler room. There are also historical bits like the use of the S.O.S. distress call, one of the first times it was used in a major disaster. Entire significant subplots and even a large scale action sequence are included, fully restored with all the proper effects.