A Night to Remember
Directed by Roy Ward Baker
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1 anamorphic Running Time: 123 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 1.0 English
Release Date: March 27, 2012
Review Date: March 24, 2012
With over 2,200 passengers and crew aboard for its maiden voyage across the Atlantic in April 1912, the Titanic guided by Captain Edward John Smith (Laurence Naismith) hits an unexpected iceberg and in less than three hours sinks to the bottom of the ocean. Second officer Charles Lightoller (Kenneth More) does his best to maintain order, supervise the loading of the lifeboats with the women and children, and hold out hope that one of two nearby ships, the Californian or the Carpathia, can reach them in time to rescue as many survivors as possible. Alas, due to a series of mistakes, misunderstandings, and miscalculations, only 705 survive the catastrophe.
Director Roy Ward Baker and screenwriter Eric Ambler (who adapted the book by Walter Lord) have taken a docudrama approach to the story giving the film an aura of reality that really hits home as mistakes multiply (from wireless operator Jack Phillips’ (Kenneth Griffith) neglecting to send iceberg warnings to the bridge to the series of boneheaded errors made aboard the Californian only ten miles away including the wireless operator turning off his set, the deck commanders who watch the Titanic’s series of emergency flares with bemused puzzlement and their explanation of its listing in the water as a sea mirage). Knowing in advance the imminent disaster at hand, the viewer cringes as first class passengers continue to doubt they’re in any real danger or the steerage class is prevented a long while from climbing above deck while first and second class passengers get first chances at the lifeboats. The film has been so skillfully put together that while we don’t ever concentrate on any single family, we’re given enough bits and pieces about inhabitants in both the first, second, and steerage classes to keep us endlessly interested in their fates, and the director never milks the sentimentality and nobility of many of the crew (the heartbreaking musicians who play “Nearer My God to Thee” on deck to calm the panicky multitudes, the captain and the ship’s architect Thomas Andrews (Michael Goodliffe) going down with their ship) but instead show us for what it is: pure heroism and self-sacrifice that doesn’t require any mawkish treatment. One is also in awe of the production’s meticulously appointed sets (the first class dining room and the playroom for children are breathtaking) which the fimmakers are generous in allowing us to tour and while obviously made on a significent budget for their day, how superb the special effects are that use models so well to portray the debacle, effects that never betray their origins and are none the poorer for not being dependent on CGI.
The casting has been done with scrupulous care to accuracy, and in looking at photographs of many concerned, it’s amazing how much many of the actors resemble their real-life counterparts. Primary among those are Laurence Naismith as Captain Smith and Frank Lawton as J. Bruce Ismay, chairman of the White Star Line who owned the boat. Both men give wonderful portrayals, Naismith the soul of integrity and Ismay his polar opposite who skulkingly sneaks onto a lifeboat instead of waiting for other women and children to go aboard. Kenneth Griffith and David McCallum as the ship’s two radio operators who try to raise the alarm almost to the bitter end are also noteworthy. George Rose has lots of fun with the ship’s drunken baker, Tucker McGuire has Molly Brown down pat, and, of course, top-billed Kenneth More is exceptional as the second officer who in effect becomes the guiding force behind much that goes right during the sinking and afterwards.
The film’s 1.66:1 theatrical aspect ratio is faithfully delivered in a transfer that’s anamorphically enhanced for widescreen televisions. The grayscale is wonderfully consistent throughout with rich, inky blacks, and crisp, bright whites while sharpness in all of the newly filmed passages is superb. (Vintage footage doesn’t always match very well with everything around it unfortunately.) The transfer’s only real problems involve aliasing in tight line structures which appears to crop up more in the second half of the film than it does early on. Likely these anomalies won’t be as severe a problem in the high definition version of this release, also available. The film has been divided into 40 chapters.
The Dolby Digital 1.0 sound mix is much stronger and more solid than one might expect for a movie of this era. Dialogue is always easy to discern, the music by William Alwyn and the standards played by the small orchestra have a pleasing fidelity to them, and ambient sounds blend well and have enough body to do the story justice. Hiss, crackle, pops, and flutter have been eliminated from the soundtrack making for a very satisfying presentation.
Both discs in the DVD set contain bonus features.
The audio commentary is provided by historian Don Lynch and artist Ken Marschall who both know their stuff about the ship, its passengers, and the circumstances surrounding the tragedy and continually surprise with their in-depth knowledge of the real ship and of the film. It’s required listening.
The film’s theatrical trailer is presented in nonanamorphic letterbox and runs 3 ¾ minutes.
The majority of the bonus features are found on disc two.
“The Making of A Night to Remember” features producer William MacQuitty and original book author Walter Lord discussing the ship’s history, the writing of the book, and the film’s production and narrate excellent home movies shot behind-the-scenes during the five months it took to make of the movie. It runs 57 ¾ minutes in 4:3.
Titanic survivor Eva Hart gives a video interview recorded in 1990 (six years before her death) describing her memories of the ship, the panic that she witnessed toward the end, what she remembered of the musicians, and her life afterward. This 4:3 featurette runs 23 ¼ minutes.
En Nott Att Minnas is a 28-minute documentary produced in 1962 for Swedish television about the sinking of the ship and features three survivors from the accident. It’s in 4:3.
“The Iceberg That Sank the Titanic” is an episode from the BBC series Natural World offering a fascinating scientific theory about the iceberg that made history tracing back its origins perhaps 15,000 years from the northwestern shore of Greenland and simulating its journey to the North Atlantic and destiny. This anamorphic widescreen episode runs 48 ¾ minutes.
The enclosed 22-page booklet contains cast and crew lists, some excellent illustrative period materials about the disaster, and film critic Michael Sragow’s essay on the historical event, the films made about it, and their legacy to the world.
4.5/5 (not an average)
A Night to Remember is certainly a movie to remember, the purest version of the legend of the fated ship Titanic ever put onto celluloid and one which has never been forgotten even if other versions coming after it have garnered more awards or more notoriety. Highly recommended!