Titanic - Special Collector's Edition Studio: Paramount Year: 1997 Rated: PG-13 Length: 194 minutes Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 Audio: DTS 6.1, Dolby Digital 5.1 Closed Captioned and Subtitled in English Special Features: 3 Commentaries, Branching Featurettes, Deleted Scenes, Featurettes, Galleries, more... Suggested Retail Price: $29.99 USD Release Date: October 25, 2005 The Package Titanic: Special Collector’s Edition comes to you in a three disc set here in region 1 (more on that, later). The three discs are housed in a cardboard gatefold digipack, enclosed in a sturdy, handsome blue faux leather slipcase. The cover image has stars Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio over the title, and the Titanic and an inset photo of James Cameron with the two actors below. As with most people who saw the original artwork (without the inset of Cameron), I prefer the original. The gatefold packaging includes nice glossy photos of Winslet and DiCaprio, as well as a list of the special features on each disc. It’s a nice looking, sturdy package. Presentation It’s so nice to pop a DVD in your player and have the menu pop up, instantly - just like in the old days. Seems less and less common as time goes on. I guess this is an uncommon set, since there is no FBI warning, no studio logo, no disclaimer, no preview - pop the disc in and the motion menu pops on the screen. And, when you select “Play”, only an MPAA rating card and a new THX intro are displayed before the film. Warnings and disclaimers play after the film. On disc two, you are presented with three choices: Continue, Menu, Setup. This allows for minimal intrusion during the disc change. The motion menus waste no time allowing you to make a selection. The options come up very quickly, while the motion menus play in the background. Menus are laid out well and allow you to find things with a minimum of fuss. Where an option screen might have items that need further explanation, rather than trial and error clicking, a little “pop up window” appears when your cursor goes over a selection. The window provides you with the details you need. It takes a moment for the window to show up, but it’s quicker than going in that extra menu level and backing out again if it was the wrong selection. Finally, for those who don’t have access to a calibration DVD, the THX Optimizer is on the disc for a quick calibration before viewing. A couple of minor issues with the interface... The ability to activate or change subtitle tracks on-the-fly is disabled. This is most likely because changing tracks would “break” the branching featurette option, since the Titanic icon depends on the subtitle track. The subtitle track is also used in the Cast and Producer commentary to identify who is speaking. While you can manually change audio tracks on-the-fly to change commentaries without going back to the menu, doing so will not change the subtitle track - so if you are listening to the cast commentary and manually switch to the director commentary - you’ll still get the cast identifications that belong with the other track. These points aside, this is a nice, simple, classy design by Van Ling. The Feature Titanic is a masterful work, in that it takes a familiar Romeo and Juliet story and sets it against a backdrop of the most renowned maritime disaster in history. Cameron tells us a story that is familiar and comfortable (if a bit uneven), and weaves it in such a way that we get to see more of the Titanic than anyone who was actually there. If you think about it, the first class folks never saw the belly of the ship - the engine room, cargo holds, steerage, third class accommodations. And the third class passengers were barely allowed above deck, and certainly didn't dine in the opulent dining room. But by having a love story between an unhappy first-class woman and a third-class passenger, the story allows us to follow them through both worlds, and see the grand backdrop that was the Titanic. While I didn’t think the love story was groundbreaking, it served its purpose well, and provided the means to enjoy the experience. Kate Winslet (Rose) and Leonardo DiCaprio (Jack) manage to pull it off, delivering fine performances (especially Winslet). I must say that the real disappointment for me was the whole “jealous future husband and his hired thug” thing. With all of the excitement and danger aboard ship, it really seemed silly to have that whole subplot. Billy Zane played Cal a bit over the top for me, and David Warner - always a joy to watch - was relegated to hired thug status. Aside from the incredible recreation of the ship in all its splendor, it’s some of the smaller supporting roles that spiced up this film. Gloria Stewart was radiant as the elder Rose, Bernard Hill played Captain Smith very well - but wasn’t given enough to do. Victor Garber was excellent as the ship’s designer, Thomas Andrews. And, of course, there was Kathy Bates as the unsinkable Molly Brown. The most important character is the ship. To see it in all it’s grandeur, and to see its short sail to its untimely death - well - that’s the heart of the experience... The film really shines in the second half, with as accurate a recreation of the events of that cold April night as we’ll ever see. Some may nitpick that there are some inaccuracies - and I’m sure there are... but based on the information in the public record and from personal accounts, as well as an examination of the wreckage, this film likely portrays events as they happened - minus the fictional love story. The Transfer Titanic is presented in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 and is anamorphically enhanced. The elements used for the transfer are virtually flawless, with nary a scratch or blemish visible. The picture is very well defined, displaying excellent high frequency detail and sharpness, while avoiding any problems with oversharpening. While I was able to see a couple of ringing edges here and there, it was exceedingly mild and fleetingly rare, and possibly a fault of my decoding process or display. While the original DVD release was very detailed for a non-anamorphic transfer, every extra pixel offered up in this new anamorphic release is put to good use, increasing the resolution while also improving on detail. I noted a couple of moments where there was some mild banding, but the problem is not persistent. The first is in the opening underwater scene - the first shot of the submarine. The banding is barely perceptible, and lasts only a second. The second was in the scene where Jack first encounters Rose at the stern of the ship. The night skyline bands noticeably. Both instances appear in both the old transfer and the new. The second instance looks possibly like a CGI artifact, rather than a compression artifact. Cropping differs slightly between the original DVD and the new release - the latter action area being approximately 1% (or less) lower than the original. It isn’t something you would notice without a direct comparison, and I suspect that both the original and the special edition crops are legitimate “action safe” crops. Here are some comparison shots of the original DVD release, and the new Special Collector’s Edition. It should be obvious which is which - remember, the original release was not anamorphic. Contrast is excellent, there is a wide dynamic range with deep black levels that allow the details in the shadows to come through nicely. Whites are bright and clean, never clipping. The image has a comfortable midpoint, offering a very pleasing presentation. Colors are a bit warmer than the original DVD release, but still ring true. Saturation is strong and clean. This transfer is nearly perfect. Video: Excellent The audio is presented in your choice of DTS 6.1 and Dolby Digital 5.1. While I don’t have 6.1 playback capability, the DTS 6.1 track sounds absolutely incredible in 5.1. Frequency response is outstanding, and dialog is strong and clean. James Horner’s soaring score sounds wonderful throughout, with good response, tight bass and crystal clear highs. It utilizes the front soundstage nicely, and envelops you a bit from the rear. Surround effects are very active, putting you in the middle of the action. Directional cues are strong and precise, allowing you to pinpoint the location of the action by ear. The rush of water, the creaking of the ship, stressing of metal, and the detailed attention to the smaller ambient noises - it’s all there. Voices pan smoothly and fluidly across the front soundstage frequently in the later crowd scenes, as the camera moves. Bass response in the LFE track is outstanding. The roar of the Titanic’s engines can literally be felt, and the cavitation of the propellers, as the subwoofer transmits its energy through the floor, across the room and through the furniture. Not only is the bass response strong, but it is tight and controlled. All too often, LFE tracks are somewhat muddy and lacking in definition. Not so, here. This will kick your butt out of the chair, and sound good while doing it. This surround track is anything but restrained. If I hadn’t listened to the DTS track first, I would likely have thought the Dolby Digital track was nicely done - and, really, it is. But the DTS track has those subtleties that make for a more immersive experience. It also has strong and clean percussive bass that is considerably less impressive in the DD track. Don’t get me wrong... the Dolby Digital track is very nicely rendered. But if you have the gear to decode DTS, there is no question that is the way to go. Audio: Excellent Special Features There are three commentaries included. The first, by director James Cameron, is the best of the lot. His knowledge of the history of the Titanic, combined with his insight into the writing and directing of the film, gives him a lot of material to work with. In this commentary, he uses his knowledge of the subject as a backing for discussing the historical context of the sets and events, and provides insights into the difficulties recreating the historical event. He also talks about visiting the actual wreck, casting the film, editorial decisions, etc. A very nice commentary. The second commentary includes comments by Kate Winslet, Gloria Stewart, Lewis Abernathy, Jon Landau and Rae Sanchini - among others. The track is dominated by the producers, with occasional insight by the above noted actors at key points. Most of the participants recorded the commentaries separately. DiCaprio is a noticeable absence, and I’d like to have heard a separate commentary just for the actors - since much of what the producers have to say is covered in detail in Cameron’s commentary. Finally, there is a historical commentary by Don Lynch and Ken Marschall. While there are some finer details about the sets and events covered by the historians, much of the historical context you can hear in this track is also available in the Cameron track. I’d like to have seen a commentary by Cameron, one producer, and one historian - plus a separate track with actors only. I think there would have been as much variety in the details provided, while offering up one fewer commentary tracks. All of the commentaries have interesting points to offer, but there is much duplication of effort and information. Branching to Behind-the-Scenes Featurettes When you watch the film in this mode, a sinking ship icon will appear frequently while watching the film. Click your remote, and you will be branched out of the film and into a short featurette that deals with the scene in question. Frankly, I’ve never cared for this type of branching featurette. When I want to watch the film, I don’t want to break up the narrative every three or four minutes to watch a “behind-the-scenes” moment. Thankfully, there is a menu option to watch these so-called “pods” separate from the film. You can select them individually, or play them all back-to-back. The “pods” total approximately an hour, and essentially create a quasi making-of documentary by themselves. The only thing missing is the narrative that stitches them together. While the concept seems to be that the film becomes the narrative for the pods, in practice it is rather intrusive to watch the film and branch out to the featurettes. There is much to like in the pods - lots of trivia, “how’d they do that’s”, historical context, set construction details, etc. I watched them separately and enjoyed them. The pods are pillarboxed 4:3. On Disc two, you’ll find the alternate ending, “Brock’s Epiphany”. It’s nice to have this alternate ending included, and it plays well. I think I like the theatrical ending better, though. Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” Music Video is also included on disc two. Disc Three contains all the deleted scenes, some featurettes, galleries, etc... Deleted Scenes There are a ton of deleted scenes, restored and finished with special effects, etc. These total over 45 minutes, and are available individually and collectively, with or without a director’s commentary. When you enter the “Deleted Scenes” menu, James Cameron gives you a bit of an introduction to them, while you ponder the menu choices. I highly recommend viewing these with the director’s commentary. Not only will you find out why most of the scenes were cut, but you’ll learn about the historical context of some of these scenes, as well. The deleted scene titles: I’ll Be the First Rose Feels Trapped Brock’s Dilemma / Rose Visits Third Class Rose’s Dreams Come Josephine Extended Sneaking to First Class Extended Escape from Lovejoy A Kiss in the Boiler Room Wireless Room / The Californian How ‘Bout a Little Ice Flirting with Ice The First S.O.S. Ismay Panics Molly Brown’s Rowing School Irish Hospitality Ida Strauss Won’t Leave Farewell to Helga Boat Six Won’t Return Release the Hounds A Husband’s Letter Jack and Lovejoy Fight Guggenheim and Astor I’m Not Going Cora’s Fate Extended Jack and Rose in the Water Out of the Question How Dare You? Chinese Man Rescue Extended Carpathis Sequence The deleted scenes are anamorphically enhanced. Fox Special: Breaking New Ground (42:46) This documentary from the 90’s, narrated by Peter Coyote, is a good overview of the attempts to make the film historically accurate, controversies which have surfaced over the years about the final hours of the Titanic, comments from survivors of the Titanic, and some behind the scenes footage. I had not seen this documentary before, and I thought it was well done. Press Kit Featurettes These are available with a “Play All” feature and total over 18 minutes. These don’t cover much material that isn’t covered elsewhere, and are somewhat underwhelming. Lackluster narration and a lack of music doesn’t help. Story Focus Actor Focus “Building the Ship” “Populating the Ship” “Sinking the Ship” Cameron Focus Deep Dive Focus Gallery: Concept Posters and One Sheets 62 poster images to page through. I like that they put a counter on each slide. 1912 News Reel (2:23) with optional commentary by Ed Marsh. This faux newsreel was shot by Ed Marsh with participation from much of the cast. Construction Timelapse (4:23) with optional commentary by Ed Marsh. A timelapse towercam of the building of the massive Titanic set. Very interesting. Deep Dive Presentation (15:34) This is actual footage of the Titanic dives, narrated by James Cameron. Fascinating images from the depths of the North Atlantic, with insights from the guy who put these images on 35mm. The shoot required building new camera housings able to withstand the pressures of the wreck site. Very cool stuff. Titanic Crew Video (17:48) A nice video of cast and crew during the days of shooting - tons of on-the-set footage of the cast and crew experiencing some lighthearted moments during downtime on the set. Titanic Ship’s Tour (7:40) with commentary by Anders Falk. This is a presentation put together for the Titanic Historical Society convention in 1997, prior to the film’s release. Knowing that the Titanic sets would be destroyed, the sets were documented in this video. Videomatics are included of the sinking sequence and of the deep dive. These previsualizations helped to set up the final shots. These total over 3 minutes. Unfortunately, the commentary is out of phase. Visual Effects breakdowns - “Engine Room”, “I’m Flying”, “First Class Lounge”, “Titanic Sinking Simulation”. These total almost 8 minutes, and are an interesting exploration into the creation of these sequences. No dialog. Still Galleries Hundreds, if not thousands of still images in the following collections: Titanic Scriptment, Storyboard Sequences (10 galleries), Production Artwork (3 galleries), Photographs (7 galleries), Ken Marschall’s Painting Gallery, By the Numbers, Bibliography Final Thoughts I usually only rate a DVDs extra features based on what is included, not what could have been included. To me, it’s about quality, not quantity. I don’t think it necessarily does a Collector’s Edition justice to just throw content at it. The editorial process can be a good thing. That said, knowing that a new documentary was made for this release, then not included - and knowing that other regions outside of the U.S. have an option for a 4 disc set which includes more material, it’s hard to give a blind pass on the decision to exclude the extra content. I actually don’t have much interest in seeing the content on the missing Disc Four - an old documentary from HBO, some parodies and some trailers (though the trailers would have been nice for those who enjoy them). I am, however, disappointed that the new documentary was nixed from the set. A film of this stature deserves a retrospective look. There is some conjecture that James Cameron may have nixed the documentary because it cast him in an unfavorable light. I recall the “Under Pressure” documentary from The Abyss, which was somewhat critical of the director at times, and I found it to be fascinating. It makes me want to see this new documentary even more. Still, what is included in this set is a reference transfer, 45 minutes of restored deleted scenes, and an hour or so of branching, behind the scenes “pods” that are relevant and interesting. The Fox Special is a well produced period documentary, and I am glad of its inclusion. Add to that three commentaries (the Cameron commentary is excellent - the others are interesting to sample), and you’ve got some solid content. I’ve always been less interested in special features than in the quality of the transfer. On the strength of the transfer, and on the included extras (not what might have been), this Special Collector’s Edition is Highly Recommended!