James Cameron's Big Boat Blub-blub gets a fantastic set of new visual clothes for its 4K disc incarnation
By Jim Bray
Titanic at the box office, titanic in its scope and in the honours it has earned, James Cameron's epic tragedy comes to 4K disc looking absolutely magnificent.
I expected this, since the film looked great in every other video version since its original theatrical debut 25 years ago. It was a fantastic DVD, and an even better Blu-ray, but with this 4K with HDR disc – just in time for Christmas! –it almost seems as if I were watching it for the first time. And that's something, since I've seen this cinematic masterpiece enough times to practically know the lines word for word.
Yes, this new version is that good.
As pretty well everyone knows by now, Titanic is at heart a love story, a tale of star-crossed lovers reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet, except here there are no feuding families as such, just a clash of classes. But it's more than that: it's also a tale of star-crossed technology, and the human hubris that put it on a pedestal but eventually contributed to its destruction, as the man behind the Titanic project pressures its soon-to-retire Captain to push the good ship's engines harder to ensure it gets to its New York destination earlier than scheduled, to capture headlines.
Capture headlines it does, indeed, of course, but not in the way the White Star line would have undoubtedly wanted.
The story is better than I expected initially. I went to see Titanic in the theatre because I was a fan of Cameron's earlier films, beautifully crafted and mostly fascinating flicks such as the first two Terminators, Aliens, The Abyss (the extended editions released on video were the better for the latter two titles) and True Lies.
I had heard via the media (before I was hip to just how much they lie and obfuscate) that it wasn't really like a Cameron film, that it was a "chick flick" because of the love story. But I disagree. The love story is not only a way to stick a reasonable plot onto a typical Cameron techno-thriller, but it also gives us an excuse to see more areas of the wonderfully-realized liner than we'd probably get if the story had just followed the babe from first class or the waif from steerage.
And see Titanic in all its glory we do, which was undoubtedly Cameron's aim from the beginning. His films have always embraced technology in one way or another and this one is no different. And it's fascinating to see the grand liner, from its luxurious lounges to the cacophonous and coal dust-filled boiler room, from its rather large bum to its pointy prow where passengers could feel as if they were flying or – to rip off the script itself – were the King of the World!
Yeah, I loved how Cameron and his gang of wondermakers pulled off the great ship. And the movie itself.
I was even more fascinated when I watched most of the supplements, which Paramount has laid on with an entire second disc, a conventional Blu-ray, of some 15 or so hours of documentaries and retrospectives. Heck, this set is worth owning for Titanic fans just for the extras!
But it's the 4K presentation that really hits it out of the park. It is nothing short of exquisite.
This reference-quality presentation is so above and beyond what even the previous Blu-ray offered (which was excellent) that it made me watch it twice in close succession – a remarkable feat for a movie that runs about three and a quarter hours. Yet that's exactly what I did, watching it in my home theatre on the Saturday, and taking it to a friend's home theatre the following Monday.
The glorious visuals apparently come thanks to a new remastering and it sports razor-sharp detail, be it rivets on the hull, the fine wood grains of the luxurious areas, the details of the costumes and even peoples' faces. It's fantastic! It's so clean you can pick out some of the CG – especially a few of the folk on board – but rather than "showing the seams" it elevates the look from a kind of fantasy to hard reality. And that's a weird thing to say when you're talking about early CG.
However you slice it, it works and works beautifully.
Colours, black levels, you name it – the picture elements here are some of the best I've seen on a 4K disc that didn't originate with a 4K source. It reminds me of the fine job Paramount did on Raiders of the Lost Ark, except I think they did it even better with Titanic.
The audio hasn't been forgotten, either. Paramount presents it remixed into Dolby Atmos, the capability for which I do not have as yet, but its "dumbed down" Dolby TrueHD track is just as satisfying as the glorious video side of the equation – so much so it had some family photos rattling on my home theatre wall.
I was always impressed with how Titanic sounded – the ship and the film. From James Horner's great score (and I'm not a Horner fan) to the sounds of the ship – the engines, the steam whistle, the water coursing by the bow, the groans and cries of the once-mighty vessel in its death throes – the audio immerses you in the experience in a marvelous way.
It's a front-centred soundstage, thanks to lots of dialogue and the like, but there's plenty of opportunity for all channels to be used – and they are.
Then there are the extras. Most of them are on the separate Blu-ray, but you do get three re-released audio commentaries, one featuring Cameron, another with various cast and crew, and another featuring historian Don Lynch and Titanic artist Ken Marschall.
There's some new stuff, too, and some of it is very good. There's a lovely retrospective featurette ("Stories from the Heart") which sees Cameron, producer Jon Landeau, and many of the other folks who pulled off this moviemaking miracle. There's also a four-part documentary "Reflextions on Titanic" which is kind of the same but with different focus, as well as what looks like a National Geographic channel special in which Cameron addresses some of the "controversies" that some fans who really need to get lives have apparently raised over the past 25 years.
So, we have Cameron and crew trying to prove whether or not Jack could have lived had he climbed onto that floating broken door that saved Rose's life. And they tackle a couple of other issues in a very self-indulgent but reasonably interesting way. It's entertaining, anyway.
Producer Landau also hosts a special on the genesis of the film, and there's a neat look at the trailers and the marketing campaign for Titanic, and a gallery of stills.
Then there's the "archival" stuff (which just means it ain't new for this release). It includes a "Deep dive" presentation by Cameron of actually going down to the wreck, a fun video created by the film's crew, short featurettes on the videomatics and the special effects (both of which are outclassed by other supplements), and about an hour of deleted scenes with optional Cameron commentary.
They also throw in the Celine Dion music video that was such a hit with, seemingly, everyone but me. And there's still more left to explore!
In all, it's a really great package.
Titanic was rumoured to be heading to a gigantic Hollywood crash and burn before it came out, but once people actually saw it the film went on to become the biggest moneymaker in movie history until then. It also scooped up 11 Oscars, the most since William Wyler's masterpiece Ben-Hur in 1959. Did it earn them all? Dunno. I still like Ben-Hur better, but it's really an apples-to-oranges comparison.
Doesn't matter. Titanic earned its place in the hearts of moviegoers and it still works just as well today. Couple that with the spectacular new 4K treatment and you have a long but rewarding movie experience in your home theatre.
Copyright 2023 Jim Bray