[14 December 2007]
It’s been ten years since James Cameron’s Titanic sunk into multiplexes and lingered there for months and months, eventually becoming the highest-grossing movie of all time (unless you adjust for inflation—but even then, it’s way up there). A simple fact, to be sure, but still a bit unnerving; has it really been that long?
Maybe an attempt to increase historical awareness explains why Paramount has released a two-disc, 10th anniversary edition so close on the heels of the three-disc version from a few years ago (the eighth-anniversary edition, if you will). The new DVD certainly doesn’t justify itself; it is the exact same content as the three-disc version, but minus the third disc—which contained, among other extras, 45-minutes’ worth of deleted scenes. Because the old commentary tracks are intact, you get access to the new edition’s sole bonus feature: a previously unavailable feeling of frustration and annoyance as the filmmakers discuss deleted scenes that you can’t watch.
At the time of the 10th-anniversary edition’s release, many US retailers were selling the older three-disc version for a severe discount, as if it was being outmoded by this new, inferior version, giving the usual double-dipping an extra layer of madness. In short, there is no reason why any fan of the film should own this DVD when the same-but-better version is still in print, and no reason why any film company should send the superior version out of print, except that film companies seem to delight in doing so (see the wonderful two-disc editions of Fight Club and Moulin Rouge... at a friend’s house or on eBay, since you won’t be finding them at Best Buy).
But if, for some unavoidable reason, you wind up with this edition of Titanic, you will at least get an informative, comprehensive look at the film itself, not just through excellent picture and sound to experience Cameron’s lush (and later ominous) compositions, but a clever behind-the-scenes branching feature that allows you to access short “modules” during the film about various aspects of production, especially computer effects, models, and the film’s still-lovely mixing of the two. Turning on both the branching and one of the film’s three commentary tracks provides a dissection of the film almost as epic as the film itself.
The most entertaining commentary is Cameron’s, both for its attention to detail and for a not-unrelated peak into Cameron’s obsessive psyche. Years after his film broke box-office records and won a slew of Oscars, Cameron still sometimes sounds distracted by the minutiae of his own masterwork. He compulsively notes, for example, whenever various ship doors are historically inaccurate (and defensively notes that he won’t reshoot or replace any of the mistakes). You also find out that he brought home a dog that appears in a handful of shots and it lives with him to this day—yes, Cameron is so obsessive that he will actually adopt an extra.
Watching the film itself after a decade (I hadn’t seen it in full since my three trips to the theater during its initial release), its beauty remains striking, and Cameron’s patience rewarding. The film is broken up across the two discs presumably to avoid too much compression of audio and video fidelity, and the destruction doesn’t really begin until disc two. Though he eventually took flack for augmenting the story with fictional lovers Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Rose (Kate Winslet), taking up a good chunk of that first disaster-free 100 minutes, Cameron actually made a savvy decision, letting us live on the ship for awhile before all hell breaks loose. The immersion is worth a few lines of cornball dialogue.
When the ship does finally go down, the movie is as kinetic and terrifying as ever, albeit less imposing on a regular-sized TV than we saw in the theatre. Cameron’s camera moves like flood water, rushing through the chaos, glistening and unstoppable. Cameron discusses class dynamics, character motivation, and other human elements on the commentary track (in between his door-gazing); at heart, though, he’s just as devoted to the mechanics of a very large ship meeting a very watery grave.
This amusing devotion turns a little chillier when you realize that this DVD also marks ten years since Cameron released a feature film. While it’s understandable that after raising one of film history’s most massive success stories from the depths of potential financial ruin, Cameron might rest on his laurels a bit, you sometimes get the feeling that he has spent a good chunk of his post-Titanic life still thinking about Titanic. Maybe making that initial special-edition DVD cleared his head; supposedly a new Titanic-free Cameron film will surface in summer 2009. Let’s not show him this double-dip, though, just to be safe.