4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / HDR FRAME SHOTS
Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio were both in their early 20s when they played star-crossed lovers Rose Dewitt Bukater and Jack Dawson.
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4K Ultra HD & Digital copy; 1997; PG-13 for disaster-related peril and violence, nudity, sensuality, and brief language; Digital copy via Apple TV/iTunes (4K), Vudu (4K)
Best extra: “Titanic: Stories from the Heart” documentary
DIRECTOR/WRITER/PRODUCER/EDITOR James Cameron still has fond memories of his mega-blockbuster “Titanic,” which this Holiday season celebrates its 26th Anniversary. It first premiered in Tokyo, then in London, and finally in Los Angeles on December 14, 1997. “It was magic then and it’s still magic,” he says during the new 35-minute documentary, “Stories from the Heart.” With a cast of thousands and a full-scale replica of the luxury steamship, Cameron recreated the maiden voyage of the R.M.S. Titanic and its 2,240 passengers and crew.
The production was mostly captured along the Mexico coastline near the U.S. border, where the studio built the replica submerged in a 17.5-million-gallon water tank, providing Cameron a 270-degree view of the ocean as a backdrop. The film was shot on traditional 35mm film cameras with practical effects, plus revolutionary computer effects. Millions of moviegoers worldwide were captivated by the three-plus hour adventure and love story of Rose Dewitt Bukater (Kate Winslet) and Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio). I watched the film with my friend and future filmmaker Josh Boone (“The Fault in our Stars”) at a multiplex in Virginia Beach. “Titanic” became the first motion picture to break the $1 billion box office mark. Its final worldwide total, after several theatrical re-releases, is nearly $2.7 billion; it’s No. 4 in the all-time box office list with Cameron’s “Avatar” at No. 1 earning $2.9 billion.
“Titanic” also swept the 70th Academy Awards winning 11 Oscars including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Costume, Best Score, Best Song, Art Direction, Cinematography, Film Editing, Best Sound, Sound Effects, and Visual Effects.
The 4K disc includes three commentaries – one with historians Don Lynch and Ken Marschall, and another with cast and crew members, but the best one is with Cameron recorded in 2005. Personally, he’s not a fan of filmmakers doing their own tracks, saying, “The film should speak for itself.” But, since “Titanic” has such a fan base, he would give details from what he called “the crack and crevices.” He admits there’s one scene in “Titanic” that still gets him. It’s the fantasy ending, when the camera provides Rose’s POV as she moves past all of the main cast members lining the grand staircase of the Titanic and she then embraces and kisses Jack. “I can even cry at my own movie, I have to say. Just because I loved all of these characters and the actors who played them and loved them historically. It’s such a coming home moment.”
The enclosed Blu-ray houses all of the bonus features. Cameron’s obsession with Titanic started in the early 1990s after he stumbled upon a VHS copy of the British docudrama, “A Night to Remember” (1958), that followed the “unsinkable” ship, that struck an iceberg and, less than three hours later, plunged to the bottom of the Atlantic. More than 1,500 lost their lives in the disaster. He hadn’t seen it since he was a kid back in the ‘60s, he says during the new documentary. That same day, he found an invitation to a screening of Al Giddings IMAX documentary film “Titanica: Treasure of the Deep.” Cameron considered those odds out of this world. “That’s billions-to-one. Same day.” It showed how they used Russian submarines to find the Titanic. “If they can go there to shoot an IMAX movie, I can go do it for a Hollywood movie,” says Cameron.
Producer Jon Landau considers “Titanic” the “last old-fashioned Hollywood movie that used practical sets, practical costumes for that many extras.”
A first-class young woman & third-class passenger
The documentary highlights Cameron’s years of research, but it did not become a reality until he came up with the idea of a love story. “I didn’t know exactly how… but I knew it was gonna be a young love story. Kind of a Romeo and Juliet, star-crossed lovers, a tragic love story.”
In the second new 42-minute documentary “Titanic: 25 Years Later with James Cameron,” the director explains the myths and mysteries of the shipwreck. They tried to recreate the scene of Rose getting on the floating piece of wood. Millions of fans still want to know if Jack could have saved himself by joining Rose on the wreckage.
There’s also an archival four-part “Reflections on Titanic” documentary from 2012, a number of deleted scenes, still galleries, music videos, and 35 minutes of behind-the-scenes featurettes narrated by Landau.
Cameron’s Lightstorm Entertainment supervised the first-rate 4K restoration, featuring a scan of the original Super 35 camera negative (2.39:1 aspect ratio), then mastered in TRUE 4K. Many of the daylight scenes are super bright, with a lesser film grain. But, once inside the Titanic, the imagery is darker and the grain is more evident. Grain is apparent from start to finish but the size and structure are different. It seems flattened and less distinct than a 4K catalog release from Sony, Arrow, Criterion, or MGM/UA release from Kino Lorber. Still, the on-screen clarity is excellent – especially since the Oscar-winning cinematography from Russell Carpenter is full of many close-up facial shots. You’ll see every wrinkle, mole, freckle, and all hair texture.
The video bit rate varies from the high 40 Megabits per second and tops in the low 70 Mbps, encoded onto a 100-GB disc. HDR10 and Dolby Vision grading has a slightly higher contrast level with its super bright highlights. Shadows are deep and inky, with a neutral color palette, except during the bluish-tint scenes during and after the ship sinks.
The Oscar-winning sound has also received an upgrade to an eight-channel Dolby Atmos soundtrack. Unfortunately, the majority of the effects and James Horner’s Oscar-winning score and music cues are not forwarded to height speakers, but the bass response is still strong and doesn’t lose any punch from the subwoofer.
After years with “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” the only Cameron film on 4K Ultra HD, which is plagued with DNR and waxy faces, the release of “Titanic” is a welcome site. But, in December expect a new 4K release of “Avatar” with three different edits and tons of extras. In March 2024 Cameron is releasing 4K versions of “Aliens” (1986) with two edits; “The Abyss” (1989) with two edits, and “True Lies” (1994). March is going to be a great month for 4K.
– Bill Kelley III, High-Def Watch producer