In anticipation of the film’s 20th anniversary on Dec. 19, Paramount Pictures has re-released the 1997 disaster romance epic “Titanic” into Dolby Vision theaters for one week. Remastered in the highest-quality digital format a film can go into, the film represents a great leap in the film’s picture quality, providing audiences with the utmost clarity and pristinely clean way to experience the iconic film.
It’s no secret I love “Titanic.” When I was younger, I was obsessed with the actual story of the Titanic, so when I received the dual-taped VHS of the film for Christmas 2002, I was elated. I knew nothing of the film, but I knew it had “Titanic” in it, therefore I had to consume it. The film took a hold of me in a way a film hadn’t before, and while I was still too young to take in a lot of the intricacies of the film at the time, it blew my mind. With each subsequent re-watch of the film over the years, the film opened up more and more details I had missed before from the previous watch, and the film soon became one of my all time favorites. Romance films aren’t typically my forte, but there’s something so magical about the love story here that to this day, after watching it dozens of times, still has a way of engaging me in such different and more intense ways that no film has been able to do for me since. There’s a certain mixing of tones that “Titanic” offers that is so rare and magical that it’s hard to recreate. This makes “Titanic” one of these films that no matter how many times Paramount re-releases the film, I will go to see it, as it’s a film that benefits so wonderfully from the big screen experience, and has been lovingly restored to the Dolby Vision format.
And it’s just as good as ever.
In present day, an exploratory group headed by Brock Lovett (Bill Paxton) is searching for a great diamond called “The Heart of the Ocean,” bigger than the Hope Diamond, thought to have sunk with the Titanic. When his discovery of a safe leads him to nothing but a drawing of a young woman wearing the diamond, he attracts the attention of Rose Calvert (Gloria Stuart), a 100-year-old woman living in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, who claims the woman in the picture is her. Doubtful, the group flies her out to the exploratory ship they work out of, and in their questioning, Rose begins to tell her story aboard the Titanic, and where the diamond has ended up. In 1912, when she was still named Rose DeWitt Bukater (Kate Winslet), she is an unhappy 17-year-old aristocrat from Philadelphia traveling with her family back from England in first class. Engaged to be married to 30-year-old steel tycoon heir Caledon “Cal” Hockley (Billy Zane), a snobbish, rude, domineering fiancé to whom Rose is forced into marriage with by her mother, Ruth (Frances Fisher) to save her family’s dwindling fortune. Meanwhile, Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a young, poor nomad who wins third-class tickets on Titanic during a poker game five minutes before the ship sets sail. When Jack saves Rose from committing suicide on a night where she becomes distraught with the monotonous nothingness of her high-society existence, the two strike up a relationship in their chemistry. All the while, Cal begins to notice the two bonding after Jack is invited to a dinner to celebrate his heroism saving Rose, and sends his bodyguard, Lovejoy (David Warner) to investigate the two and eliminate Jack by any means. All the while, the ship soon hits its inevitable iceberg, sending the entire ship into chaos as the two attempt to survive the night, while managing their own personal matters as well.
Listen, there’s no way I could whittle every aspect of “Titanic’s” plot into one paragraph, as it’s simply too grandiose and massive of a film to fit into that. Chances are, you’ve seen the film, and if you haven’t, you at least already know what’s going on inside the film’s borders. One of the best things about “Titanic” is just how meticulous it is in every way. In every single aspect of the film, James Cameron has lovingly poured his heart and soul into crafting so seamlessly realistic and integrated into the world that you often forget that you’re watching a movie. Every single floorboard and doorknob in “Titanic” is expertly made and carefully placed to make one of the most memorable and wonderfully lifelike film sets ever to be put to film. Even the historical elements of the film are jarringly realistic. Down to every last character that the characters get to interact with throughout the film, from Victor Garber’s greatly charming shipbuilder Thomas Andrews, to Jonathan Hyde’s slimy White Star Line chairman J. Bruce Ismay, to perhaps Kathy Bates’ most memorable take on the “Unsinkable” Molly Brown, a raucous first class passenger that takes to Jack and Rose.
Make no mistake, “Titanic” looks every bit as beautiful today as I’m sure it did in 1997. Funded by two major studios with a budget of over $200 million (roughly $300 million by today’s standards), the film was the most expensive film ever produced at the time, and was largely speculated to become a major flop at the box office, though it defied those expectations and became the largest grossing film of all time until Cameron’s follow-up, 2009’s “Avatar” surpassed it. It’s also one of three films ever, including “Avatar” and “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” to cross the $2 billion mark at the box office. It’s a strange thought as to how Cameron was able to make such hits out of non-franchise films, but the appeal of the film is undeniable. “Titanic” literally has something for everyone. The film has an incredibly engaging romance for romance lovers, visual eye candy for those craving something beautiful, epic disaster for those looking for a killer sinking sequence, historical splendor for history buffs, beautiful costume and production design for those looking for lush environments, and so much more. “Titanic” is the type of film that comes when a director tries to make everyone possible happy, and has the knowhow to do so in a relatively concise manner.
I say “relatively” because, however much “Titanic” might fly by for viewers, there’s no denying that at 194 minutes in length, this is one hell of a long film, perhaps the longest one I’ve ever seen in theaters (twice now). Still, Cameron has the magic touch in cramming so much into “Titanic” in such an organized way that the film never once feels like it’s over-stretching its boundaries as a film or that it drags on. If anything, viewers like me feel a longing for even more “Titanic” once the final frame has faded to black. I want more beauty, more disaster, more romance. There’s a melancholy feeling that comes with the ending of “Titanic,” in both that the story emotionally ravages you in a way no film can do for me time and time again, but that you just don’t want the film to end, ever.
Performances in the film are strong all around, but I would be remiss to not say that it’s Winslet who steals the show as Rose. DiCaprio as Jack is quite good and incredibly charming, but Winslet is a powerhouse of no compare. Winslet encapsulates a certain fire and vulnerability in her character, often in a single look, that makes her perfect for the role. This is a strong, interesting, flawed character that is one of the best Cameron has ever written. The depths that Winslet goes to makes me sad that the film wasn’t able to snag its 12th Oscar for her performance, to which she lost the Oscar to Helen Hunt for “As Good As It Gets.” Supporting roles are also wonderfully rich and well-done, with Gloria Stuart’s performance as old Rose is one that is remembered in the hearts of everyone who watches the film as one of the more heartbreaking performances seen in a modern film. Stuart finds a certain sadness in Rose’s re-telling of the story, and yet a real sense of optimism in the way in which she portrays the happy life Rose has led since Titanic’s sinking. Zane, in one of his few subtle performances, still manages to be just the right amount of hammy as Cal, but ultimately terrifying as an abusive fiancé, one that makes Winslet’s subsequent fear of him even more understood. Fisher is also very good as Rose’s mother, someone who, despite mounting financial pressure, always finds the time to berate Jack for his lower class. It’s Bates though, outside of Stuart, who really takes the cake when it comes to performances outside the main couple aboard the Titanic. Bates has an incredible range as an actress, but I love when she’s able to play nice, as she’s simply too likable of a person in real life to actually enjoy her meaner characters (though I’ll never pass up an opportunity to watch “Misery). Molly Brown is a delight whenever she’s on screen and Bates is the absolute best casting for the role possible.
The visual effects of “Titanic” are not to be understated, as they simply might be some of the best of all time. The film has aged like a fine wine, gracefully and deliciously, with the film looking just as good as any film being released today, in fact, it might have better visual effects than “Justice League.” The craftsmanship and vision that Cameron put into the film that led to the work put forth by all the people who rendered and crafted the film, beyond just the visual effects, but in the absolutely marvelous costume design, the grand, almost maddeningly meticulous production design, to the editing, to the wonderful cinematography from Russell Carpenter, everything about the film is so cutting edge and ahead of its time that it almost still feels unworthy to be seen by audiences today, let alone during the mid-’90s. “Titanic” is not a film, it’s an event that needs to be experienced, not just watched.
So what about this whole Dolby Vision thing? Can’t I just watch the film at home? Yes, and the Blu-ray of the film is beautiful. But there’s a certain bit of “Titanic” that is lost when it’s seen on a small screen. The details of the film, and every little thing that Cameron has crafted with his team aren’t on as full of a display as they can be seen on a big screen, and in a Dolby Cinema no less? The results are no less than stunning. What’s great about the film in Dolby Cinema as well is that the film retains much of its filmic properties, like a healthy amount of grain and depth, while also exhibiting wondrous detail and clarity never seen before on the film. Whether that matters enough to spend $16.50 on to see it again in theaters is up to you, but for anyone who even slightly loves “Titanic,” it’s such an impressive and stunning endeavor to watch on screen.
That being said, I can’t lie and say Dolby Cinema is the best I’ve ever seen “Titanic.” Clarity-wise? Definitely. It’s the most pristine version of the film I’ve ever seen, and there’s major merit in that. That being said, while watching the film, I just kept reflecting on the time that I was able to see the film in IMAX 3D during its 3D re-release in 2012. The film received a stunning 3D conversion that made the film look like it was shot in real 3D and conceived in the format from the start. It’s the optimal way to experience “Titanic” and whenever I watch the film at home, I watch the 3D Blu-ray that wonderfully captures the experience. In Dolby Cinema, at least at Concord Mills, the film is presented in its original 2.40:1 aspect ratio in 2D, as opposed to the opened up 1.78:1 aspect ratio that the IMAX 3D version had. It doesn’t in any way hinder the experience, but to experience the film in IMAX 3D, let alone 3D that rivaled the best 3D to date, simply does have the upper hand. That being said, for those without the accessibility to the 3D version or didn’t see the 3D version during its first re-release, Dolby Vision is still absolutely stunning.
People have been talking about “Titanic” for over two decades now, and will continue to talk about the film for decades, perhaps even centuries to come. As long as film is around, “Titanic” will be around. It’s become cool to hate on “Titanic” due to its popularity and its draw to teenage girls during the height of Leo Fever in 1997, but as time passes, and with each new version of the film, people begin to take notice of how wonderfully constructed and meticulously made “Titanic” is. It’s a stunning achievement of film that rivals that of “Ben-Hur” and “2001: A Space Odyssey” in its contribution to the idea of how far a film can go in its execution. “Titanic” proves that no film is too big for itself, and that no mater how grand and wide scale a film is, there is every chance for intimacy and grace in every shot. “Titanic” proves that just because a film is epic, doesn’t mean it has to be a major franchise action film. “Titanic” proves a whole lot of things that is specific to each viewer who lays their eyes on this gorgeous film. “Titanic” was the bridge that connected cinephile to general moviegoer alike in wonder and craft, with a story that ravages you emotionally just as much as it uplifts you. Every single time I watch “Titanic,” I tell myself that I will not cry this time around, and each time, I find myself more drawn to the characters and more gutted when the film’s story takes its course. “Titanic” tackles everything a film should tackle and more in spades, and there simply hasn’t been a film like it since. There might be very few more recent films I might love more than “Titanic,” but there’s none I cherish as closely. If you love “Titanic” or have never seen it, there’s no better way to experience it now than in Dolby Cinema.
Directed by: James Cameron
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Billy Zane, Kathy Bates, Frances Fisher, Gloria Stuart, Bernard Hill, Jonathan Hyde, David Warner, Suzy Amis, and Bill Paxton.
Runtime: 194 minutes
Rating: PG-13 for disaster related peril and violence, nudity, sensuality and brief language.
Now playing exclusively in Dolby Cinema at AMC Concord Mills.
Paramount Pictures and Twentieth Century Fox present, a Lightstorm Entertainment production, a James Cameron film, “Titanic”