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STUDIO: Lionsgate Films
RATED: Not Rated
RUNNING TIME: 187 minutes
• Six Making-of Featurettes
• Titanic: Behind the Production
• “The Curse of the Titanic Sisters” Documentary
The epic story of the Titanic disaster, from the writer of Downton Abbey. Jack and Rose are nowhere to be found.
Starring Glen Blackhall, Ruth Bradley, Dragus Bucur, David Calder, Stephen Campbell Moore, Jenna-Louise Coleman, Maria Doyle Kennedy. Written By Julian Fellowes; Directed by Jon Jones
More characters, smaller effects.
We all know how this one goes: an “unsinkable” ocean liner, one of the grandest ever made, sets sail from the UK on course for New York, hits an iceberg and sinks in the North Atlantic. Of the 2,200 passengers on board, 1,500 were killed.
There’s no way around it: the Titanic disaster has been done. James Cameron’s Titanic (1997) is one of the most recognized films of all time, still seen as a towering achievement in both dramatic storytelling and technological filmmaking. That film addressed the class differences of the time, touched on key historical figures involved, and anchored the dramatic events of the ship’s sinking with a classic love story, all while delivering quintessential Cameron disaster thrills to rival his own The Abyss and Terminator 2: Judgment Day. So what can a television production with a total running time of less than Cameron’s film possibly hope to deliver that we hadn’t seen before?
The answer, actually, is “quite a bit.” Cameron’s characters almost universally degenerated into shrieking stereotypes, if, indeed, they had begun as anything but. The romance and tension between the classes are drawn with such broad strokes that a general audience ends up with little new knowledge of the time. And though the final act of that film is long on spectacle, it’s somewhat short on human drama. And so we have this new take on the tale, written by Julian Fellowes of Downton Abbey fame. Developed by ITV as a four-episode miniseries, this new Titanic features a cast of approximately 80, including 25 key characters whose stories will be told throughout. The miniseries is ingeniously structured, with each episode beginning before the launch of the ship and ending after the iceberg strike, with the final episode devoted largely to the events following the strike. This allows for Fellowes to interweave storylines, deftly demonstrating how the lives aboard the ship intersect and diverge. It’s too ungainly a task to describe the individual plotlines in this review, but to do so would rob the audience of some of the richness of the experience, so it’s just as well. Suffice to say, we get snobs who turn into heroes, upper-class cowards whose true colors come out, steerage passengers who rise to the occasion – all the drama you’d expect. But we also get smaller, more human level stories about compassion both before and after tragedy strikes. And by mixing real and fictional characters, we get a number of new takes on material covered by Cameron, and some novel approaches to the overall story as well.
Aside from the smart writing, we’re treated to a large cast in universally fine form, including Batman Begins’ Linus Roach and the wonderful Toby Jones as first- and second-class (respectively) business associates; Perdita Weeks as an idealistic suffragette; and the wonderful David Calder as Captain Smith, whose decisions may well have doomed his vessel. And contributing to this brilliant cast’s ability to do their best work is truly stunning production and costume design, bringing the world of the Titanic (and 1912 Britain) to life before our eyes.
Titanic is a fantastic experience that can be seen very much as a companion to Cameron’s film, but one that deepens and expands upon our understanding of the time and place of the Titanic disaster in our modern world. Watched as four individual episodes, it’s compelling viewing; watched as one three-hour epic, it’s a tapestry that smartly ups the tension without sacrificing character or circumstance. A rewarding watch for those interested in revisiting one of the most famous incidents of the twentieth century.
The Titanic Blu-ray features several interesting extras. In addition to a DVD copy of the series, Six Making-of Featurettes highlight different aspects of the production, going into slightly more detail than the accompanying Titanic: Behind-The-Production, which is cut from the same footage. “The Curse of the Titanic Sisters” is an interesting historical documentary focusing on the White Star Lines’ three Olympic class vessels, all of which were prone to disaster. Only partially concerned with the Titanic itself, the piece takes a broader look at the issues that ultimately doomed the Olympic ships.
The Blu-ray presentation is phenomenal. A new title, there’s little to nitpick at, and much to love about this gorgeous 1080p image. Detail and depth are exceptional, in high and low light, above and belowdecks, allowing true appreciation of the lavish production. The DTS-HD Master Audio track serves the piece well, with crowd scenes and rushing water making near-constant use of the surrounds, and crisp, clean dialogue taking precedence when appropriate.
Rather than compete with Cameron’s film, this Titanic is a tapestry of stories, both true and fictional, altogether painting a somewhat more complete picture of who the people onboard the doomed ship were. It’s extremely well acted, features interesting structure, and is engagingly written. The Blu-ray features great technical presentation and some worthwhile extras. This Titanic stays afloat!