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NOVEMBER 23, 1998: 

Titanic

D: James Cameron

with: Kate Winslet, Leonardo DiCaprio, Billy Zane, Frances Fisher, Kathy Bates, Gloria Stuart, David Warner, Bill Paxton Paramount/20th Century Fox Laserdisc


Is Titanic any good? It really doesn't matter any more.

James Cameron's Titanic currently holds a number of cinematic distinctions. It is the all-time moneymaker among films, which is fortunate since Titanic is also the most expensive movie ever made, and its 11 Oscar wins tied it with William Wyler's 1959 epic Ben-Hur as the Academy's most honored film. As with all of Cameron's efforts, the money invested in Titanic is on the screen; visually and aurally, the film is spectacular. Cameron's insistence on re-creating the physical details of the doomed ship, as well as other aspects of the period, are indeed impressive. Unfortunately, his ability as a screenwriter falls well short of his directorial talents (it is no accident that the film failed to earn an Oscar nod for best screenplay). The story of Jack and Rose is hackneyed and predictable, but in spite of that has clearly touched a nerve with the viewing public. An earlier Cameron film, The Abyss, is a more mature and believable study of the transcendent quality of human love, but it failed to connect with either critics or audiences.

The laserdisc of Titanic is something of a curiosity. The picture on both discs is crisp and preserves the film's impressive visual detail far better than the VHS version, and the digital audio (when experienced in home theatre format) is superb. But the laserdisc has no special features: no trailer, no additional audio tracks, and no "making of" featurette. It is the laser equivalent of a sell-through video. This brings up some interesting questions. Will there be a deluxe laserdisc boxed set at some point in the future? Given the format's diminished shelf space, that seems an unlikely possibility. Curiously, Paramount (one of the last studios to embrace the DVD format) has yet to announce a release date for Titanic on DVD. The entire film could be presented on one side of a dual-layered DVD, so the medium would seem to be an ideal choice for a definitive version of Titanic. Still, if Paramount misses the Christmas buying season, the studio might stand to lose a bundle of potential profits. Unquestionably, Paramount will do everything it can to squeeze the maximum out of this particular cash cow. Whatever else happens, history dictates that there won't be a Titanic II, and for the foreseeable future the laserdisc version of Titanic is a videophile's best option. -- Bud Simons



Titanic

D: James Cameron

with: Kate Winslet, Leonardo DiCaprio, Billy Zane, Frances Fisher, Kathy Bates, Gloria Stuart, David Warner, Bill Paxton Paramount/20th Century Fox Laserdisc

At this point, I don't suppose there's anything I could possibly say that would sway your decision whether to rent or buy the highly anticipated video release of Titanic, but because I'm a glutton for punishment and possibly an egomaniac as well, I'll offer up my opinion anyway. Personally, I can't think of many better ways to spend 31/2 hours than watching some of Titanic's best scenes. To wit: 1,500 ice-covered dead bodies bobbing up and down in Cameron's faux-Atlantic. Those little rats scurrying to get off the ship before it goes down. The impressive bit where the sinking ship splits in half (hope I didn't spoil the plot for you). Kate Winslet naked. Billy Zane's acting. And of course, Leonardo DiCaprio's now-famous line, shouted from the bow of the ship in defiance, "I'm the king of the world! Woo hoo!" This remark became a bit of a mantra for everyone involved with the movie, a right-place-at-the-right-time affair that will hold most of cinema's records for the next 20 years. Is Titanic any good? It doesn't really matter any more, and I'm not sure that anyone even knows. Like it or not, Titanic is a piece of Americana now, and if you didn't see it on the big screen, you need to see it on video (but be warned that the visual effects are essentially worthless on TV). Titanic is simply going to cause waves in the American cinema and the American psyche for decades, so it's a must-see. Hey, maybe I'm the king of the world. -- Christopher Null


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