Release Date(s)1997 (December 5, 2023)
Studio(s)Lightstorm Entertainment/20th Century Fox (Studios)/Paramount Pictures (Paramount Home Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: A
The year is 1912, and the newly commissioned luxury liner RMS Titanic is about to make her maiden voyage across the Atlantic to New York City. On board are the well-to-do of both American and British society at the time, including Molly Brown, John Jacob Astor, Benjamin Guggenheim and more than two thousand other passengers. Among them is Rose DeWitt Bukater (Kate Winslet), a young Philadelphia socialite who’s engaged to be married to a well-to-do gentleman named Caledon Hockley (Billy Zane). But Rose doesn’t care much for Cal, so once the ship gets underway she nearly takes her life by jumping overboard. She’s saved instead by Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio), and in more ways than she can possibly imagine. It turns out that Jack is a working-class American artist who’s been drifting around Europe, and who won his ticket home in a poker game. It’s not long before a passionate love kindles between Jack and Rose, but their relationship quickly becomes a struggle against class lines, Hockley’s rage, and an unthinkable fate... the sinking of the most magnificent ship of its age.
When director James Cameron sets out to make a movie, he doesn’t fool around. Titanic was a huge gamble for then 20th Century Fox, which footed the lion’s share of its budget (Paramount came on board later, with a smaller investment to help offset the cost, in exchange for domestic distribution rights). After a grueling production schedule, which required building not only a slightly-less-than-full-scale replica of the ship itself, but an entire studio in Baja Mexico to shoot it in, Titanic became the most expensive movie ever made at the time (estimates place the final price tag at well over $200 million). But the risk paid off handsomely, as it also became the highest grossing film of all time (making $1.8 billion worldwide in its initial release, expanding to $2.26 billion with subsequent re-releases) and it went on to steal the 1997 Academy Award for Best Picture. (I say steal, because the film’s hype machine was simply unstoppable, giving it an awards-season edge over Curtis Hanson’s far more critically acclaimed L.A.Confidential.) The simple fact was: Cameron was King of the World that year. He even said as much, when he accepted his Oscar.
Titanic’s strength lies in the sheer simplicity of its story: It’s essentially Romeo and Juliet get shipwrecked. The script is uneven—slow romance for the first half, non-stop action for the second—and it’s always melodramatic. The characters are a bit two dimensional, and the acting is only fair (though Kate Winslet, Billy Zane, and Gloria Stuart give particularly good performances). Still, there’s no denying that Titanic works on many levels. That bit where you see the computer simulation of the ship sinking early on, thus preparing you for experiencing the actual sinking later? Brilliant. This film grabs onto your senses (and your heart-strings) and shakes you silly for three hours. Like much of Cameron’s work, Titanic was unlike anything that had come before it. Its special effects were ground-breaking, as was the sheer audacity and scale of its production. Under Cameron’s guiding hand, the great lost luxury liner was given new life in such magnificent detail, that you couldn’t help but be impressed. James Cameron’s Titanic is, quite simply, a cinematic tour de force.
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Titanic was shot on 35 mm photochemical film (specifically Eastman EXR 50D 5245 and Kodak Vision 500T 5279) in Super 35 format by cinematographer Russell Carpenter (True Lies, Avatar: The Way of Water) using Arriflex 35 III, Panavision Panaflex Gold II, and Panavision Panaflex Platinum cameras, with Panavision Primo spherical lenses, and it was finished on film at the 2.39:1 aspect ratio for its initial theatrical release back in 1997 (which included 35 mm anamorphic release prints, as well as 70 mm blow-ups).
I’ve recently had the chance to speak with Lightstorm’s SVP of Production Services & Technology, Geoff Burdick, about the process involved in bringing this film to the 4K Ultra HD format, and have confirmed that the new Titanic UHD remaster is built upon the 2K digital intermediate work done in 2012 for the theatrical 3D release, which began with native 4K scans of original camera negative and the best available VFX footage (including interpositive material were available and useful). At the time however, Stereo-D could only work in 2K resolution. So the important thing to understand here is that work on this film has essentially been ongoing in the years since, with the overall goal always to bring the image up to the current ‘state of the art’ using the latest available mastering technology.
A new 4K digital intermediate has since been built using the original scan data. And VFX footage was never simply ‘uprezed’ or completely redone, but new details were often added (back in 2012) to enhance the shots at Cameron’s direction. An example is the scene where Cal looks out the window of his First Class private promenade deck—as originally filmed, the view outside was just a painted blue card. A little bit of detail, movement, and specularity has been added to the ocean’s surface. Another example involves the night sky as seen at the end of the film, when Rose is awaiting rescue—the stars above are now ‘correct’ for that date and time in history (thus fixing an infamous error pointed out previously by a popular online science communicator).
More recently, Lightstorm has worked with Peter Jackson’s Park Road Post to optimize the 4K image in a hands-on and closely-supervised process that involved remastering the film scene by scene, and shot by shot—sometimes working on different areas within the same frame—to ensure that every bit of detail in the negative is visible, while managing but never eliminating organic grain (which, it should be noted, was intended to be very fine given the film stocks used).
The specific techniques applied were different for each shot, but involve propriety deep-learning algorithms developed by Park Road. The point is, shot-by-shot throughout the film, the Lightstorm and Park Road teams have worked together to maximize the film’s 4K image quality to Cameron’s specific standards and preferences, which includes a new high dynamic range color grade that’s available on this disc in Dolby Vision format (with the usual HDR10 base layer). And the resulting image was directly approved by Cameron and producer Jon Landau.
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The resulting 4K image is… well, frankly it looks spectacular. Shocking, almost. Titanic still looks like a film, but more like a modern film release than I’ve certainly ever seen it before. Not only does an extremely fine veneer of grain remain in the image, exquisite fine detail is visible too in virtually every non-VFX shot! I’m talking First Class cabin wallpapers, costume textiles, wood grain, skin textures (where not softened by heavy make-up), strands of hair, furniture upholstery, decorative inlay, stained glass—not only does 100% of the detail captured by the camera lens remain in this image, you’re seeing more of it here than ever before. Which, combined with the HDR, can feel a little jarring at first. But WOW. Obviously, the visual effects aren’t as detailed as modern CG would be, but they mostly still hold up well. And the colors here are richly rendered—warm early on, and cool blue when night falls and the iceberg strikes—with deep contrasts, genuinely bold highlights (the gleaming gold inlays on carpentry and set decor truly shine), and plenty of shadow detail visible. Video data rates remain in the 50-70 Mbps range, which certainly enhances all of the above. For a film of this vintage, the remastered image is pretty extraordinary. I’m almost tempted to give the image quality an A+ grade, but I can’t quite do that given the amount of upsampling that’s obviously been done for effects shots, which dominate the second half of the film. But holy shit does this 4K image look A) remarkable, and B) so much better than I was expecting. (It’s worth noting that my old friend and film restoration expert extraordinaire, Robert A. Harris, is in full agreement over at Home Theater Forum—click here for his own take). The 4K image here isn’t perfect, but Titanic simply shouldn’t look this good. Yet it does. (You’ll understand what I mean when you see it for yourselves—again, check back in a week or so for all the official remastering details.)
Sonically, Paramount’s 4K disc offers its primary audio in a new English Dolby Atmos mix, a home theater port of the sound mix people experienced in IMAX theaters earlier this year. This too is terrific, offering a smooth and expansive forward soundstage, tonally very clean and naturally-centered dialogue, constant but often subtle use of the surround channels for music and immersive effects, and plenty of strong bass, especially when the ship starts going under in the second half of the film. The height channels too are employed constantly but subtly (for example in the opening shots of the subs descending into the depths from above). James Horner’s score filters in from all around the listening environment. This is not the most aggressive Atmos mix you’ve experienced on this format—the kind that’s wall-to-wall with discrete directional placement and whiplash movement around the stage—but the fidelity and sheer dynamics here are fantastic. Additional audio options on Paramount’s US 4K release include English 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio, English 5.1 Descriptive Audio, and French and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital. Optional subtitles are available in English for the Hearing Impaired, French, and Spanish.
Paramount’s Titanic: 25th Anniversary Limited Edition is a 2-disc set, including the film remastered in 4K on UHD along with a Blu-ray Disc of bonus features. No Blu-ray version of the film in 1080p HD is included, though you can find both that and a Blu-ray 3D version available separately (these appear to be the same discs released back in 2012). The 4K disc includes the following special features:
- Audio Commentary by James Cameron
- Audio Commentary with the Cast and Crew
- Audio Commentary by Historians Don Lynch and Ken Marschall
All three were recorded for the film’s 2005 3-Disc Special Collector’s Edition DVD release. The most interesting in terms of the film itself is the director’s track with Cameron, who’s in great form as he offers a steady stream of anecdotes and insights. The cast and crew commentary features actors Winslet, Stewart, and Lewis Abernathy (who plays Lewis Bodine, and who’s also deep-dived with Cameron on occasion), along with producers Jon Landau and Rae Sanchini. Winslet and Stewart have great chemistry together, but the producers do the heavy lifting here. (Unfortunately, Leonardo DiCaprio is once again MIA.) Of more general interest is the commentary with historians Don Lynch and Ken Marschall, who discuss the accuracy of the film compared to what’s known of the real life events. They also address controversies that have arisen over the years due to contradictions in the eye-witness testimony of Titanic survivors. It’s fascinating stuff.
To this, the Bonus Blu-ray adds a treasure trove of both new and legacy special features (the source of which is indicated below by ‘BD’ and ‘2005 DVD’), including:
- Titanic: Stories from the Heart (HD – 35:58) – NEW
- Reflections on Titanic (HD – 4 parts – 63:46 in all) – BD
- Titanic: 25 Years Later with James Cameron (HD – 42:06) – NEW
- Deleted Scenes with James Cameron Introduction and Optional Commentary (HD – 30 scenes – 57:28 in all) – BD
- Behind-the-Scenes Presentation Hosted by Jon Landau (HD – 34:13) – NEW
- Additional Behind-the-Scenes Featurettes (SD – 35 featurettes – 34:54 in all) – 2005 DVD
- Deep Dive Presentation Narrated by James Cameron (SD – 15:31) – 2005 DVD
- $200,000,001: A Ship’s Odyssey (The Titanic Crew Video) (SD – 17:54) – 2005 DVD
- Videomatics (SD – 3 segments – 3:14 in all) – 2005 DVD
- Visual Effects (SD – 4 segments – 7:46 in all) – 2005 DVD
- Trailer Presentation Hosted by Jon Landau (HD – 8:16) – NEW
- Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” Music Video (SD – 4:45) – 2005 DVD
- Still Galleries (HD) – BD
- Titanic Scriptment by James Cameron
- Storyboard Sequences (9 galleries)
- Production Artwork (3 galleries)
- Photographs (9 galleries)
- Ken Marschall’s Painting Gallery
- Concept Posters and One Sheets (3 galleries including new Fan Poster Art) – NEW
- Credits (2005)
The first thing to note here, is that this is most of the previous special features content, but not everything—a few things are missing. But more on that in a minute. The new material begins with Stories from the Heart, which is a great half-hour retrospective piece featuring Cameron, Landau, and Winslet sharing their memories of the genesis, development, and making of the film. This is intercut with footage from the film, behind-the-scenes material, casting video, etc. It’s clear that all of them are still very proud of what they accomplished here. The new material continues with 25 Years Later, a great recent National Geographic special in which Cameron and other experts attempt to find out if both Jack and Rose could have survived the sinking somehow, and if more passengers could have survived as well had additional lifeboats been aboard the ship. (This is cool for including a deleted scene of our old friend and special edition producer Van Ling as a Titanic survivor pulled from the water.) There are also new Behind-the-Scenes and Trailer Presentations hosted by producer Jon Landau (more on that in a minute) and a brief but new Fan Poster Gallery as well. Really, the only thing you’re left wanting by this new content is any kind of commentary by Leonardo DiCaprio, who just doesn’t seem to be all that interested in looking back on his work.
The legacy content here is all excellent as well, produced by Ling and Ed Marsh. Beyond the commentaries, there’s nearly an hour of deleted scenes, plus the original hour-long Reflections on Titanic documentary, and a truly massive gallery of still images from the production, including Cameron’s original “scriptment” for the film (all 482 pages of it) as well as storyboard drawings, production photographs, pre-production concept and design artwork, and more. There are literally thousands of images collected here, so there’s plenty to see and explore if you haven’t done so already.
But as noted earlier, not everything produced previously is included here. Missing are twenty-six of the previous Blu-ray’s Behind-the-Scenes featurettes totaling about 29 minutes, among them: Southhampton Flop, View from the Pub VFX, Leaving Port VFX, The Engine Room, The Million Dollar Shot, Big Ship Set VFX, The Grand Staircase, Costume Design, Iceberg / Deck VFX, First Class Lounge Miniature, Crane as Helicopter, Flooded First Class Dining Room, The Sinking Riser, Ship Extensions, Grand Staircase Flooding, Miniature Hall Flooding, Jumping Stunts, The Tilting Poop Deck Set, Deck Sliders, Digital Stunt People, Ship Split Miniature, The Toilet Paper Shot, Final Plunge VFX, Underwater Greenscreen, Interior Tank Shot, Breath Shots, and The Final Shot. Here’s what’s clever though: The best of this material is highlighted in Jon Landau’s Behind-the-Scenes Presentation, so you still get to see it, and now with much more context. Also technically missing is the original Construction Time-lapse with Optional Commentary by Ed Marsh (SD – 4:30) from the 2005 DVD, but most of that footage too is now included in the Behind-the-Scenes Presentation.
The new Blu-ray also doesn’t include all of the separate trailers and TV spots (from the previous Blu-ray and 2005 DVD), including: Teaser Trailer: Concept Artwork (SD – 1:50), Theatrical Trailer 2 (HD – 4:15), Theatrical Trailer 3 (HD – 2:32), International Trailer (HD – 1:06), 2012 Release Trailer (HD – 2:11), 2012 Release Trailer 3D (HD – in 3D – 2:09), and TV Spots (SD – 7 spots – 3:26 in all). However, once again the best of this content remains in Jon Landau’s new Trailer Presentation video. So this is another clever way to save a little bit of disc space while retaining at least highlights from the missing content.
Genuinely missing from the previous Blu-ray is Titanic: The Final Word with James Cameron (HD – 96:16). And missing from the 2005 DVD are Titanic Parodies (SD – 3 segments – 10:16 in all), Fox Special: Breaking New Ground (SD – 42:46), Press Kit Featurettes (SD – 7 featurettes – 18:32 in all), 1912 New Reel with Optional Commentary by Ed Marsh (SD – 2:23), Titanic Ship’s Tour with Optional Commentary by Anders Falk (SD – 7:40), and the Interactive Viewing Mode (which allowed you to watch the Behind-the-Scenes Featurettes in context within the film). The International 2005 DVD release also included the HBO First Look – Titanic: The Heart of the Ocean (SD – 27:33) special, which the US release did not. The bottom line is that if you want to retain all of that original content, you’ll definitely want to keep your previous Blu-ray and DVD editions.
Paramount’s 25th Anniversary Limited Edition packaging features a beautiful library slipcase, with a dark plastic slipcover that features the film’s title in gold. Inside the slipcase is a 32-page hardcover coffee table book (with a schematic of the ship on the front) filled with images from the film, artwork, and rare production photos. Its back inside cover has two slots that hold the set’s disc. There’s also a handsome White Star Line envelope that contains prop reproductions of a Titanic boarding pass, a launch viewing ticket, ship menus, notes from Jack to Rose and Rose to Cal, and sheet music for My Heart Will Go On, as well as a blueprint-style schematic of the ship itself. A Digital Code should also be included on a paper insert (but alas, mine was missing). In any case, it’s a handsome (if expensive) package.
[Editor’s Note: If you’ve purchased this box set and found that your copy did not include the Digital code slip, refer to the instructions at the end of this review.]
Titanic was such a huge phenomenon when it was first released back in 1997, that it’s almost strange to look back at it now in 2023. I can honestly say that I haven’t really thought about this film in years—probably not since the 2012 Blu-ray release. Back in 1912, the ship and its sinking became a symbol of sorts for the death of a gilded age. It’s ironic then that Cameron’s big screen epic feels like the last gasp of a certain type of practical blockbuster Hollywood filmmaking at the close of that same century. Yet the most surprising thing here for me is not just how good this film looks and sounds today in 4K Ultra HD, but how quickly it completely drew me in again once I started watching the disc. The image is so jaw-dropping that I was completely captivated by it… then fifteen or twenty minutes in, I was captivated by the story, characters, and spectacle again as well. Any way you slice it, Titanic is a marvel. And this is a truly remarkable 4K Ultra HD remaster that’s simply not to be missed.
- Bill Hunt