Titanic on DVD

Dom Robinson reviews

Distributed by

20th Century Fox


  • Cat.no: 00421 DVD
  • Cert: 12
  • Running time: 189 minutes
  • Year: 1997
  • Pressing: 1999
  • Region(s): 2, PAL
  • Chapters: 30 plus extras
  • Sound: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround
  • Languages: English
  • Subtitles: 13 languages available
  • Widescreen: 2.30:1 (Super 35)
  • 16:9-Enhanced: No
  • Macrovision: Yes
  • Disc Format: DVD 9
  • Price: £29.99 (£19.99 at Bensons)
  • Extras : Scene index, Theatrical trailer


      James Cameron

    (The Abyss, Aliens, Terminator 1 & 2, True Lies)


    James Cameron and Jon Landau


    James Cameron


    James Horner


    Jack Dawson: Leonardo DiCaprio (The Man In The Iron Mask, Marvin’s Room, Romeo And Juliet, This Boy’s Life, Total Eclipse, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape)
    Rose Dewitt Bukater: Kate Winslet (Hamlet, Heavenly Creatures, Hideous Kinky, Jude, Sense And Sensibility, TV: “Casualty”)
    Cal Hockley: Billy Zane (Dead Calm, Lake Consequence, Memphis Belle, Orlando, The Phantom, Sniper, Tombstone)
    Holly Brown: Kathy Bates (Dolores Claiborne, Misery, Primary Colors, White Palace)
    Ruth Dewitt Bukater: Frances Fisher (Attack Of The 50 Foot Woman, Female Perversions)
    Captain Smith: Bernard Hill (The Bounty, Drowning By Numbers, Shirley Valentine, TV: “Boys From The Blackstuff”, “Lipstick On Your Collar”)
    Bruce Ismay: Jonathan Hyde (Bliss, Deadly Advice, Jumanji, Richie Rich)
    Fabrizio: Danny Nucci
    Old Rose: Gloria Stuart (The Invisible Man)
    Spicer Lovejoy: David Warner (The Man In The Iron Mask, The Omen, Scream 2, Star Trek 5, Time Bandits, TV: “Star Trek: Next Generation”)
    Thomas Andrews: Victor Garber (Hostile Advances – The Kerry Ellison Story)
    Brock Lovett: Bill Paxton (Aliens, Apollo 13, The Evening Star, Near Dark, Tombstone, True Lies, Twister)
    Lizzy Calvert: Suzy Amis (The Ballad Of Little Jo, Blown Away, Firestorm, The Usual Suspects)
    Fifth Officer Lowe: Ioan Gruffudd (TV: “Hornblower”)
    Titanic Orchestra: I Salonisti
    Steerage Band: Gaelic Storm

Titanic pic

Titanicis James Cameron‘s epic account of the night that theR.M.S. Titanic went too fast on its maiden voyage and hit an iceberg, rupturingthe underside of the ship’s head and letting enough water in to make it sink.It’s one of those films that doesn’t really need its plot explaining as therecan’t be many people on the planet who don’t know that the ship didn’t quitemake it to its destination, but rather took a diversion to the ocean bed.

In amongst the carnage, comes a tale of forbidden love and courage in the faceof disaster. Leonardo Di Caprio and Kate Winslet, who was nominated for anBest Actress Oscar, as Jack and Rose, the young lovers separated by socialclass yet destined to find each other on the “unsinkable” ship.

The film won eleven Oscars including Best Picture and Best Director and it’seasy to see why due to the grand scale of what’s on show. When the ship startsto go down, it’s a special effects extravaganza from the huge reconstructionof the vessel – a 90%-scaled model – right down to the mere breath of coldair exhaled by cold and frightened passengers. The success of the film hasresulted in worldwide box office takings of over $1 billion and has spawnedtwo soundtrack albums featuring James Horner‘s unsurpassable score andmusic from the film including Celine Dion and “An Irish Party In ThirdClass”.

It could have been a different story though. Originally budgeted at around$120 million, delays and mounting problems forced production costs to spiralin rocket-like fashion to way over $200 million. Soon after, Cameron was beingcriticised beyond all comprehension and Hollywood critics reckoned the filmwould sink at the box office like its namesake ship.

Thankfully, Cameron was proved right in the end. Cinemagoers and the rest ofthe nation piled into the cinemas for over six months, a rare sight indeed.In fact the only other film from recent times that has stayed in cinemas foras long was the British hit, The Full Monty, but it’s quite a differentthing though to get the average Joe to stampede to the cinema for a film overthree hours in length – as opposed to a 90-minute comedy – and as such Titanichas become the biggest grossing film of all time to date.

A first-class film deserves a first-class cast and it gets it with the twoleads performed by rising star, sometimes dubbed as the new RiverPhoenix, Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, who is usuallyfound in low-budget films, but has been cast into the limelight with this film.It hasn’t gone to her head though and even at her recent wedding to JamesThreapleton, assistant film director on the set of her forthcoming filmHideous Kinky, there were no major amounts of security and the presswere allowed to take photos, unlike a recent Spice Girl wedding.

While Jack is, literally, the small fish in a big pool of rich people, therest of the cast includes Billy Zane as Rose’s prospective butdestructive husband, Frances Fisher as Rose’s mother, BernardHill as the ship’s captain, Jonathan Hyde as the ship’s creator,Bill Paxton as the leader of a crew interviewing Rose in the presentday trying to find out what exactly happened and Gloria Stuart as Rosenow, which gave her the nomination for the Best Supporting Actress Oscar.

There are a few pieces of artistic licence though such as the scene of thecaptain going down with the ship, although apparently the real one didn’t,as well as occasional one liners: As one man walks climbs a staircase towardsthe rear of the ship he recites Psalm 22. When he gets to “Yea, as I walkthrough the valley of the shadow of death”, Jack shouts, “Wanna walk a littlefaster to that valley ?”

Titanic pic

A stunning film deserves a stunning transfer and that’s almost exactly whatyou get here. The widescreen framing is preserved here and it’s the only wayit can be watched. Although the film was shot using the Super-35 technique,allowing non-SFX shots to sometimes be shown with more picture at the topand/or bottom, while losing some side picture information, word has it thatthe fullscreen version is as bad as a standard pan-and-scan transfer.

I say “almost”, because it’s not anamorphic, so you don’t get the addedadvantage of 33% extra picture resolution for widescreen TVs, as can be foundon many DVDs costing nearly half this price. With an average bitrate being afine 5.19Mb/s, occasionally peaking over 7Mb/s, there’s few artifacts on view,but zooming the picture in loses the impact it could have had.

Note that as the widescreen version has a ratio of 2.30:1 and that widescreentelevisions have a ratio of 16:9 (ie. 1.78:1 approx.), so you will still getblack bars on your widescreen television. This may seem obvious to maylaserdisc owners out there, but while a few people have asked me why thishappens – because one medium is wider than the other, so the old adage that youcan’t fit a square peg in a round hole applies – the problem manifested itselfon BBC TV’s Watchdog after an old man had more money than sense andspent £1700 on such a TV without bothering to learn the difference inratios and complained when his Titanic video didn’t fill the screen.Watchdog went on to explain, badly, that there are six different film ratios -when there are many more – and then showed the film on a widescreen TV butusing the 16:9-enhanced mode (on a non-enhanced video) thus squashing thepicture further and making everyone look fatter and accentuating the black barsthus filling the screen with twice as much blackness.

The sound quality is perfect though. While the PAL Laserdisc could only managesurround sound, this DVD contains Dolby Digital 5.1 as well. It’s the firstDVD in the UK to officially carry the THX logo for approved picture and soundquality (Twister was the first unofficial one as they mistakenly used thecover from the US version!)

Extras : Chapters and Trailer :There are 30 chapters throughout the film which isn’t enough for a 189-minutefilm, but unlike the PAL Laserdisc, this time we are provided with a trailerand it’s a different one that the Americans saw on their DVD. Languages and Subtitles :There’s just one language on this disc – English, but it is available in DolbyDigital 5.1. Subtitles come in 13 flavours: Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, Finnish,Iberian Portuguese, Hebrew, Polish, Czech, Hungarian, Icelandic, Dutch, Greekand English for the hearing impaired. Menu :The main menu looks very good indeed, with subtle animation, some music fromthe opening score and Gloria Stuart professing the Titanic to be”the ship of dreams”. The other menus are static and silent though.

Titanic pic

This is Fox’s first UK DVD and it’s important to go with such a high-profiletitle. However, while it looks and sounds good, things could’ve been a wholelot better. There are no extras (aside from a trailer), the transfer isn’tanamorphic (the USA DVD isn’t either but then the proportion of widescreen TVsover there isn’t as high as the UK) and what about the price?

£20 is about the maximum that most people will pay for a DVD containingplenty of extras and a first-rate picture, so why pay £10 more for a DVDthat has none of these? Of course Fox refuse to confirm that the price is asstated above because they’re pretending there IS no dealer price, but then whatwas the figure I saw that equated to an RRP of £29.99 ? They claim thatshops can set the dealer price themselves and charge accordingly. If that’s thecase, then why won’t they sell it for a fiver?

The pricing is something of a thorny issue for many DVD retailers who havenow refused to stock this title since they cannot get it cheaply enough tocompete with the high-street chain stores.

The other problem is that it’s widely-rumoured (and I’d lay money on it)that a Special Edition is in the works containing a director’s cut with around30 minutes of footage put back in, plus scores of extras including an audiocommentary and a ‘making of’ film, as well as an anamorphic print. As such,there’s little point in paying any money for this disc unless you can get itfor a good price, don’t mind about extras and aren’t watching on a widescreenTV. In any case, the whole point of DVDs was that they could contain ALL of thisstuff to begin with, without the need for paying for a second version (!)

On the other hand, it makes a change to be able to watch the film withoutturning over four sides – as per the PAL Laserdisc – and see it all the waythrough without getting up off my seat.

A review of the PAL Laserdisc can be foundhere.

FILM : *****PICTURE QUALITY: ****SOUND QUALITY: *****EXTRAS: *——————————-OVERALL: **** (or * when the SE comes out)

Review copyright © Dominic Robinson, 1999.

[Up to the top of this page]