Believe it or not, boys and girls, but there was a time when James Cameron’s film Titanic looked to be a disaster in the making. Horribly over budget at north of $200,000,000, and its release delayed six months, Titanic was looking to be a celluloid disaster destined to sink on its maiden weekend.
But the film opened to four-star reviews and boffo box office. Then something amazing happened.
All major films’ box office drops off the second weekend. But Titanic was different. Its second weekend was bigger than its first.
That never happens.
And its third and fourth weekend grosses were still larger than the first. Titanic was on its way to being the highest grossing film of all time with a total worldwide gross of over $1.8 billion dollars. No other film even comes close. (Second place is The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King at $1.1 billion, the only other films in the billion dollar club, although the first Harry Potter film is just a few million short of joining the club. But I digress.) It received a record 14 Oscar nominations and won a record 11.
I saw it opening night. And I was in the front row bawling like everyone else.
Titanic is the work of a master film-maker at the top of his game.
The new special edition DVD contains a gorgeous new transfer spread over two discs, plus three commentaries: one from Cameron, one from various cast and crew, and one from a pair of Titanic historians. All three are worth your attention and are informative. In addition, there are 50 or so mini-docs on the two discs available by either a seamless branching option while watching the movie, or by a "play-all" feature. There’s also the original ending (available with a Cameron commentary) that, although fine by itself, is clearly inferior to the ending as it was finally cut. A third disc contains nearly an hour of deleted and extended scenes, all with optional Cameron commentary. There are other featurettes on this disc, including a gag reel of sorts, a look at Cameron’s real dive on Titanic, and a time-lapse feature on building the set. In all, this is a treasure trove of material, which almost makes up for the lack of a definitive "making-of" documentary as was promised when the set was originally announced a s a four-disc set.
Why does the the ill-fated story of Titanic still touch us? At its heart, it is the story of human frailty and hubris. The lessons learned from Titanic were lost by the time of Challenger, and those lessons learned were forgotten again with Columbia. It is a story of class rule by human ego and unquestioned ideology and assumptions, as if even daring to question these assumptions is evil and unpatriotic.
And clearly, these are lessons that need to be learned again.