The best way to enjoy “Titanic” all over again is to put the film’s pop culture baggage in steerage.
Yes, watching James Cameron gloat that he was the “king of the world” on Oscar night was nauseating, as is the notion the director supports eco-terrorism. And the 354th time you hear Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” is much, more than enough.
The film, out this week on Blu-ray edition (including the 3D version), is a visual triumph on par with Cameron’s “Avatar.” While that science fiction epic bogged itself down with eco-mania, “Titanic” offers a beautifully realized love story that launched a thousand Kleenex boxes.
Beautiful Rose (Kate Winslet), a woman chained to her aristocratic upbringing, finds love in arms of a rascally lad named Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) aboard the doomed vessel. Their passion leads to an erotic portrait session, a mad dash throughout the ship and one heck of a jealousy streak from Rose’s fiance (Billy Zane).
Cameron keeps those emotional plates spinning even as the iceberg strikes the ship. The tragedy is artfully framed by a modern narrative in which a sea explorer (Bill Paxton) interviews a survivor from the vessel (Oscar nominee Gloria Stuart).
Step back from the tragic love story and watch a Blu-ray transfer that practically glistens. Not only did Cameron masterfully oversee the ship’s famed destruction, he made sure to capture how the natural light bathed over both the ship and its pretty cargo. It’s arguably the most beautiful Blu-ray release in recent memory, a testament to Cameron’s cinematic eye.
If only those talents translated to the screenplay.
The passengers’ diverse class distinctions adds texture to the tale, but Cameron can’t resist smiting the one-percenters facing their fate. A wiser storyteller would get those feelings across with a look, a gesture or even a barely visible nod. Instead, we watch actors like Frances Fisher all but tut tut the news they’ll be sharing the life boats with blue-collar types.
Zane and the great David Warner work overtime as the film’s twin heavies, but they’re so uniformly wicked it lends a cartoonish vibe to an otherwise traumatic experience.
The ship’s final moments pack a disaster porn appeal wasted on most viewers, but Cameron keeps tightening the screws on Jack and Rose’s waning moments aboard the vessel. They survive a series of improbable escapes, with every triumph the realization that the water just keeps on rising.
Meanwhile, we’re witness to the best – and worst – of humanity as people realize they may have only minutes left to live. Cameron the writer confirms his creative duality, penning beautifully minor moments as well as clunky bits meant for a cheap laugh or to score equally discount emotional points.
The new Blu-ray package is stuffed with “Titanic”-related goodies. Try 30 deleted scenes, 60 behind-the-scenes featurettes and three commentary tracks with cast, crew and, of course, Cameron.
The new extras include “Reflections on Titanic” and “Titanic: The Final Word with James Cameron.”
“It’s the perfect untold murder mystery,” Cameron says in the latter documentary, which gathers eight Titanic experts to debate, once and for all, what really happened.
“I could walk the ship in my sleep,” the director says of his enthusiasm for the project and the real-life story.
How exhaustive is the “Titanic” Blu-ray set? It includes a trio of “Titanic” parodies including a 1999 “Saturday Night Live” skit starring Cheri Oteri and Paxton himself.
“I’ve been listening to this hack romance novel crap-a-thon all afternoon,” Paxton says.
He kids because he loves, no doubt.
Follow Christian Toto on Twitter @TotoMovies