James Cameron had proven himself to be a wizard when it came to directing science fiction and action movies. His work on Aliens and T2: Judgment Day is still widely studied by aspiring filmmakers who aim to craft tight screenplays. He ensured his films had strong characterization so that audiences got invested in the action, rarely missing the mark.
His panache for the technical aspects of filmmaking has always evolved. He gets down and dirty with his crew to ensure he gets what he wants at all costs. From the stop-motion effects of the first Terminator film to the state-of-the-art motion capture of Avatar: The Way of Water, Cameron will utilize various techniques to realize his vision.
Back in 1997, James Cameron became the king of the world with what is still widely considered to be the definitive dramatization of a historical event. Up until this point in his career, he was the go-to guy for action, science fiction, and a little bit of horror. Does this nautical magnum opus still deserve the crown? Find out in this Titanic (in 4K) review!
Production Company: Lightstorm Entertainment, 20th Century Fox, Paramount Pictures
Distributor: 20th Century Fox, Paramount Pictures
Director: James Cameron
Release Date: December 19, 1997
Before the Titanic set sail into the theaters, the vultures of the film industry were circling overhead, their feathers black with the stench of impending doom.
This was a behemoth, the most expensive film ever made, and the critics were sharpening their knives, ready to carve up the cinematic carcass of what they predicted would be a colossal flop.
When the film was finally unveiled to the press in the fall of 1997, it was like a death sentence had been handed down. The executives in charge sweated through their Armani suits, convinced that their careers were sinking faster than the film’s namesake.
Titanic was an undertaking so monstrous it took two studios to share the burden of its creation: Fox and Paramount.
Even Cameron, the fearless captain, felt the icy fingers of doubt creep up his spine, the specter of disaster looming large. These vultures didn’t understand the raw power that lay within this film—the romance, the pulse-pounding rush of adrenaline, and the sheer spectacle that would leave audiences breathless.
The press would soon learn their mistake. Titanic wouldn’t sink into the abyss of box office oblivion. It rose, a leviathan of the cultural zeitgeist, shattering records and redefining cinematic success. The critics would be left to choke on their own words, their predictions washed away by the tide of public acclaim.
James Cameron, a man with dreams larger than life itself, pushed the boundaries of Hollywood’s extravagance and sanity. His ship: the ill-fated Titanic, was recreated in all its doomed glory.
His crew: a motley band of talented artists, driven technicians, and the best actors Hollywood coke money can buy. It was an old Hollywood epic of love and loss, of triumph and tragedy, set against the backdrop of a doomed ship and a boundless ocean.
The sets of the Titanic are a marvel of engineering and craftsmanship. It was a meticulously detailed scale replica of the real ship, down to the lifeboat and floor paneling. All of it was made possible thanks to the ingenious idea of using cheap under-paid Mexican labor. Cameron had spared no expense in recreating the world of 1912.
The opulence of the first-class decks, the stifling poverty of the steerage, it’s all there, rendered in impeccable detail. You can almost smell the coal smoke, and feel the icy Atlantic wind cutting across your face.
At its core is a Romeo and Juliet love affair as doomed as it is passionate, set against the backdrop of an impending disaster. Jack, the penniless artist, and Rose, the trapped socialite, their forbidden romance a flicker of light in the approaching darkness.
Like in Cameron’s past films, Titanic explores the concept of fate and authority figures moving toward a destructive destiny in the face of warning signs. Jack and Rose’s love can never be and the ship was always destined to sink.
In the Terminator films, Skynet was destined to become the architect of the nuclear holocaust, and humanity, hopelessly, built its own executioner brick by brick. The Titanic followed a similar path. Promised to be unsinkable, it carried clear signs of its impending doom from its maiden voyage.
This fascination with hubris and its catastrophic consequences can also be seen in James Cameron’s Aliens, where the colonial marines underestimate the Xenomorphs, leading to disastrous results.
It’s also seen in both The Abyss and True Lies, where nuclear weapons represent the potential for annihilation. It’s a classic story that has a lot of resonance and still can be found in his Avatar films too.
Unfortunately, the characters of Jack and Rose present some drawbacks to Titanic. Jack’s archetype is the salt-of-the-earth artist, yet he always seems to possess uncanny knowledge and flawless behavior in the face of disaster. This lack of complexity makes him feel unrealistic.
Rose, too, suffers from conceptual flaws. While their romantic encounter spans only a few days, the film depicts elderly Rose clinging to his memory during her final moments, seemingly prioritizing him over the man she built a family with. This inconsistency weakens the emotional impact of the story and makes her look scummy.
For a three-hour and fifteen-minute-long action romance epic, you don’t feel the time go by thanks to the superb editing – although there are scenes set in the modern day that are superfluous to the main event. As wonderful as Bill Paxton is, sadly, the scenes with him and the elderly Rose recounting the events don’t contribute to the story.
James Cameron may have a keen eye for visuals and an excellent sense of action, but period-era dialogue is not his strong suit. Some embarrassing lines of dialogue are extremely on-the-nose or make no sense at all. Most of the third act is Jack and Rose shouting each other’s name constantly.
The main villain played by Billy Zane is also underwritten and is made to be a two-dimensional evil and rich jerk. The film would have you believe this is a movie about class division, but the truth is that steerage did have its share of violent alcoholic jerks and first class also had its share of compassionate wealthy passengers.
The only thing worse than the skin-crawling dialogue is the love theme, ‘My Heart Will Go On’. Back in the 90s when this was new and was played constantly, everyone hated it. This sappy, gay song and its melodramatic lyrics made it a target for parodies, solidifying its reputation as one of the corniest love songs ever.
Titanic overcomes its shortcomings by having some of the best filmmaking ever achieved. Every trick in the book is used to create a palpable grand sense of scale; from miniatures to CGI, to even having huge chunks of Titanic built. There are countless extras in many of the action scenes and every single one of them is coordinated to hit their mark.
The stunts involving gallons of rushing water that sweep them off their feet with such intense force look incredibly real, making it seem like the actors are getting hurt for real.
These thrilling sequences, often filmed without the use of CGI, showcase the dedication and talent of stunt performers who put their bodies on the line to deliver utterly gripping action sequences.
Entire sets are put at an angle and are flooded to give the impression that the characters are on the ship of doom. As if the stakes weren’t bad enough, James Cameron ramps things up with his signature action stamp by including awesome gun battles and hundreds of people falling and snapping their bones on the broad side of Titanic’s metallic struts.
Most people in the 90s wrongfully dismissed Titanic as some gay love movie for chicks. The reality is the film features harrowing action sequences and portrays the devastating consequences of the disaster, including the tragic loss of many lives, including children.
The fact that the movie has something for everyone goes to show how timeless it is and how effective James Cameron is as a director. If you don’t care for the sappy romance, just stick around a bit and enjoy the thrilling spectacle of the Titanic sinking into the Atlantic Ocean.
Shot on 35mm film in the classic 2.35:1 aspect ratio, Titanic as a film has always been a feast for the eyes.
Thankfully, the recent 4K restoration preserves that meticulously crafted beauty while adding even more clarity and detail. For this release, the original negatives were painstakingly scanned at 4K resolution, revealing hidden textures and subtleties previously unseen.
Similar to the 4K remaster of Aliens, some AI technology may have been employed to enhance the image even further. However, unlike Aliens, Titanic’s restoration takes a more subtle approach. This is likely due to the final film being already closer to James Cameron’s modern sensibilities.
Skin complexion and flesh tones appear more lifelike and natural. The level of detail is so fine that individual strands of Kate Winslet’s facial peachfuzz can be counted. Every line on elderly Rose’s face is pronounced and every pore is visible.
The HDR (High Dynamic Range) improves that contrast, especially the black levels during the night scenes. Reflective surfaces glisten cleanly and the depth of the picture is penetrating. Titanic’s image quality is probably one of the most impressive restorations ever achieved and is now the gold standard for 4K demo material.
The sound is as spellbinding as the image quality, boasting a guttural Dolby Atmos track that manages to have unbelievably righteous heavy bass. You can feel the floor shake in the second half of the film when the action goes into overdrive as the ship sinks. Dialogue also comes in very clearly and is never drowned out amid the shouts and crushing sounds of water splashes.
This 4K release comes with all the prior substantial archival extras. These are all the same audio commentary tracks from before, and no new ones were created. Thankfully, there are some new extras added, mostly just a few retrospectives from the filmmakers.
Impressively, Kate Winslet makes an appearance and expresses embarrassment over her early performance and sloppy attempt at an American accent. Sadly, Leo is a no-show and has moved on from Titanic to act in Scorsese films.
James Cameron busted his ass to make Titanic a reality. Not only did he invent new effects techniques to realize the movie, the scope of the production was insanely costly and he even took several trips to the bottom of the ocean to shoot the real Titanic wreck. Even if you don’t like the film, the crushing production he and his crew endured has to be commended.
Titanic‘s script has its weaknesses, but it’s a minor blemish compared to the film’s overall brilliance. Its technical achievements are undeniable, and its meticulous attention to historical detail creates a captivating and immersive experience. In an era where many films struggle with the basics, Titanic stands out for its ability to draw viewers in and make them care, even if they don’t always connect with the protagonists.
Titanic was reviewed with a 4K Bluray purchased by Niche Gamer. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here. Titanic is now available on 4K Bluray at retailers.