Titanic appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The movie looked decent given its age, but given the high quality of most Fox Studio Classics releases, this one seemed like a moderate disappointment.
Sharpness appeared moderately iffy at times. Most of the movie came across as reasonably concise and distinct, but more than a few exceptions occurred. At times, the image displayed somewhat mushy definition, and it could be somewhat loose and soft. Issues connected to jagged edges didn’t pop up, but I noticed some shimmering and mild to moderate edge enhancement periodically.
Print flaws cropped up through much of the film. I noticed examples of specks, marks, lines, spots, scratches, and other small defects. These never became overwhelming, but they seemed heavier than I might expect given the track record of the Studio Classics line. Black levels were moderately inky and flat, and contrast seemed a bit drab and lifeless at times. Low-light scenes were acceptably visible but they suffered somewhat from the mushiness of the rest of the image. Titanic looked good enough to earn a “C” for picture, but it didn’t present a terribly strong visual presence.
Titanic offered a stereo soundtrack that appeared to come as a remix from the original mono material. As with many of the other presentations of this ilk, the results seemed somewhat weak. Essentially this meant we got glorified mono for the mix. Nothing appeared well localized, as the audio mostly just demonstrated a mushy sense of placement. Speech spread across the front and failed to remain well anchored in the center, and both effects and music felt fairly phony in the way they utilized the forward dimensions. It all became distracting.
Audio quality suffered from some problems connected to the remix. The biggest issue affected speech, which demonstrated excessive reverb. The lines stayed intelligible, but the unnecessary echo made the dialogue seem less than natural. Effects showed some of the same concerns, and that led them to sound a bit artificial, though the track did demonstrate pretty good bass response given the flick’s age. Music was similarly tinny at times but also featured acceptable low-end information. Bass was a little loose but remained relatively impressive. I noticed a little scratchiness and occasional background noise. I felt this flawed remix only merited a “C-“.
Happily, the DVD included the original monaural soundtrack as well as the stereo remix. The single-channel track seemed significantly more palatable. It lacked the reverb that marred the stereo version, and it sounded noticeably clearer and more natural. The stereo edition presented better bass, however, and it also featured less noise. I noticed some popping, crackling, and humming during the mono track that didn’t seem apparent in the stereo one. I’d give the mono version a “C+”; it would’ve been higher without the noise, but it still remained the superior mix.
As part of the “Fox Studio Classics” series, we expect a nice set of supplements here, and Titanic doesn’t disappoint. We open with two separate audio commentaries. The first features a solo piece from film critic Richard Schickel, who offers a running, screen-specific affair. Schickel has recorded quite a few commentaries for other films, but despite his familiarity with the format, his sessions remain erratic. He can be insightful and informative or he can be bland and dull.
Unfortunately, Schickel’s commentary for Titanic mostly falls in the latter category. Much of the time he simply tells us basic details about the ship and the participants in the film, but these never become terribly deep or useful. More than a few dead spots appear, and Schickel sometimes simply narrates the story. However, one interesting stems from Schickel’s lack of enthusiasm for the film. Usually commentaries from critics involve fans of the flicks, but Schickel never demonstrates much positivity toward Titanic. He generally hides his disdain, though he makes a few snide cracks at times. Those highlights aside, Schickel’s commentary seems moderately useful on occasion, but it doesn’t do much to illuminate the listener about Titanic.
The second audio commentary provides remarks from actors Robert Wagner and Audrey Dalton, film historian/cinematographer Michael Lonzo, and Titanic historian Sylvia Stoddard. Typical for Fox Studio Classics releases, the participants’ screen-specific remarks were recorded separately and edited together for this piece. While not one of the best Studio Classics tracks, the discussion of Titanic seems generally interesting.
Not surprisingly, Stoddard’s remarks mostly detail issues related to the historical voyage itself. She gets into a few topics connected to the film, but the facts of the vessel and trip remain her focus. Lonzo mainly gets into technical topics, with an emphasis on the film’s effects. He also chats a little about various participants, but the nuts and bolts of making the Titanic float remains his focus.
Unsurprisingly, the actors concentrate on their own experiences. They discuss a little about their careers as a whole, how they got work on Titanic, and how things worked for them on the set. Of the pair, Dalton easily proves to be the most stimulating. She seems funny and frank as she chats about her memories and interactions with the other cast and crew. Wagner offers less information and provides some decent details, but Dalton gives us a lot more.
As for the other commentators, Lonzo dominates, but he doesn’t seem particularly interesting. He tends to drone about fairly uninteresting details related to the miniatures and whatnot, and it gets a little old after a while. As seen on prior Studio Classics DVDs, Stoddard can be quite compelling, but she pops up too infrequently here to make much of an impact. Overall, the commentary still seems reasonably informative and worthwhile, but it’s not a great track.
One additional audio feature appears. We get an audio essay called “Titanic Aftermath” conducted by Sylvia Stoddard. In this concise discussion, she goes over the actions that followed the sinking and lets us know what happened to some of the survivors. She also gets into some cinematic explorations of the topic. It’s a nice 11-minute and 20-second chat about the subject.
Next we find a documentary called Beyond Titanic. This 94-minute program previously appeared in a set called Titanic: The Complete Story. Created in 1998 - after the success of the Cameron flick and co-sponsored by Fox - this show follows the ways in which the Titanic has remained in the popular culture over the prior 86 years. Narrated by Victor Garber - who played ship designer Thomas Andrews in Titanic - the program briefly recaps the rescue of survivors and the ensuing news coverage.
After that, it offers a reasonably detailed history of the disaster’s continued impact on popular culture. We hear mainly about cinematic depictions; those began almost immediately with some quick silent films from the era. Some time is devoted to books and other media - such as the recent CD-ROM exploration of the ship - but movies dominate the show. The program traces additional offerings through the years and also briefly relates the ways in which the Titanic legend fit into the mindsets of the times.
One of the most interesting elements comes from the comments of a survivor. Though an infant during the voyage, Millvina Dean remains haunted by the tragedy, largely due to the loss of her father. She states that she and other survivors went to see A Night to Remember back in 1958 but found the experience to be an emotional ordeal. As such, she and others refuse to watch any other Titanic-oriented flicks, which leads to an amusing story about all the attempts folks made to get her to a screening of Titanic.
Surprisingly, we don’t hear all that much about that movie. Since Fox sponsored the show, I expected a focus on the then current hit, but happily, it receives an appropriate amount of attention. Neither favored nor ignored, we learn of it as another piece in the continuing puzzle.
“Beyond” is a good program, but it lacks a lot of depth and seems a bit bland at times. Still, it covers some interesting territory and merits a look.
In the Movietone News section, we get two newsreels. “Titanic Premiere Thrills South” runs 68 seconds as it documents screenings at the naval base in Norfolk. “CinemaScope and The Robe Win Oscars” lasts 71 seconds as it rips through the 1954 ceremony. Neither is long enough to present much good material, but they’re nice historical additions.
The Still Gallery presents 20 shots from the set. Finally, we get the movie’s theatrical trailer. Unlike other discs in the series, Titanic doesn’t include promos for other Fox Studio Classics DVDs.
I’m sure someone out there finds the 1953 Titanic to present the best exploration of the great ship’s sinking, but I find it tough to imagine why. The movie seems tedious and dull, and it focuses on extraneous character relationships without much to tie it specifically to history. The DVD presents mediocre picture and sound but it includes a solid collection of extras. Leave the 1953 Titanic to completists, as it doesn’t offer a satisfying film.