At the end of 1997/ beginning of 1998, all the James Cameron Titanic craziness really started to kick into high gear. I worked at a video retail store and we were bombarded with Titanic questions. Many people wanted such films such as Raise the Titanic (1980), The Poseidon Adventure (1972), and A Night to Remember. I won’t even go into stupid questions about when Cameron’s Titanic would be out on VHS. With days upon days of this my curiosity about these films went from piqued to wanting to sink the Titanic. I pushed it away from my mind and tried to get away from the iceberg that was Titanic.
Here it is some 15 years later and Titanic is back on the big screen (in 3D too). To top all of this my column lands on April 10th, the day the Titanic set sail for New York. So with stars aligning and all that I thought I would feature Criterion Collection’s new Blu-ray release of A Night to Remember. Now I have said it in the past and I will say it again. A Criterion Blu-ray/ DVD is to be savored. Savored as if it were a fine bottle of wine. This is the best of the best in Blu-rays and DVDs. It simply won’t get any better than this.
That’s is a lot to live up to and Criterion does it again. A Night to Remember (spine #7) is packed full of special features that predate James Cameron’s Titanic. This goes two ways for the special features. The first is that many are from smaller production companies and seem old and stale. However, the upside is they offer a window into how Titanic was perceived before Hollywood’s money-grubbing fascination. That might sound a bit harsh, but these documentaries and interviews aren’t glitzed up. The Making of “A Night to Remember” (1993) is a sixty-minute documentary featuring producer William MacQuitty’s rare behind-the-scenes footage. It does have incredible footage of the real Titanic featuring everything from construction to shipping out. Sadly, this is one dry documentary and doesn’t bare repeat viewings. The first of the two must-see special features are an archival interview with Titanic survivor Eva Hart. She was a teenager on the ship so she has incredible recollections about that tragic night. However when asked about the ship and its voyage she states that her memories are all overshadowed by the sinking of the ship. The worst moment was the horrible silence that happened after the ship disappeared. The second must see special feature is a BBC Documentary about the iceberg that sank the Titanic. Like a profile on a murderer, the BBC tracks its creation and its path into history. Gruesome and creepy, it is an incredibly fascinating feature.
As for the film itself, I had never actually seen A Night to Remember. The dry 1993 documentary did fill me on its conception and production. It is based on the book “A Night to Remember” by Walter Lord which recounts his interviews with some 60 survivors of the Titanic. The film itself I likened to Star Wars Episode 1 in one particular way. There is no real main character. We see what life was like on the Titanic and on the ships surrounding it. We see the mistakes made on the Carpathia as well as the Titanic. It is a tragedy when we know the ending so each mistake hurts all the more. If you are a fan of Cameron’s Titanic then you have probably seen it. I understood then as I do now why he created characters that could take us all over the ship. It really did complete a whole story. Here we see but fragments of people’s lives and the familiarity of the actors give us a little more to cling to.
If there is one main character it would be Second Officer Charles Herbert Lightoller played by Kenneth Moore. We see Lightoller with his wife before setting sail and all the way to the end. He is our best window into seeing different events throughout the ship. I am not saying there aren’t any fine performances here. John Merivale gives an all too brief performance as Robbie Lucas. His complete screen time might be just under 10 minutes, but it lingers with you.
The Blu-ray transfer is, again, incredible. It looks clear and pristine in 1080p. The only things I noticed were tiny scratches in the darkness. The climax of the film takes place at night, obviously. In the darkness behind the characters you can see what time has done to the film. It’s ever so faint but in all that darkness tiny specs of white offer a glimmer of hope that help is on the way. It’s almost as if the Blu-ray is playing tricks on you that perhaps this time, everyone will make it.
I’ll focus next week on the Dark Shadows TV series.
Top 5 Picks of the Week:
1. Logan's Run: Complete Series
2. A Trip to the Moon Restored (Limited Edition, Steelbook) [Blu-ray]
3. Night Gallery: Season Three
4. Dark Shadows: The Complete Original Series (Limited Edition)
5. Starman - Complete Series
ACTION / ADVENTURE / KUNG FU/ THRILLERS / WESTERNS
Caught Inside Starring Ben Oxenbould, Daisy Betts and Sam Lyndon
Kill Starring Ryan Barrett, Pete Soltesz and Thomas Gofton
King of Devil's Island Starring Stellan Skarsgard, Kristoffer Joner, Benjamin Helstad
No Body Found Starring Richard L. Rollo, Keone Dent, Angela Joy Rollo
Terrorists Starring Sean Connery, Ian McShane and Jeffrey Wickham
Terrorists [Blu-ray] Starring Sean Connery, Ian McShane and Jeffrey Wickham
Veteran Starring Brian Cox, Tony Curran and Toby Kebbell
Bobobo-Bo Bo-Bobo: The Complete Series, Part 1 Starring
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