Clash of the Titanics: two restored re-releases compared
Written and directed by James Cameron
A Night to Remember
Written by Eric Ambler
Directed by Roy Ward Baker
Marking the 100th anniversary of the disaster, the two most famous films about the Titanic sinking have received the restoration and re-release treatment, albeit one of them on a much grander scale. The 1958 British production A Night to Remember, from director Roy Ward Baker, has been given a new digital restoration, receiving blu-ray treatment in North America courtesy of The Criterion Collection and a limited theatrical run in select cities in the United Kingdom. James Cameron’s Titanic, meanwhile, has been converted into 3D for a worldwide re-release. This revival of the world’s previous highest grossing film allows for re-evaluation on the part of its critics, re-familiarisation for its fans, and a chance for those who missed it on the big screen the first time round, like this writer, to see it through the means in which it most thrives, with or without 3D immersion.
Upon revisiting Titanic, the most striking thing is just how well the film has held up and improved over time. Cameron’s much maligned screenplay, for instance, gets a lot more right than it does wrong. The sections with the contemporary framing device are quite bad, some of the supporting characters are poorly realised archetypes, and there’s a fair few instances of problematic exposition. The love story, however, is actually very strong, successfully aping David O. Selznick’s brand of grand, sweeping melodrama to great effect and easily surviving any damage caused by some of Cameron’s occasional dialogue issues. Furthermore, as manipulative as the film is, the depiction of the disaster is nonetheless highly effective on an emotional level: the montage of the doomed set to the strings of the ship’s band, and the lone returning lifeboat’s wafting through the frozen dead, remain absolutely devastating sequences. Avoiding exploitation of the tragedy, the ballad of Jack and Rose acts as just a gateway into a story of history and human disaster; their journey throughout the ship, as well as those of minor characters, allowing for the depiction of each facet of the catastrophe that is suitably horrific and draining.
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