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Site created 12/15/97.


review added: 8/26/98



Titanica
1992 (1998) - IMAX (Miramax/Buena Vista)

review by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits

Film Rating: B+
A solid documentary of an expedition to the Titanic. Although just one of many such programs that are now popular since James Cameron's film took the world by storm, this one benefits from the experience and quality of IMAX.

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A-/A/F
Generally excellent picture (with a few minor flaws) and great Dolby Digital sound quality. But zero extras really hamstring this title.

Overall Rating: C+
Great if you're into the lore and history of the tragic shipwreck, but otherwise, this barebones DVD is not worth the price.

Specs and Features

67 mins, unrated, full frame (1.33:1 - close to it's original aspect ratio), single-sided, Amaray keep case packaging, film-themed menu screens, scene access (13 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1), Close Captioned

Review

Leonard Nimoy (of Star Trek fame) narrates this hour-long documentary about the great ship Titanic, and the tragedy that befell her. The IMAX Corporation interviewed a number of historians, scientists, Titanic experts, and survivors of the 1912 sinking for this film. They have also followed an actual deep-sea expedition to visit the wreck site, filming some spectacular large-format footage of the doomed ship.

Titanica was filmed aboard the Russian research vessel Akademik Keldysh, and her two submersibles Mir I and Mir II. Interestingly enough, this is the same ship and crew that director James Cameron later worked with to film footage for his Oscar-winning film. There are several fascinating moments here. There's an interesting story about how the workers who built the great ship, used to hear banging noises inside the hull, and feared a man had accidentally been sealed inside during the construction - a bad omen. Eva Hart, one of the survivors of the wreck, recalls how her mother got a bad feeling about the trip, when she learned they would be travelling on the Titanic. During the one of the dives, it's fascinating to watch the mini-power struggle between Yevgeni Chernyayev (the submersible pilot) and Ralph White (the cameraman and navigator), as they argue about whether or not to open a piece of luggage found on the sea bottom. White is chomping at the bit to see if the bag contains perhaps the ship's log, but the others are insistent that he doesn't have the right to disturb it. There's also a scary moment where one of the submersibles collides with the wreck, and gets stuck for a short time. Fascinating.

The video quality is generally excellent. Some of the footage, particularly the shot-on-video stuff, is absolutely crystal-clear. However, some of the filmed footage, including the film taken of the wreck, exhibits a little too much edge-enhancement. This is noticeable as a slight 'shimmering' effect seen in the fine detail. Unfortunately, this is a problem that plagues nearly all of Buena Vista's DVD releases. I'd guess that it results from using transfers done for previous VHS and laserdisc releases, rather than new, all-digital transfers done specifically for DVD. DVD requires no edge enhancement - all of the detail is retained in the picture. This is why you should have your TV's sharpness control turned almost all the way down when watching a DVD. Having it up simply adds undesired noise. Which, because of a post production adjustment (made with formats other than DVD in mind), is what you get here anyway. Oh well. If only Buena Vista would put a little more effort into their discs, and run some new transfers...

As for the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio, there are some very good surround effects here - great use of the sound field to create ambience. This is particularly noticeable in the shots inside the subs. Listen to chapter 7, at about 37 mins - the scene where one of the subs gets stuck. Right at the start of the film, there's another cool effect, as a wave sweeps over the deck of a ship (chapter 2, about a minute into the film).

Unfortunately, there are absolutely no extras on this disc at all - not even alternate languages, or subtitles (other than English captions). Well, OK... there is the annoying Additional Titles section (all Miramax titles, having nothing at all in common with this film). Very disappointing given the premium price Buena Vista asks for their DVDs. One other note - this documentary has been altered from its original theatrical presentation, to include newer footage and information. I have not seen the original version, so I can't speak as to how the alterations effected the overall quality or effect of the film.

Bottom line

Titanica is a good documentary, there's no doubt about it. But it's pretty tough to recommend a DVD that retails for $29, and has not a single extra. If you dig documentaries on the tragic sinking of the Titanic, then by all means, buy this disc. Otherwise, you might want to think twice.

Bill Hunt
billhunt@thedigitalbits.com




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