- Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1
- Resolution: 1080p/24 (23.976Hz)
- Video Codec: AVC/MPEG-4
- Audio Codec: 1.0 Mono PCM, 1.0 Dolby Digital
- Subtitles: English
- Region: A (Region-Locked)
- Rating: Not Rated
- Discs: 1 (1 x Blu-ray)
- Studio: Criterion Collection
- Blu-ray Release Date: March 27, 2012
- List Price: $39.95
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We have lived for more than a decade, for better or worse, with James Cameron’s recreation of the Titanic disaster. A Night to Remember, released in 1958 was based on Walter Lord’s best-selling account of the same event. This film is in a whole different league with respect to its script, direction, and, where it counts the most, its cast. Remembering that special effects were limited in that era and that the story was already well known, Eric Ambler (an accomplished author in his own right) produces an intelligent script that focuses on individual crew and passengers. Unlike Titanic, this film makes every effort to get the story right and without a silly romantic subplot. In the relatively compact two hours of this Titanic story, the iceberg collision occurs in the first 30 minutes, leaving most of the drama to the events of the ship’s sinking. Roy Baker turns in a directorial masterpiece, getting all of the actors to deliver their best. Even though few cast members are or were household names in Hollywood (this is a UK production after all), there is a humanity to the featured players that has eluded its successors. You also get sneak previews of future stars like Sean Connery, David McCallum and Honor Blackman. In true Criterion Collection fashion, there is scrupulous attention to video remastering; however, the soundtrack is unvarnished mono. Taken as a whole, this is a very successful re-telling of the most famous shipwreck in modern history.
The video restoration of this classic is outstanding in most respects. Films of this age have unavoidable patches of grain and loss of detail, issues that are minimized in this account. Motion artifact is unobtrusive and infrequent. The 1.66:1 aspect ratio rather than the usual 1.33:1 ratio of this cinematic generation yields an impressive screen-filling picture. The frequent close and tight camera work enhances the dramatic effects of the chaos that surrounds the final moments of the Titanic’s sinking. One appreciates the small details like the child’s hobby horse or the silver serving tray moving with increasing speed around the deck as a metronome to the increasing tempo of inevitability.
There are two choices here, the original mono 1.0 PCM and a revamped Dolby Digital 1.0 version. Fortunately or unfortunately, this latter and better quality soundtrack has ongoing commentary by Don Lynch and Ken Marschall, author and illustrator of “Titanic: An Illustrated History.” Try as I might I could not turn the commentary off so for those wishing an unadorned soundtrack, the 1.0 PCM option will provide clear dialogue but with little ambience.
I wish that other studios that are in the reissue business would spend as much time on extras as the Criterion Collection. The following are included:
- The making of “A Night to Remember” with behind-the-scenes footage from producer William MacQuitty.
- Archival interview with Titanic survivor Eva Hart
- En natt att minnas (1962) a Swedish documentary containing interviews with Titanic survivors
- “The Iceberg that Sank the ‘Titanic” (2006): BBC documentary
- Theatrical Trailer
You may think that you know everything that there is to know about this historic and tragic event. I can assure you that these documentaries are fascinating and fill in many details.
The Definitive Word
“Even God himself could not sink this ship.” I remember reading this quote ascribed to a White Star lines staff member in Walter Lord’s documentary novel that inspired this film. Producer MacQuitty made sure that the tight story line, crisp dialogue and careful character delineation was preserved as much as possible in the screen adaptation. Without the “benefits” of Technicolor, CGI effects or surround sound, A Night to Remember demonstrates the importance of top-notch direction, writing, and acting. In the end, shipping disasters are not about the ships at all but about the people on board. The crew and passengers of this Titanic are credible flesh and blood human beings who make you regret all the more that so many were lost. Even if you have seen the Cameron version of Titanic, and who hasn’t, this film presents a no-nonsense alternative that will move you like no film account of this event has done before or since.
Additional Screen Captures