100 years after an iceberg defeated the 882-foot luxury liner on its maiden voyage, scientists and historians are still exploring the Titanic. Armed with modern camera technology, submersibles were sent down to the ship's final resting place with the hope of capturing HD 3D visuals of the wreckage, in order to support or even confirm theories about the damage that took the boat down. Now, History Channel has brought some of that footage home in this 45-minute TV special, presented in 3D so that future generations can see it for themselves.
Like most historical TV specials, "Titanic: 100 Years" doesn't deviate much from the usual style: talking head interviews, some dramatized voice-over taken from letters and journals of the crew of the Titanic, and the 3D footage itself, which has an eerie ghost-town quality to it. The 3D in the title may also refer to a 3D mock-up of the boat used to illustrate some of the the boat's progression underwater.
Although the 3D footage looks spectacular on this Blu-Ray, there's still a feeling that the filmmakers may not have taken advantage of the technology. With the advantage of depth and dimension, fading between the 3D model of the ship and the actual 3D footage of the wreckage would be a great way to help increase a sense of geography. Although each of the locations seen in the footage is identified with an on-screen caption, only one shot uses little animated lines to help the viewer make sense of what they're seeing on screen. It's hard to make visual sense of a destroyed cabin without an idea of where, say, the door is (or was). It's possible that this was not done to avoid potentially copying the format of James Cameron's Ghosts of the Abyss (which itself is arriving on 3D Blu-Ray this year), but, having not seen that film, it feels like a real missed opportunity.
More importantly, without utilizing the 3D properly, the special lacks a "hook." A good chunk of the material is built around a first-hand account by second mate Charles Lightoller, with the filmmakers and interview subjects using the 3D footage to illustrate how the wreckage corroborates Lightoller's memories, but it feels less of a focus than the most frequently used resource. Another option would be to try and make something more definitive, given that this is a centennial; hell, even a little comparative history on other expeditions down to the wreckage would give this special a new spin. Overall, this is an interesting and entertaining special that I enjoyed, but if you put it in a lineup with some documentaries on Titanic from Discovery or PBS, I'm not sure it stands out.
The 3D Blu-Ray
"Titanic: 100 Years" comes in a standard Blu-Ray eco-case (the kind that uses less plastic) with the Blu-Ray 3D logo printed on it. The art has a picture of the 3D model (as opposed to the 3D footage) inside the standard History Channel home video packaging template. There is no insert inside the case. When the disc is put into your player, it will detect whether you are using a 3D or 2D set-up and choose the appropriate format, and it will also ask whether you want to view the menu in English or Dutch.
The Video and Audio
For the most part, this 1.78:1 1080p MVC presentation looks really great. Colors have a nice pop, fine detail appears very strnog (although the limits of submersible cameras might be a little different from normal HD cameras), and I didn't pick out any digital defects (although I imagine there's a little aliasing on the 3D footage). More importantly, depth and dimension are great when viewed in 3D: the ocean naturally provides a million reference points just with junk floating in the water, and it's interesting to peer into the ship when the camera peeks down some cracks and crevices. The one issue is crosstalk, which seems more intrusive on the edges of the frame during the interview segments, particularly around the star on the flag hanging behind the participants.
Sound is a standard Dolby Digital 5.1 track. I'm sure someone will be mad that A&E didn't spring for full HD audio, but this track more than gets the job done with crisp separation between the narration and the background audio, and during interesting surround segments that use overlapping voice-overs to depict the passengers of the ship. English, Spanish, Dutch, German, Polish, Danish, Swedish, and Norwegian subtitles are also included.
Even without the filmmakers making as much out of it as they can, the appeal of cruising over the Titanic in 3D is seems like a nice convergence for a history nerd looking to show off a new 3DTV, and they beat Cameron's film (both of them) to the market. This disc would be better with some other Titanic History docs on it, but the feature presentation is enjoyable enough for a recommendation>/b>, especially if you are that person.
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