To mark the centenary of the sinking of the Titanic, just as James Cameron releases a 3D version of his 1997 moneymaking behemoth, Criterion has brought out a new edition of Roy Ward Baker's A Night to Remember (1958), still the best version of the story. The two-disk DVD (also available on Blu-ray) offers a beautiful new hi-def transfer of the film, shot by the great Geoffrey Unsworth, and includes all the extras from the original 1998 edition (one of the first DVDs the company ever released), plus several new supplements.
After 100 years, the story of the Titanic still maintains a powerful hold on the popular imagination. There have been other maritime disasters which cost more lives, but the sinking of the Titanic on the night of April 14-15, 1912, is the one we remember. There are a number of reasons for this, perhaps the chief one being that the fate of the ship has the elements of classical tragedy – it wasn't simply the sinking of a ship; it was a narrative imbued with great themes.
At the time of the Titanic's maiden voyage, the ship represented the pinnacle of human technological development. It was the biggest, fastest, most complex feat of engineering yet accomplished. As a character early in A Night to Remember puts it: the Titanic was “man's final victory over nature and the elements.” Our inventiveness had finally superseded the powers of the natural world, and surely nothing could stop us as we embarked on a new century rising from the rich soil of the just ended Victorian Age. Although the builders never made the claim, the public believed that this modern marvel was literally unsinkable. In other words, the Titanic was the very embodiment of hubris and, as in all classical Greek drama, its mere existence called for some retribution from the gods to humble our arrogance and put us back in our place. The Titanic didn't simply hit an iceberg; it hit a massive symbol, one which was easily grasped by even the most unsophisticated mind.
But there was more to the story than technological arrogance; there was a complex social narrative involving every stratum of contemporary society, from the richest of the rich to the poorest of the poor, all overseen by the technocrats and businessmen who had built the mighty ship. No wonder the story has been returned to again and again; it offers numerous narrative possibilities.