As far as disasters go, the sinking of the RMS Titanic by a rogue iceberg ranks up there with the Donner party or the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs. Granted, this was nature responding to man's blatant hubris as it relates to our tenuous relationship. After all, man keeps raising the stakes and nature knocks us down a peg. Behold, the unsinkable ship! What is that up ahead, an iceberg? Full speed ahead, Lieutenant Wilde and be sure to scrape the side! Bollocks, we sank and we lost 1,514 souls. Many films have recreated the tragedy that was the RMS Titanic but few can boast being the most historically accurate film about the event as A Night To Remember or the honor of having elements lifted by James Cameron for his blockbuster, Titanic.
A Night To Remember re-enacts the final night of the RMS Titanic from the perspective of the people who sailed on the floating behemoth's maiden voyage. Unlike its modern counterpart, the event did not take a backseat to a tired love story. A large portion of the film is told from the perspective of Second Officer Charles Lightholler, the most senior member of the Titanic's crew to survive the disaster. The choice of Lightholler as a principle protagonist allows for a better interaction with many of the important people from this event in history. Plus, it does not hurt that the man survived the event while tirelessly coordinating the efforts for saving the doomed vessel's passengers. It definitely makes for a more compelling character than the tandem of Jack and Rose.
For being a fifty-four year old film, A Night To Remember holds up quite well and this is not simply referring to the special effects (namely, the models). Both the screenplay and cinematography stand out for recognition. This is quite evident by the fact that James Cameron not only re-used dialogue from this film but several shots framed by Geoffrey Unsworth. The folks over at the Criterion Collection did an exemplary job with the restoration and transfer of this film. Call me pretentious but I am sucker for a vivid blacks in an old black and white film, an aspect which makes a lot of the Criterion releases so fantastic.
A Night To Remember definitely earned its place within "important classic and contemporary films" pantheon that is the Criterion Collection. I will be the first to admit that the Criterion Collection contains some great films but also some exasperating choices that have been included. A Night To Remember rightly deserves this recognition is a film that goes beyond its genre for the era that it came from. Outside of the Titanic sinking in one piece, the film really is quite accurate in its portrayal of the disaster. When this accuracy is coupled with the groundbreaking special effects of the time, top notch acting, and amazing cinematography, I cannot think of a better way to spend a Saturday night than drinking a bottle of great wine and watching an even better film.