This is two movies
Having just seen the full three-hour version, I've decided the two versions are so different they should be considered two different movies. When reviewing it, it's important to clarify which version you're reviewing.
The short version is perfunctory and summarized, quite lacking by comparison to A Night to Remember. The three-hour version is marvelous. It’s the operatic version of A Night to Remember, if you will. It’s stylized, deeply moving, powerful, tragic, fascinating and lyrical.
The most obvious difference between the two versions is that the three-hour version begins aboard the Carpathia with the rescue of the survivors. In a scene reminiscent of James Cameron, Bruce Ismay (in a surprisingly sympathetic performance by Ian Holm) looks over the side at the wreckage bobbing in the water, lamenting, “That’s all…a few chairs…all that luxury, all that beauty, so much gaity…a few chairs…” We then pan across the useless chairs floating in the ocean, and suddenly…music strikes up! And the wreckage dissolves into a wide-angle shot of the opulent Grand Staircase, and the beautiful Titanic is poised to set off on its maiden voyage.
It’s much deeper and more fleshed-out than the two-hour version, very stylishly told. If A Night to Remember is a documentary, then S.O.S. Titanic is very much a movie. If you see what I mean. It puts you there on the ship, surrounds you with people that really existed, and plays the story out in a stylized way, with lots of poetic license but always an eye to what it must have really been like. A Night to Remember shows you what happened and why, S.O.S. Titanic explores what it meant to the people who were there and why it fascinates us to this day. No, it’s not as good or as richly detailed as A Night to Remember, but it’s tremendously powerful and moving. Some might argue that it has more emotional impact than A Night to Remember – I disagree, I think A Night to Remember has tremendous emotional impact, but like 2001, it depends on what you bring into it -- but S.O.S. Titanic, with its music, images, juxtaposition, and unusual storytelling, does make you feel the impact of the disaster. If I may be a heretic, I think the three-hour version is better than the James Cameron soap opera.
The sets are badly inaccurate.
The actors don’t look or act like the people they’re playing.
Lots of dramatic license.
The Californian is missing from the movie completely.
The special effects, though impressive for TV, sometimes look pretty fake.
Additional scenes not in the two-hour version:
An extended prologue documentary featuring file footage of the Titanic and a summary of its construction and sinking.
Many extra lines in various scenes.
Chief Officer Wilde writes his sister about the near-collision with the New York.
A peddler cons John Jacob Astor into buying expensive linens.
Jack Thayer and Milton Long spy on women in the Turkish baths. (A VERY STEAMY SCENE!)
The boot shiners talk about seducing stewardesses.
Thomas Andrews pays a visit to the linen room for tea.
Renee Harris trips and falls on the Grand Staircase and breaks her arm. (This really happened.)
Renee shows up for dinner with her arm in a cast, and passengers applaud.
A wild party in steerage.
Scenes of loading and lowering the lifeboats are much longer.
The Titanic blows off steam to prevent the boilers from exploding.
Michel Navratil puts his kidnapped children in a lifeboat. (They were not identified until weeks after the disaster.)
Many extra scenes of survivors rowing away from the ship.
There’s music during the scene when Ida Strauss refuses to leave her husband.
There’s music during the scene when Lawrence Beesley jumps into a lifeboat.
Henry Harris puts his wife in a lifeboat.
Benjamin Guggenheim asks an unidentified person to tell his wife that he dressed in his best and went down as a gentleman.
We hear the screaming of swimmers after the ship sinks.
Fifth Officer Lowe insists they can’t rescue anyone. (Inaccurate: Lowe was the only one to row back to rescue swimmers.)
Bruce Ismay lies sedated in Dr. McGhee’s cabin aboard the Carpathia.
Collin R. Skocik