Titanic

James Cameron’s chronicle about the maiden voyage of the “ship of dreams” is simply put, one of the greatest films of all time. Like Gone with the Wind for its era, this was THE epic romance for the 90s generation. Sweeping in both historical charm and emotional intensity, it was the most expensive movie ever made, with an estimated budget of $200 million. It could have been a recipe for bankruptcy for the studio but it ended up earning 1.8 billion worldwide to become the world’s highest grossing picture until Cameron beat his own record with Avatar 12 years later. Now it has been re-released presented in a new 3D print amid much fanfare. While the 3D transfer is adequate, what justifies watching this is the chance to see this saga on the big screen where it really shines best.

What sets Titanic apart is the skillful union of a technically dazzling disaster movie with a captivating art house period piece. Witness how the director deftly draws us into the drama. This takes patience and he lays the groundwork right from the beginning. Cameron uses a framing device where we are introduced to the adult Rose DeWitt Bukater, aged and forgotten in the modern day. As she tells her story, we flashback to 1912, the time of Titanic. The filmmaker didn’t have to frame the action this way. He could have just started 30 minutes in when the Titanic is getting ready to embark, but that’s a testament to his genius, He subtly provides a contemporary audience a deeper bond with this woman who survived. Rose is the woman forced into an engagement with Cal Hockley in order to maintain her family’s status. Jack Dawson is the young vagabond that unexpectedly wins a ticket aboard the same ship. Initially Rose is somewhat difficult to like. She comes across as a spoiled brat and Jack literally confronts her with that same description. But Jack makes her likable. We see she her true personality come through their relationship and we ultimately fall in love with them as a couple. We certainly care for Jack and Rose, our two principals, but Cameron actually takes the time to create involving vignettes around the passengers as well: the ship’s captain, the ship’s designer, the musicians in the band , the travelers in steerage vs. the those in first class. We’re introduced to all of them. This isn’t a group of nameless unknowns.  These is a community with families and feelings and lives that are doomed to die. It makes the final hour that much more tragic.

Titanic is by no means a perfect picture. Of the 14 nominations, it failed to earn one for its screenplay and that’s not entirely a surprise. The script is a bit amateurish in its effort to set characters up with awkward dialogue. Many of the biggest groaners come from Rose’s fiancée, Cal Hockley played by Billy Zane. At the start he declares how indestructible the Titanic is. “It is unsinkable” he asserts “God himself could not sink this ship.” Cue laughter. Then later when discussing art he opines, “Picasso? He won’t amount to a thing. He won’t, trust me.” Ah, the screenwriters clumsily paint Cal as an idiot. I get that. But when Rose laments “Half the people on this ship are going to die” was it really necessary for Cal to sneer, “Not the better half.” And what about his character? Why does Cal settle for a woman who clearly hates him. She makes no secret of the fact that she despises him. Couldn’t Cal find a woman who truly loved him, even for the cad that he is. He’s sophisticated, good looking and very wealthy at least. Was Rose seriously his only option for a wife? But I digress, these are mere quibbles.

Titanic is the embodiment of a gifted director working at the top of his craft. His eye for detail is masterful. Of course there’s that spectacular final act that is the standard for non-stop, heart pounding excitement. But what many directors fail to establish is a cast we sincerely care about. That’s what makes a tragedy something we merely endure versus something we actually tear up over. We should be emotionally connected to the people. Throughout the course of 3 hours and 14 minutes Cameron expertly builds a real connection to our leads. A masterpiece combining technical skill of an action picture with the engaging theatrics of a tear-jerker, James Cameron’s Titanic is a stunning achievement. Critics continue to deride its success as dubious hype over a feature unwarranted of such praise. I disagree, It deserves its place among such popular works as The Sound of Music and Star Wars as one of the great achievements committed to celluloid. This is a film for people who love film.

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24 Responses to “Titanic”

  1. Movie was awesome. Leo seemed a little too young. But loved it. 3 d was just ok.

    • I agree with you on both counts. Despite the fact that Leo was actually a year older than Kate, it doesn’t appear that way. Jack looks so boyish compared to sophisticated Rose in the film. The 3D was tolerable, but not worth the upcharge.

  2. Phenomenal. I loved this movie: 3D, movie, the whole nine yards. There was a review of this in the newspaper that shocked me; it said that it cost $18 million to convert it to 3D, more than the $15 million budget of this years’s Best Picture Oscar. But there’s James Cameron for you. I’ve seen all but two of his films (The Abyss, Piranha Two), and I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen this one.

    • James Cameron is a smart man. People are excited to see the film again. Just $18 million investment for a monetary return that will be much much more than that. Re-releasing old films make sense, but I’d see them without being in 3D as well. Gone with the Wind, Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago: these should all be seen on the big screen.

  3. I doubt that i will go see this at the cinema as i have a big enough home cinema projector screen. My local cinema is showing it in both 2D and 3D versions, but if i did go it would be purely to see what the 3D transfer is like. After the experience of perhaps the laziest post-conversion 3D process on Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace, i swore that I would never go see another post-conversion movie that wasn’t at least shot with the intention of being made into 3D. A surprising example of how well you CAN do this with a movie shot entirely in 2D is Wrath Of The Titans, which has the best post-conversion 3D that i’ve ever seen thanks to well planned shots. The problem stil exists with converting movies that were filmed prior to the current 3D trend, and Cameron, as much of a pioneer of the technology he was with Avatar, had no way of knowing how to setup the shots during filming back in 1996.

    • Several times throughout the film I noticed that nothing appeared to be in 3D. I took off my glasses and there wasn’t the typical fuzzy image of a 3D picture. It just looked just like a normal print. When some people are paying $14 to see a 3D movie, I think the expectation is much higher. That aspect was disappointing, but I didn’t dwell on that in my review because I love the film so much.

  4. Great review, especially that last paragraph. I fell in love with Titanic from the first time I laid eyes on it. I remember watching it at the movie theater when it first came out (I must have been 6 or 7) and now I’m so happy I’ll be able to experience that again. As I’ve said before, this movie also has a special place in my heart because it was filmed relatively close to my hometown. Titanic is timeless and has endless replay value. I agree that the script has its flaws but in technical aspects it is perfect.

  5. excellent review Mark. I have not seen this 3d version, but like you said, i think this is masterful movie. the drama was very involving.

  6. correction to above: like you said, the eye for detail is masterful.

  7. sanclementejedi Says:

    Mark, maybe I am just stubborn but, I refused to participate in what I viewed as group think when this film was released. In fact I still have not seen it. Still liked checking out your review. Seems like some people love this film and some people hate it.

    • Whenever a film becomes massively popular there’s always a faction that reacts against its unbridled popularity. Titanic is no different from any other runaway success.

      Let me ask you. Have you also avoided these films?: Gone with the Wind, Star Wars, The Sound of Music, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, The Ten Commandments, Jaws, Doctor Zhivago, The Exorcist, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

      All were massive money makers in their time as well. “Group think” or just darn good movies? 🙂

      • sanclementejedi Says:

        Well I skipped all the harry potter, transformers and twilight films and those made money hand over fist

        I am sure your not suggesting large box office equals film quality? 🙂

        I honestly have not seen Doctor Zhivago

    • I’m suggesting the converse: large box office doesn’t make a film inferior.

      • sanclementejedi Says:

        Thank goodness 🙂

        Mark I am not saying Titanic is bad, as I have never seen it. But I have read a lot of both positive and negative comments about the film

        Hope you don’t mind I was rattling the cage a bit 🙂

    • Not at all. I was more surprised with your hatred of Titanic without having seen it. But after watching it, if it still leaves you cold, well at least that would make more sense. I suspect you won’t like it, but you’ll never know if you don’t try. 😛

      • sanclementejedi Says:

        Mark I never said i hated it I just said I had made a choice to never see it and that I had heard mixed reviews.
        Also I am trying to keep my streak alive of being the last person on the planet not to have seen the film. 🙂

  8. Great review Mark! I thought it was very masterfully written. While I don’t share the same affection you do for this movie, I was glad watched it in the theatre but Lord almighty…damned if I could be convinced to watch this again in 3D…I prefer Cameron’s other masterwork – The Abyss – now THAT I would pay to see in 3D!

    What releases are on the horizon for another possible podcast?!?!

    • I’m not really a fan of 3D so I too was disappointed with that part of it.

      What are you guys seeing next? I’m watching the horror film, The Cabin in the Woods this weekend. There’s also The Avengers coming soon. But even if you wanted me to recap U.S. box office for a B.A.N.G Show or comment on the films in the UK top 5, I’d be more than happy. 🙂

  9. moviewriting Says:

    Great review as aways Mark. I’m not too sure about seeing this again. I remember seeing it at the cinema the first time around and I think I was the only person who didn’t cry (clearly a heart of stone from a young age!). I’ve heard that the 3D has triggered migraines for some people over here, so that’s enough to put me off really. I don’t think it’s available to see at my local cinema in 2D so may just catch it at home.

  10. I’m not at all surprised this film failed to get an award for its script. Movies of the titanic have been done before and whereas visually the newer version excelled, the script was so incredibly inferior to its forerunners. This version of the titanic had an impossibly amaturish plot and characterizations.

  11. Mark, can you have a category on your website where all the movies that you have rated 5-stars can be viewed ?

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