Titanic (1997)

In 1997, James Cameron’s “Titanic” was released after a great deal of publicity. There were delays over the release date and it went way over budget. As it turned out the movie broke numerous records at the box office and won a record tying 11 Oscars including Best Picture. “Titanic” would become the “Gone With the Wind” of its generation.

Cameron sets up the movie in the present day as a crew led by Bill Paxton is searching for the hope diamond in the wreckage and comes across a drawing of a passenger wearing it. We discover that the woman in the drawing, Rose De Witt Bukater, is now 101-years-old and a survivor of the sinking. She joins the crew to relive the events of the disaster.

A clever device is used that is the key to setting up the whole movie. Cameron shows us via computer graphics what happened when the ship struck the iceberg and how it split apart before sinking. We also see footage of the ruinous ship as it looks today before Cameron dissolves to images of the Titanic as it appeared during the 1912 voyage. Rose (played as a young woman by Kate Winslet) is about to embark on the voyage with her scion fiancée, Cal Hockley (Billy Zane). At the same time there is a poor young artist, Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio), who wins his ticket on the voyage from a poker game. Rose feels trapped with Cal so she meets Jack and their romance develops as the backdrop to the tragedy of the Titanic voyage.

Anytime fictional characters are used to tell a story involving real events the filmmakers run the risk of contrivances. For the most part Cameron succeeds because he is a good storyteller. He introduces us to the major players and spends the first two hours guiding us around the ship taking us into dining rooms, through steerage, underneath where the laborers are operating the ship. We meet the captain, the mathematician, the designer, and all the important real- life individuals who were there. While this is going on in the background Cameron draws us into the fictional love story between Jack and Rose.

The casting of Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet as the two lovers is one of the most essential ingredients of the movie’s success. Romances in the movies depend greatly on the chemistry of the stars and DiCaprio and Winslet have it. Because we care about the fate of the two lovers we become immersed in their plight so that when the sinking occurs it terrifies us. If Cameron hadn’t drawn us into their story and DiCaprio and Winslet hadn’t made us care about them, the melodrama wouldn’t have worked and the ending wouldn’t have moved us.

As soap operas go “Titanic” features numerous flaws that cannot be overlooked. Cameron is a good storyteller but his development of characters and themes is cliché and the dialogue is often laughable. Billy Zane is forced to play a hiss-able villain and he does all he can but the role is one-dimensional. Cameron’s class-consciousness is naïve to the extreme. He shows us that poor people have good hearts and know how to have fun in contrast to the mean, boring rich people. These conventions undermine the movie but because Cameron is a good director when it comes to momentum and pacing we can gloss over the flaws.

The last hour involving the sinking of Titanic is expertly crafted. The image of the ship breaking apart and bobbing in the ocean before it goes under takes on a haunting grandeur. One kind of movie that Hollywood has lost the desire to make in the past two decades or so is the popular, large-scale epic that was so successful in the fifties and sixties. “Titanic” was that kind of movie. I first saw it on a 70-mm print at the Grauman’s Chinese theater in Hollywood. It created a sense of awe in the audience. “Titanic” is the kind of old fashioned movie experience that Hollywood is good at but no longer has the desire to make.

1 thought on “Titanic (1997)”

  1. I can see from your review that you clearly know your stuff when it comes to deconstructing a movie. I also like the fact that even though you appear to have a positive response to the film, you are still able to have the distance to see its flaws.

    I personally wasn’t a fan of Titanic. Despite this I agree with you when you mention that certain parts of the movie are really haunting e.g . when they are searching for survivors in the water. Also, when Leo and Kate’s characters get sucked down with their half of the ship, that is truly terrifying!

    Over all I liked your review but I think it could do with being a tad shorter.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Post

The TerminatorThe Terminator

The Terminator is a sci-fi action movie taking place in 1984 and 2029 Los Angeles.  The stars include Arnold Schwarzenegger as the Terminator,  Michael Biehn as Kyle Reese, Linda Hamilton

The debt-ReviewThe debt-Review

            Thirty years ago, agents Rachel Singer (Helen Mirren/Jessica Chastain), Stefan Gold (Tom Wilkinson/Marton Csokas) and David Peretz (Ciaran Hinds/Sam Worthington) were on a mission to capture the Nazi doctor,