Titanic (1997)


Directed by: James Cameron
Starring: Kate Winslet, Leonardo DiCaprio, Billy Zane, Kathy Bates, Bill Paxton

Though rarely referred to as a genre flick – and if so, most often categorized as a romance – the biggest movie in the world is nothing but a very, very expensive disaster movie. Yes, that would be James Cameron’s Titanic, which not only became the highest-grossing movie ever to date but also scooped the Oscars with 11 wins, giving Cameron himself opportunity to proclaim himself “king of the world”.

Whatever you might think of this film – and as celebrated as it is it does have its detractors – you can’t argue with the craftsmanship. James Cameron is a very talented filmmaker and an equally excellent technician, if not the most subtle guy working in Hollywood.

Part of what made Titanic such a huge hit is the forbidden as well as doomed romance between upper-class girl Rose and working-class slob Jack, played by the excellent Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio. But for some of us, the highlight of the film is not Kate’s and Leo’s tryst in the automobile or their iconic ‘flight’ at the stern of the ship, or even their desperate last moments in the freezing water. All of this is very well done, to be sure, but what makes the movie worthwile for disaster film fans is of course the drawn-out struggle of the wounded ship itself and its spectacular final destruction.

Because this, you see, is a James Cameron film. James did two Terminators. James knows destruction. And James is obsessed with the Titanic. Thus, the whole process from the initial collision to the bitter freezing end is rendered in loving detail. Sure, having Jack chained up deep down in the ship as the water rises, or having Rose’s villainous fiancée running around with a gun as the ship goes down is pure melodrama, but we also get to suffer with the third-class passengers who are trapped on the lower levels, so as not to disturb the finer folks upstairs, and left to drown. And the final death spasm of the Titanic, as she breaks in two and sinks below the surface, is a stunning sequence with flawless FX work. (Did I mention that this is a James Cameron film?)

Cameron might be criticized for laying it on a bit too thick. But that was – obviously – good box office sense. A strightforward retelling of the Titanics voyage from port to the bottom of the sea without a big love story and despicable bad guys and intrigue and theft and treasure would probably not have raked in a billion dollars worldwide. And to be fair, it’s all in keeping with classic disaster movie aesthetics, where you’ll have the main characters solving their personal problems or falling in love or quarrelling or threatening each other with guns as volcanoes or earthquakes or storms reduce the surroundings to rubble.

It’s overly long, and the romance gets a bit too overblown for my personal tastes (and that Celine Dion song really gets on my nerves) but once we get to the gist of it, Titanic delivers a lot of disaster movie thrills.

Rating: 4/5


4 Responses

  1. Serena says:

    I just never could get past my initial reaction of feeling like it was a sort of insult to the people who died in this REAL LIFE TRAGEDY… to make a fictionalized version of events. What, were none of the *actual* passengers’ stories interesting enough for James Cameron? The definitive and faithful film-retelling based on survivors reports, had already been done and I saw this movie as completely unnecessary. Crass and exploitative. And the central love story is SO CLICHED. The poor guy/rebellious rich girl story has been done. A lot. If you haven’t already seen it a billion times in movies from the silent era on, portrayed by better actors and better writers… then maybe you can be moved by Cameron’s trite handling of it. And what’s with the gratuitous nude scene in a movie not rated R? Cameron wants kids to enjoy the carnage so he can sell more tickets, but he just can’t resist leering at the female form. Wrecked the end of Alien when Sigourney was objectified. And of course it didn’t surprise me to hear that he bragged to Playboy mag about sexifying the female lead in Avatar. Man he disgusts me.

    Oh, and I’d rather watch a fictional movie about a ship sinking ’cause honestly what kind of sicko can truly “enjoy” watching something tragic based on true events? All those 9/11 re-enactment movies were exploitative too.

  2. Serena says:

    May I ask why my comments on your blog all appear to have been deleted? I don’t recall saying anything offensive. I remember complimenting your reviews, and then sharing my own opinion about the movie. What’s the problem? If you don’t want comments/discussion, why is there a comment form on your blog?

  3. Serena says:

    Ooops…well, I don’t know why the comment didn’t show up at first (it did last night, but not just now). Sorry about that and feel free to delete!

  4. Crippa says:

    I wouldn’t dream of deleting your nice and thoughtful comments, Serena. The confusion most likely has to do with the blog being setup so that I have to approve comments from new commentators before they show up, and I don’t check into the site every day. From now on, your comments ought to show up immediately, though.

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