Titanic (1997) Directed by James Cameron
It's always rather strange to me how I get these pangs every couple of years to watch Titanic. Despite being massively disappointed on every viewing (this time must have been my 6th). I suddenly expect Titanic to mature with age, as if any future viewing of this film will perform a miraculous task and become, you know – even slightly relevant. I actually like a lot of Cameron movies, the first two Terminator films. Aliens is masterful, The Abyss – long version – is cool geek sci-fi and I enjoyed Avatar's coy green message. But Titanic seems an anomaly in Cameron's pictures, until you start to look rather more closely at the small similarities with his other films (especially The Abyss). As the film is being finally launched in the inevitable 3D version (and it's also the 100 year anniversary of the real Titanic's ill fated maiden voyage), now seems a potent time to revisit this 3-hour movie. I'm still affronted that this most successful film of all time (until Avatar at least), still works for audiences despite everyone knowing the ending.
What did I learn this time? The first half an hour of Titanic with the old Rose telling the modern day diamond scavengers her tale is efficient and interesting. Then we go back in time, with the first shots of the Titanic and it becomes obvious that CGI has not been kind to Cameron's original version (the 1997 version is what we're reviewing). The ship now seems super-imposed onto the screen causing the authenticity often aimed for in Titanic to seem cheap. This lapse in special effect occurs throughout the picture and in 2012 almost feels embarrassing. Then we have the main focus of this tale of the Titanic: the fictional Jack and Rose. Rose, the rich girl forced into an arranged marriage to save the family name. Jack the budding artist from the street who saves Rose from a marriage of convenience and the inevitable sinking. Yes, Cameron delves into class culture on the deck of the doomed Titanic and in doing so, almost wrecks his own film. Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet play the class breaking lovers Jack and Rose, with both having since forged careers of substance from this wreckage.
The often infantile plot line that Cameron affords Jack and Rose's improbable romance still can't derail the spectacle of the Titanic's actual sinking. Here is where Titanic finally lives up to something. Cameron manages to capture some of the anarchy that dwarfed the Titanic as passengers finally realized they were doomed. It's not nonsense to suggest that the scenes of the ship splitting in two and rising out of the sea before its final plunge to the abyss have become somewhat iconic. This part of the film grips and stays with you. Death is dealt with in casual abandon, hope gone and desperation revealed. It takes over two hours for Titanic to deliver, phew...yet it's not enough to save the picture. I can't forgive Cameron for wasting Bernard Hill (as the ship's virtually waxwork Captain) or David Warner as a mere typical baddie. Frances Fisher as Rose's mum takes acting honors with very little to work with. So Titanic didn't feel any better and the rated Leo and Kate still feel like the picture's achilles heel. In 2012, with Titanic interest at an all time high, Cameron's film may just quench your thirst for the things you already know. Those events that feed our imagination and fascination with the ship, Cameron gets right. As romance Titanic is a weak indulgence, sentimental nonsense parading as cinema.
This takes me back to when I was a teenager and seriously in love – for the first time. I think I saw Titanic on TV and never went to see it in cinema. I remember school friends telling me they saw the film and that I should see it too, but I refused. It annoyed me that Titanic was such an Event. It highlighted the fact that I wasn't following my time, so I decided to define myself by refusing to see the film...very smart. I also, remember that everyone discussed Kate Winslet's weight and her looks. Apparently she wasn't thin or pretty enough in the way that the 1990s heroin chic defined acceptable appearances. I felt uncomfortable in these discussions, not having seen the film and sporting bright orange very long hair. So, eventually I did see the film and it moved me more than I ever cared to admit. I was a girl who never cries in movies.
Time went by and I returned to Titanic with Nick. We saw it again and again at different stages of love over the last ten years. The film got gradually worse and worse for me. Nick had to persuade and beg for me to watch it. For some reason this is one of his favorite films to watch when he can't make me sit through Independence Day. I can only see the film's faults by now: it's way too long, the romance is too unreal and juvenile, the portrayal of classes could not be more shallow and stereotyping, the soundtrack is the worst ever and the scenes taking place in 1997 seem to be there only for the director's pleasure and challenge (Cameron loves to dive).
On this viewing, amongst all my complaints I did find my new favorite character: Rose as a granny. I hope to be such an experienced old person one day with a young woman's heart. Throwing the ugly blue diamond in the ocean was really the best thing to do, although I wonder why she held on to it all those years until then, when she despised the giver of the diamond so much...
Today it is 100 years from the day that Titanic, the real ship, took off on its first and only voyage. There were 63 Finnish passengers on the ship. I wonder if any of them made it to New York. I doubt it, as they were mostly 3rd class passengers locked in downstairs when the ship started to sink. How awful. I may not want to travel by boat for a while. And I certainly don't need to see this film for at least 10 years.