Release Date: December 19th, 1997 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: James Cameron Actors: Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Billy Zane, Kathy Bates, Frances Fisher, Bill Paxton, Gloria Stuart, Bernard Hill, Jonathan Hyde, Victor Garber, Suzy Amis
ne of the most epic and monumental productions ever attempted, “Titanic” incomparably soared to the top of the box office charts in 1997. Winning 11 Academy Awards including Best Picture, this critically acclaimed film retroactively takes a lot of heat for catering too much to female crowds (more chick flick than disaster movie), or manipulating with weepy sentimentality. However, the historical tale of this doomed monstrosity of the sea packs quite a bit of action, stunning special effects, a sweeping score, and magnificent set designs that can appeal to everyone’s sense of wonderment.
Brock Lovett (Bill Paxton) and his crew of deep-sea treasure hunters investigate the ruins of one of the most famous of all wreckage sites: the final resting place of the Titanic. When they discover a drawing of a beautiful young woman (Kate Winslet) wearing the “Heart of the Ocean” diamond – the prize jewel they’ve been searching for – they announce it on the news. Rose, the woman in the portrait (now a 101-year-old lady, played by Gloria Stuart), comes forward to claim ownership of the sketch. Fascinated by the thought of uncovering the secret history of the gem and untold details about the fateful night of the legendary ship, the crew patiently listens as Rose tells them about her adventure and romance with Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio) aboard the surely unsinkable luxury liner in 1912.
What begins as little more than a treasure hunt quickly turns into a colossal romance on the Atlantic between two unlikely acquaintances. Their love is consubstantial to many notable onscreen romances, considering that the boy is poor, the girl is rich, and society would never condone such an arrangement. A snobbish mother (Frances Fisher) and a wealthy, high-class suitor (Billy Zane as Cal Hockley) supplement that picture. Zane’s character is particularly formulaic, with his regular, deplorable shows of pride, hotheadedness, and persistence in underhanded maneuvers. Additionally, Kathy Bates plays Molly Brown, the equally stereotypical, kindly older lady who helps Jack fit in so that he can properly woo his girl. And even Jack and Rose are moderately generic – the naïve young girl who thinks only of ending her life as an escape from her position of decision-making helplessness, and Jack as the street-smart, carefree, live-by-the-moment scoundrel. The love story is essentially a fairy tale, complete with every role one would expect from pure fantasy.
Aiding this in no way is the acting, which often falters between acceptable and horrid, chiefly as the screenplay shifts to reflect obnoxiously insincere comments and jests. With the irony of mentioning Picasso as a hack (not even being recognized by his first name), or Freud as a passenger on the ship, or the several hints as to the absence of light and binoculars with which they might have spotted the iceberg, the dialogue is routinely unpersuasive. This is considerably unforgivable when accounting for the star power and the sizable budget. The worst offender of all is Kate Winslet, who alternates between monotonic and lethargic while delivering many of her early lines with noticeable amateurishness – and yet she would be nominated for an Oscar over DiCaprio. Leonardo is only slightly more authentic – although, in all fairness, the dialogue feels so modernized and petty that perhaps the actors didn’t have much to work with. The captain (Bernard Hill) and the steerage band convey more convincing emotion through mere glances and stares.
For all of its glamour and pizzazz, “Titanic” is just too unnecessarily long. With a running time of over three hours, it seems hardly important to include so much about the older Rose as she narrates the story. If the film had covered only the events on the British cruise ship during its brief journey, not only would the pacing have been better, but also the story could have been more involving. Each time the camera cuts back to the elderly Rose, the audience is jarringly yanked out of the moment and away from the characters they actually care about.
However, writer/director James Cameron still admirably demonstrates his expertise with suspense. He masterfully orchestrates and choreographs chaos and panic as the ship begins to sink – frenzied doubly by seizure-inducing lights, screaming children, and mob mentality violence. When the boat begins to capsize, it’s both believably unnerving and, visually, unbelievably cataclysmic. Stirring music (James Horner won an Oscar for the score, while Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” became the hallmark of the film) and seamless special effects add to the thrills – it’s just a shame it takes so long to get to that point.
– Mike Massie