Synopsis: A boy and a girl from differing social backgrounds meet during the ill-fated maiden voyage of the RMS Titanic.
Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Billy Zane, Frances Fisher, Kathy Bates, Gloria Stuart, Bill Paxton
Director: James Cameron
Running Length: 194 minutes
Random Crew Highlight: Special Effects Makeup: Old Rose ~Greg Cannom
TMMM Score: (9.5/10)
Review: If you are a fuddy-duddy who still clams to hate this movie you can stop reading right now. I’ll have another review up soon that you can read but I know I’m not going to change your mind about Titanic. What I find most interesting about the people that don’t like this is that most of them haven’t even seen it! I can understand why this wouldn’t appeal to everyone but as someone who loves a good epic and who is fascinated with the history of the ill-fated ship, I continue to be a big fan.
Fuddy-duddys…are you gone?
15 years after it was released and became a box-office phenomenon Titanic is back with an 18 million dollar 3D facelift and the results are pretty great. I’ve seen the movie twice in the last week and both viewings provided very different experiences. As we move forward in the review I’ll speak about a few key differences I noticed between the two showings.
Here’s my first piece of advice…while it might be nice to see this from the comfort of your own home or the VIP seats at the ICON I’m going to go against my usual recommendation and advise you to see this at an IMAX 3D theater (Southdale or Rosedale). On IMAX screens the sound was better, the picture was clearer, and the scope of Cameron’s vision was more vividly on display.
Some slight special effects quibbles aside (sometimes in long shots the actors look like SIMS), the last decade and a half have been quite good to Titanic. The 3D is utilized quite well in giving the ship depth and making you feel more a part of the action. It’s not clunky or gimmicky but really illustrates all the work and research that went into recreating the time and place that this ship existed. If anything, the 3D was more self-serving on Cameron’s part than an outright method of making the film more money than it already had. (Cameron’s own Avatar replaced it as the highest grossing movie of all time.)
What’s still so hard to believe was that Titanic was rumored to be a bomb before it came out. Delayed from a summer opening because the effects weren’t done, there were whispers that the film was in trouble and out of control. Keep in mind this was before the rampant rise of the anonymous tipster and leaked early screening reviews. In fact, MN was the first place that Titanic was screened under a huge veil of secrecy (was anyone reading this at that screening?) and Cameron has stated that several pieces of feedback he received here influenced the shape the picture. The movie finally arrived in December of 1997 and the rest is history.
It had been years since I’d seen the film again in full so I was excited to have another chance to experience Titanic all over again. It just so happened that I double booked myself into seeing it twice within three days – but that turned out to be just fine with me as the movie still maintains a great pace making 194 minutes sail by.
Shot before they were true A-List stars, DiCaprio and Winslet were clearly on their way up the Hollywood ladder when they were selected to star in Titanic. Both had Oscar nominations under their belt and Winslet would nab another nomination for her work here. I’m not the biggest fan of DiCaprio’s later work but he was unjustly ignored for a nomination here…Winslet’s incredible but she doesn’t do it all alone. I can probably see why she was recognized over him but that’s not to say his performance wasn’t nomination-worthy. The only other actor to find herself with an Oscar nomination was Stuart playing Winslet as an old woman. Stuart’s performance seems a bit shaky after all these years but she does have several memorable moments – as the catalyst for kicking the story off she works well with what Cameron was going for.
The chemistry between DiCaprio and Winslet’s Jack and Rose is stronger than ever and even though we might know the two were more like brother and sister offscreen they seemed perfectly matched here. Maybe they don’t smolder as much as they could but it’s clear why the two are drawn to each other and how their brief time together influences how their story ends up.
Cameron is really a master at creating epics with two or three subplots that could be movies themselves. In True Lies, the central storyline is pretty much abandoned for the subplot revolving around Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jamie Lee Curtis’s fractured marriage. Right when you’ve forgotten you were seeing a spy actioner Cameron snaps you back to reality and ties the storylines together. That’s true for Titanic as well. The film starts in one place, veers to another for an extended amount of time and then watches as both plotlines intersect and move forward as one.
The only problem I really have with Cameron the screenwriter is his tendency to let the actors narrate what they are doing as they are doing it. It’s almost as if he doesn’t think the audience will keep up with him and maybe he’s right. Still, I highly doubt that anyone needs to hear DiCaprio and Winslet both utter the lines “This water is cold!”…I think we probably already guessed that. I want to go on record as saying that I still hate the spitting scene…it’s gross and even if it does set-up something later it’s never been my favorite. Plus, it’s clearly ad-libbed and Winslet/DiCaprio aren’t very good at it. Also not very good: Danny Nucci’s terrible Italian accent. It’s as if all he had to practice with was a recording of “That’s Amore.”
Supporting characters are key in Cameron’s films as well. From Paxton’s surfer guy delivery (actually…doesn’t he always talk like that) to Fisher’s sinister turn as Winslet’s mother to Zane’s almost cartoony villain there is no archetype left on land. Best of all is Bates as the “Unsinkable” Molly Brown. In a role originally intended for Reba McEntire, Bates makes every moment count like the pro she is. Various others fill out their duties as passengers and crew of the doomed ship and each carve out their roles quite well…it’s a melting pot of accents and styles but it does all work in the end.
The effects are glorious here as is James Horner’s much lampooned score. One probably can’t get away with reviewing this without mentioning “My Heart Will Go On” and Celine Dion’s performance of it. Again, remember that before it was playing in every elevator and being sung by every drunk girl at karaoke it was a bona fide power ballad that actually did go on and on. Listening to it as used in the movie, it’s free of the vocal melisma Dion would start to apply to it in concerts to change it up. I also enjoy that the theme is used in several key spots to highlight a particularly romantic section of the movie.
Even though Cameron took a few giant liberties with the story, his attention to detail is what really pushes this film into the timeless classic territory. Endlessly and obsessively researched, you can see this is a labor of love for him…a true passion project. When a director invests that much of himself into the mix it can be hard to be subjective but I think what’s in the movie is perfectly placed and well executed.
Is a return trip to Titanic worthy just to see it in 3D? Yes, actually, it is. It deservedly won 11 of the 14 Oscars it was nominated for and from a technical standpoint alone it’s required viewing in my book. You can fast forward through the slightly overly saccharine middle section if you must but there is good work to be seen here. I especially think it’s interesting to have seen this as a teenager and now seeing it again as a true blue adult. I reacted differently to it this time around and found myself paying attention to the sadness of it all rather than the grand epic-ness during its initial release.