1997 - PG-13 - 194 Mins.
|Director: James Cameron
|Producer: James Cameron and Jon Landau
|Written By: James Cameron
|Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Billy Zane, Gloria Stuart, Bill Paxton
|Review by: Bill King
Not only is "Titanic" one of the greatest examples of movie magic at work, but it is also one of the most put-down films in recent years. James Cameron's masterpiece is a blend of good acting, storytelling and spectacular special effects. It is also superb on the human level. It's one of the most thrilling experiences I've had at the movies.
I would like to rule out right now a common myth about "Titanic": It is NOT predictable. For those of you who haven't seen it, let me ask you, "How does the movie end?" If you say that the Titanic sinks at the end, you're sorely mistaken. Symbolically, it does quite the opposite. Is it even remotely possible that one can predict Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio) obtaining his ticket by a lucky hand at poker? What about Rose DeWitt Bukater (Kate Winslet) wanting to jump off the ship to end her misery? The scene in which Jack successfully wins over most of the party he dines with? The scene in which Jack and Rose dance in the third-class section? This could take forever.
I suppose there are certain aspects of the film that we can see coming. Jack and Rose fall in love. Calvin (Billy Zane), Rose's fiancé, is going to have serious problems with this. Perhaps the fates of certain characters are obvious. Perhaps not. In any case, none of this matters. The simplicity of the story itself is what's important. "Titanic" is a love story that is set against the backdrop of the sinking. It is not about the true life events, nor does it ever claim to be. This is not a filmed version of Walter Lord's "A Night to Remember." There is already a film based on that superb book, and Cameron wasn't opting for a remake.
We learn a bit about Jack Dawson. He's from Wisconsin, but has been on his own for awhile now. He's also a freelance artist, making his living by drawing and working from place to place. After the first night onboard and after being fed up with her life, Rose elects to jump off the Titanic. Jack manages to talk her out of it, but she slips and nearly falls, but Jack pulls her back up. This act of kindness is what ignites their friendship. They will eventually fall in love, and James Cameron wisely concentrates on these two. Their story is at the heart of the film.
From the beginning, we are treated to spectacular sights of the ship. The models and special effects are entirely convincing. However, for the first half of the film, Cameron concentrates on the relationship between Jack and Rose. Cameron understands that without a human element, his film would be just another special effects extravaganza, like "Independence Day." All of his films observe the people at the center of his effects. The special effects serve the story; the story does not serve the special effects.
The main villain here is Calvin, played with gusto by Billy Zane. He genuinely loves Rose, but is bothered by the fact that she would choose this "gutter rat" over him. Calvin's riches and position in society are exactly what Rose hates. Her life of luxury is draining her of her desire to live. In one subtle but revealing moment, Rose watches a mother instructing her daughter on how to sit up properly and spread a napkin on her lap. Rose knows at that point that she would rather be with Jack than live her entire life sitting up straight. This scene, and others that reveal aspects of the main characters, is just what this film needs. Without them, it's just a bunch of flat characters falling from the ship.
When the ship finally hits the iceberg halfway through the film, the tension builds up more and more. When the bad news arrives that the ship will indeed sink, the crew goes about the evacuation procedures. It would eventually take the Titanic over two hours to go under. With hundreds of screaming passengers anxious to get on the lifeboats, Jack and Rose are trapped in the lower levels, along with the third-class passengers, who are unfortunately locked underneath for fear of a mob racing up to the deck. Even throughout the chaos, we never get confused or lost. There is always the sense that we know exactly what is happening at any particular moment. Cameron's direction is flawless, and as the ship sinks further, the special effects come alive and provide for a thrilling and emotionally charged finale.
Since Cameron took the time to develop the main characters and some of the supporting characters, we can feel for them and hope that they can get out alive. Even Calvin, the villain, comes through and takes charge of a lifeboat to get it to safety. In employing these tremendous sets and special effects, we actually get the feeling that we're right there on the ship. The movie works on a psychological level, and we feel just as scared and worried as everyone who is hanging on for dear life. The movie is still concentrating on Jack and Rose, and their feelings for each other come through even at the most inopportune time. Since their backgrounds and positions in life have previously been established, it is believable that Rose would say "This is where we first met!" when they get to the back of the ship.
The movie doesn't end there. There are a few more loose ends to tie up, and Cameron isn't eager to end his story with such an overwhelming finale. Instead, he goes for something more inspiring and worthwhile. "Titanic"'s last scenes are for those who can appreciate a gentle approach after such a thrilling hour of watching the Titanic sink. This is still a movie with real human emotion at its heart, and Cameron didn't forget that, and neither will those who understand what Cameron has made and aren't ashamed to call it an "epic."