movie film review | chris tookey
 
     
     
 

Titanic

 (12)
© 20th Century Fox, Paramount Pictures - all rights reserved
     
  Titanic  Review
Tookey's Rating
7 /10
 
Average Rating
9.40 /10
 
Starring
Jack Dawson .............. Leonardo DiCaprio , Rose DeWitt Bukater....... Kate Winslet , Cal Hockley .............. Billy Zane
Full Cast >
 

Directed by: James Cameron
Written by: James Cameron

 
 
 
Released: 1997
   
Genre: DRAMA
ROMANCE
EPIC
   
Origin: US
   
Length: 194
 
 


 

An impecunious, 17 year-old socialite (Kate Winslet) is engaged to be married to a rich, philistine snob (Billy Zane), and - though travelling first-class - feels trapped and suicidal. A third-class passenger and aspiring artist (Leonardo DiCaprio) saves her, literally and metaphorically, from throwing her life away. Over the next three hours, of course, they fall madly, picturesquely and heroically in love. Meanwhile, their ship sinks.

Reviewed by Chris Tookey

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Twice before, with Terminator 2 and True Lies , writer-director James Cameron directed the worldís most expensive movie. This was his, and the cinemaís, costliest production yet. Had it sunk without trace, it might have taken two of Hollywoodís major studios, Twentieth Century Fox and Paramount, with it.
Fortunately, Cameron is an expert in the manufacture of epic movie moments, and the computer-generation of audience awe. The result: one of the worldís worst man-made disasters became one of historyís biggest success stories. Titanic swept the Oscars, equalling the record of 11 set by Ben Hur in 1959. It made Leonardo DiCaprio the leading heart-throb of his generation. It became the first movie to break the 1,000 million dollar barrier.
Titanic the movie proved unsinkable, even though critics poked holes in its dialogue, scoffed at the banality of its love story and pointed out numerous breaches of onboard etiquette, logical implausibilities and historical inaccuracies.
Titanic is like Tinseltown itself, a curious mixture of the sophisticated and the vulgar. Itís magnificent but mindless, awe-inspiring but absurd. At its best, itís unforgettable. At its worst, itís like an episode of The Love Boat, directed by Cecil B. De Mille.
Cameron follows the example of the 1953 Hollywood movie, Titanic (which starred Clifton Webb and Barbara Stanwyck) and creates a fictitious story to involve us with two of the shipís American passengers on its maiden voyage from Liverpool in 1912.
Kate Winslet rarely looks younger than 27, while DiCaprio - though supposedly a man of the world - seldom looks older than 17. However, they bring vitality and spontaneity to roles which are anachronistically written and corny as hell. Comparisons with Scarlett and Rhett in Gone With the Wind are wide of the mark, and these two are about as Edwardian as Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze were in Dirty Dancing. But they are sympathetic.
Billy Zane fares less well, saddled with a role which requires him to act like a melodramatic villain, and speak in a way unbefitting any gentleman of the period; and David Warner plays the demeaning role of Zaneís manservant as though with the smell of rotting fish up his nose (it could be the pong of all that rotten dialogue).
The biggest failure of the movie is that it fails to bring its subsidiary characters to life - something that the British film of the disaster, A Night To Remember (1958), did much better. And, although Cameronís exposition of why the Titanic collided with an iceberg and sank is clear and convincing, there is mysteriously no mention of why a nearby ship - the Californian - failed to answer the Titanicís S.O.S. (its radio operator was asleep) or respond to the distress flares seen by several of its crew.
Perhaps it doesnít fit in with the thrust of Cameronís thesis, which is that the upper classes, and especially the English, are to blame.
In common with virtually every Hollywood movie of the Nineties, Titanic bashes the English - as usual, weíre cold, cowardly, conceited and cruel - while bathing the lovable lower orders, multi-ethnic and overwhelmingly Irish, in golden light.
Iíve seen the film likened to Lawrence of Arabia, presumably because of its scale, but itís nowhere near that classy, or interested in getting at the historical truth.
Cameronís screenplay deserves criticism for its anachronisms, on-the-nose dialogue and profound shallowness, but it is cleverly structured. It constantly confounds our expectations, right from the start, when we expect to find ourselves in a costume romance but find ourselves apparently in a sci-fi adventure.
Cameronís attempt to turn the movie into a modern thriller - with salvage expert Bill Paxton hunting through the wreckage for a diamond necklace - isnít very interesting or convincingly resolved; but he does manage to generate real suspense about whether both young lovers will survive, and how.
Titanic does involve the emotions. It establishes a hero and heroine about whom audiences - especially young audiences - can care. And, like most of the truly great romances - Casablanca, Gone With the Wind, Romeo and Juliet - it doesnít fight shy of a tragic ending.
Its emotional impact lies in the fact that it makes even the most blase of us feel what it must have been like on the Titanic. One moment, in particular - the shot of innumerable frozen corpses, bobbing as though in some mediaeval picture of the damned in the River Styx - has a mythic force.
However resistant you may be to the central love story, there can be no one who, at this point, does not experience precisely the emotions that Cameron intended: horror, pity, grief and a shared guilt on behalf of those who survived.
Titanic achieves something that movies do better than any other art form. It enlarges our experience and enables us to share that experience with others, in the most vivid way. It makes us feel we are in the story.
Technically, the film isnít flawless (some of the matte shots and digital effects are obvious), but Titanic is a reminder that people love spectacle. Most of Titanicís predecessors in popularity - from D.W. Griffithís Birth of a Nation to Spielbergís Jurassic Park - have been on the grandest scale.
Titanic cost more to make than any previous movie, but the expenditure went not on hiring superstar actors, but on glamorous production and state-of-the-art special effects.
Even Cameronís severest critics would acknowledge that the final hour is an extraordinary visual achievement. Titanic is not overblown or pretentious. It tells the story of a colossal disaster, which requires the big screen to capture its full horror. And it contains the stuff of everybodyís worst nightmares - drowning, freezing to death, falling from a great height...
The film offers another, almost unique curiosity: special effects that go beyond the merely shocking or terrifying, and create a sense of wonder.
The scene in Jurassic Park which made it an all-time great was not any episode of violence, but that first sight of a brachiosaurus eating leaves from a tree, followed immediately afterwards by a landscape full of dinosaurs. Technically superior though the sequel was, there was nothing in Jurassic Park: The Lost World, to match the wonder of those moments.
The equivalent sequences in Titanic are of the barnacle-cloaked, sunken ship dissolving back into luxurious life. The curious thing is that, each time it happens, it carries more emotional impact. At first, it seems merely a technically skilful transitional device; by the end, it creates a much deeper kind of awe. It seems, in some mysterious way, to be fulfilling a deep human fantasy, the notion that one can bring the dead back to life.
It is a paradox that this most technically advanced of films should also address one of mankindís deepest anxieties at the end of the twentieth century: fear of technology. Many of the filmís most unforgettable images exemplify a pride in industrial invention. The gleaming new steam-driven pistons in the engine-room are magnificently hubristic.
If the sinking of Titanic was a tragedy and not merely a disastrous accident, the film makes it clear that the sins which destroyed it were pride in technology, the arrogant belief that man had tamed his environment.
Itís precisely the same anxiety that Steven Spielberg tapped into, in Jurassic Park, where - in a succession of brilliant images of Sam Neill and the children nearly being killed by a falling car, an electrified perimeter fence, and a failed computer system - Spielberg showed that the real monster of his movie was not any dinosaur, but modern technology that was out of human control.
Much of Titanicís power derives from similar deep-rooted fears, lurking far beneath our faith in computers and all the other excrescences of industrial society, that we are not fully in control of our technology, and that every time we think we have conquered our environment some new phenomenon or some ancient force of nature, will arise to shake our self-confidence.
Finally, Titanic taps into our late twentieth-century fears that conspicuous consumption will play a part in our undoing. Much of its subliminal appeal lies in its suggestion that the excesses of the rich contributed to the deaths of so many poor. Wrapped up in its Edwardian clothing is a very modern guilt about the materialistic Eighties.
Though itself a product of technological hubris and a monument to conspicuous consumption, Titanic succeeds in tapping into our residual puritanism and a millenarian pessimism which many find more appropriate in the Nineties than ever before.
The critics were right: Titanic has many faults. But it is a spectacular achievement that could only have been made in the Nineties, it had to be seen on the big screen, and it responded to some of our deepest fears and desires - and that wasn't too bad, to be going on with.
Sample line: "I guess you could call me a tumbleweed blowin' in the wind."
(Leonardo DiCaprio)
"We're doing spectacle. Spectacle costs money."
(James Cameron)
ďTheyíd have to pay me an awful lot of money to work with Jim Cameron again.Ē
(Kate Winslet)
In answer to a reporterís question: ďHas the success of Titanic changed your husband?. ďNo, heís always been a jerk.Ē
(Linda Hamilton)

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