Monday, 5 December 2016

I've Just Seen: Titanic (1997)

Director: James Cameron

It has taken until this year for me to see Titanic in its entirety. Twice before, many years ago, I started watching it at a friend's house, only to have to go home as the ship stuck the iceberg. Being younger, and not knowing this was a loooooong film, I thought that I had only missed half-an-hour; really, I had missed half the film!

Of course, no one born in the '90s could grow-up not knowing the famous lines and scenes from the film, and on the strength of those I thought I would absolutely hate this film. Yes, hate it! I am not one for smaltzy romance (comedy makes it go down easier), and I had seen the excellent and very moving A Night to Remember, so I wondered what new aspects of this event could Cameron show me.

Well, and I am glad to say, I was surprised. While the romance left me cold and occasionally cringing at the dialogue, I cannot fault the film's effects. Even after almost twenty years they are eye-catching, and raise feelings of jeopardy for the viewer. The thousands of litres of water, which engulfs entire elaborately designed sets, is pure spectacle, and does what good disaster movies should do: make it impossible to look away. In fact, all the elements of production design, from the sets, the props and the costumes are great - a blown-out budget well spent, and many well-deserved Oscar wins.

If only the story was as merticulously thought out, I would have enjoyed it more.

The issues I had with Titanic's story are the same I had with Avatar's script; way too cliched. Of all the Oscars it won, it was not even nominated for Best Script. More subtlety would have been welcome, and better developed characters. Cameron is good at giving strong roles to women, and Kate Winslet gets to do some fun things as Rose; she saves Jack a few times, and is no wimp, plunging into the rising waters several times, and jumping back on the sinking vessel. Jack is rather underwritten, more of a manic pixie dream boy who teaches Rose how to break out of her upper-class shell and live her life. He also gets to remain young forever, something which no doubt raised his appeal to young women watching the film. (He could definitely have fitted on that door). Kathy Bates was underused - the tale of the Unsinkable Molly Brown could (and should) have been in the film. The only thing Billy Zane lacked was a moustache to stroke as he embodied all the evils of rich men as Rose' intended.

I still prefer A Night to Remember over Cameron's film, but I have a respect for the art of its spectacle, something which places it in the tradition of films like The Thief of Bagdad and Ben-Hur. And of course, I have plugged a massive Titanic-sized hole in my film viewing.


  1. When Titatinc came out I was in my mid-twenties and surrounded by women who when to watch it multiple times in the cinema, in some extreme cases double digits! So I had decided not to watch it and had to be coerced to go with my friends. I am glad I did because there is so much more than a silly love story. By and far though as a BIIIG movie it suffers from the Ben-Hur syndrome. Big budget -> poor script.

    1. Exactly! And a poor script makes me mad, as I know that it could have been better written. But oh well.

      I can't imagine really wanting to see this again, but hey, I am not one to talk. There are a few Bollywood films I have seen more than once that run for four hours.