Saturday, April 28, 2012

TITANIC (1997): Good or Bad Movie?

What one thinks about Titanic I suspect depends on the reasons why a viewer sees the movie.  Despite all his rhetoric about class differences, it may have actually been the intention of James Cameron to market the movie towards 15-year old girls.  For such an audience the movie delivered.  It also delivered for nostalgic movie buffs looking for the most important overblown epic romance (with great visuals) since Gone With the Wind.  But no one can seriously suggest that Cameron delivered a scathing statement about how we treat our poor.  The movie is cardboard entertainment - from start to finish.
Old Rose from Cedar Rapids, Iowa tells this story to her grandchildren.  We have the good people: Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Rose (Kate Winslet).  And we have the bad people: Cal Hockley (Billy Zane playing Rose’s fiancĂ©), Ruth (Frances Fisher playing Rose’s mother) and Lovejoy (David Warner playing Hockley’s man-servant).  Ruth is priggish, Cal is a ruthless tyrant and Lovejoy is a sycophant.  Since there is no subtlety in this movie, Ruth and Cal are unsurprisingly very rich.  Rose is expected to sit with the boring first class passengers, but finds being with Jack to be much more fun.
Rose and Jack manage to get it on just about every imaginable place in the ship.  They also conduct a series of poses now and then that look really good on camera.  Jack even gets Rose to pose nude for a painting.  It seems like the only upper-class passenger on the boat pleased that Rose and Jack get together is the “Unsinkable” Molly Brown (Kathy Bates).  Anyway, the antics go on for so long to the disapproval of so many that we almost forget the ship is about to sink.
Well, we now know the ship did sink 100-years ago.  In the film Captain Edward James Smith (Bernard Hill) hurries the ship along against his better judgment while the ship is enveloped by a fog and scrapes the unsinkable boat against an ice berg.  The passengers all panic.  Rose is about to leave on a lifeboat but can’t leave Jack behind.  Jack, of course, is destined to die because he is poor while Hockley is to survive because he is rich.  Anyway, as if the sinking of the boat isn’t dramatic enough, Hockley becomes so upset that Rose fled the lifeboat to reunite with Jack that Hockley decides to start shooting at them amid all of the other chaos.
Jack and Rose eventually escape the ship and do swim to a piece of wood on the water.  However, Jack must immerse himself in the icy water to make room for Rose.  Jack freezes to death and Rose is eventually rescued by a lifeboat.  Meanwhile, Hockley gets to be a passenger on a lifeboat only by deceptive means.  (It does him no good because Rose wants nothing to do with him.  We learn that Hockley later shoots himself in the head after the stock market crash in 1929.  One impression one comes away from watching Titanic is that all 1500 people that died because of the shipwreck were good hearted poor people.)
We then fast forward some 80-years.  Eventually, the nude portrait of Rose is discovered by some treasure hunters while searching through the Titanic’s wreckage and the painting is presented to the old Rose.   Rose likely dies in bed while gazing at it.
Titanic is 194 minutes (or over three hours long) and it could easily be chopped in half.  Cameron could maybe then have saved a bit of the $200 million that was spent on the film (though he certainly has made that back in box office receipts).  The film has absolutely no character development.  The rich people are snobs and the poor people are all charming.  And I could think of almost no film that was any less predictable than this one – though I might have expected Hockley to at one time or another to exhibit human traits in the film.
As if the film didn’t already make enough money, Cameron decided to release a 3D version of it to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Titanic’s sinking.  For a whole new generation of movie watchers this will be great entertainment.  However, I feel sorry for anyone that feels the need to watch the film once again.  At most, viewing this movie should be a one-time experience.  And even seeing it one time will likely traumatize certain viewers not used to such cloying sentiment. 
But it did win an Oscar for Best Picture …..
April 28, 2012
Robert S. Miller © 2012

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