Titanic (1997)

What to say about James Cameron's TITANIC?  Well, you certainly get 
your money's worth.  $200 mil is right there, right up on the damn 
screen, with a lavishly, expertly, meticulously recreated and near-
ly full-size version of the great lady herself.  However it 
succeeds (or fails) as a narrative, by golly Ms. Unsinkable Molly, 
you *do* get to take that once-in-a-lifetime time-machine tour.  Up 
and down and around we're guided, from stem to stern, in and out of 
staterooms, ball rooms, dining halls, cargo holds, and even the 
boiler room.  (And, geez, will you ever forget the sight of those 
massive pistons in the engine room?)  These endlessly fascinating 
period details are the film's greatest asset, guaranteed to hold 
your interest, no matter how expertly (or poorly) Cameron handles 
both the characters and the story.  Well, that is, *both* stories.  
Not counting the curiously flat framing device-- a modern-day deep-
sea treasure hunt, starring Bill Paxton and featuring Cameron's own 
footage (!) of the wreck itself-- TITANIC is actually *two* movies 
in one.

The first is a breezy but embarrassingly juvenile love story, about 
a Third Class boy (Leonardo DiCaprio) and a First Class girl (Kate 
Winslet) and the forces that conspire to keep them apart.  (One of 
which is her well-to-do but narrow-minded fiancee, Billy Zane, 
doing Snidely Whiplash sans mustache.)  JAMES CAMERON'S ROMEO AND 
JULIET runs about an hour and a half and, if the teen romance 
doesn't strike a chord, you're probably doomed to dwell on some of 
the 'worser' aspects of the film:  corny dialogue, repetitive shots, 
weak supporting characters, a cloying Celtic/New Age score, and, on 
most of the daylight exteriors, an odd and presumably special ef-
fects-induced "haze."  And, yet, even if you can't believe it and 
run with it, those ninety or so minutes pass pretty quickly because 
there *is* so much atmosphere to take in.  (Cameron pulls out so 
many stops and delivers such an embarrassment of riches that you 
really have to step back from stepping back to get cranky about the 
stuff that sucks.)

TITANIC-- not *The* Titanic.  Just Titanic-- is also a disaster 
movie.  Perhaps the granddaddy of all disaster movies.  (Or, at the 
very least, the granddaddy of all POSEIDON ADVENTURE remakes.)  Us-
ing computers and models and moving sets, Cameron successfully, be-
lievably, astonishingly recreates *the* great failure of 20th Cen-
tury technology.  Whatever the liabilities of the script-- and, oh 
God, there are so many of them-- the images speak for themselves:
an elderly couple preparing to drown together in bed, the ass end 
of a great ship rising higher and higher into the air, the pained, 
pale expressions of lifeboat passengers, wincing at the distant 
screams of the dying.  It's an hour of film that has to be seen to 
be believed and, perhaps, be ultimately disappointed by.  (In part-
icular, the death throes are drawn out to an almost comic extreme.  
If you're in a sarcastic mood, comparisons to the forever-and-a-day 
finale of SPEED 2: CRUISE CONTROL won't be far behind.)  But when 
we've returned to present day, our tears dried and the pains of a 
poor script promptly forgotten, the likely reaction of any paying 
customer will be, well, that they got their money's worth.  And, 
really, isn't that the name of the game?  With Kathy Bates, Frances 
Fisher, Gloria Stuart, Bernard Hill, and David Warner.  (Rated 
"PG-13"/194 min.)

Grade: B+

Copyright 1997 Michael J. Legeros
Movie Hell is a trademark of Michael J. Legeros

Originally posted to triangle.movies in MOVIE HELL: December 21, 1997

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