There’s really nothing I’m gonna say here that hasn’t been said before in another (probably better) critique or dissection, but the fact that you’re continuing to read this sentence certainly says something about the film’s lasting appeal. Or my writing. Either way.
James Cameron’s “Titanic” was up against almost insurmountable odds – a $100 million budget that doubled over the shoot, an unsafe set sending crew-members away with illnesses and broken bones, a skeptical press who were all too happy to declare the film a studio-sinking disaster. But, much like the film itself, we all know how it ended. I don’t need to tell you that “Titanic” was a cultural juggernaut, nor that much of the film’s appeal comes from our uneasy anticipation of the name-sake’s disastrous sinking.
“Titanic” is about a boy and a girl who fall in love on a ship and the ship sinks and the boy dies. But you knew that. The cringe-inducing “it’s the journey, not the destination” aphorism holds true here. The appeal and quality of this film is, very simply, watching it all play out. This film fulfilled the fantasies millions of romantics out there for a reason, and that is because it’s a damn good love story.
Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet still have an undeniable spark as the poor, artistic, dreamy guy and the upper-class teenage girl who’s being shipped off to marry a steel-tycoon. They meet aboard the 1912 luxury liner touted as “unsinkable”. Once the Titanic strikes a massive iceberg, however, everything descends into utter chaos as its a mere matter of hours before everything sinks into the icy Atlantic.
Books have been written about the extensive production values at work here — the impeccable costumes, lavish sets, full-scale recreation of the true-life ship, et-cetera. They’re every bit as excellent as they were when they swept the Oscars 15 years ago. Still ringing less true is writer-director-producer-editor James Cameron’s shoehorned, half-assed “rich people are stiff, poor Irish people rule” class commentary. Never bought it, never will. Billy Zane’s overdone embodiment of the “rich white jerk” archetype still raises eyebrows. I still hate Celine Dion’s song with every fiber in my body.
Although Cameron stumbles in assigning social meaning to the characters, there’s still some interesting stuff he gets across. “Titanic” is an interesting snapshot of the moment that American class-distinction began to fall into chaos, where humble immigrants and noble tycoons alike gained equal stature in society.
Cameron, too, is a fantastic emulator of the sort of old-school, epic Technicolor splendor that Hollywood once embodied. It’s a world of only good and bad, life and death, joy and sadness, beauty and chaos, with very little middle-ground between the two. Absence of subtlety isn’t always a bad thing. Seeing “Titanic” on the big-screen for the second-time, this time older than 13 months, was a revelatory experience: not just because the added third dimension brings an entire layer of depth and splendor to the proceedings, but because it goes to show how, sometimes, works of art with wholly earnest intentions win out. Irony isn’t always prevalent in this world, but I have a feeling that “Titanic” just may be. A