Forget that we know how it all ends; it’s the drama of dealing with eventuality that tells the real story here.
In April of 1912, White Star Line launched the R.M.S Titanic on its maiden voyage to New York City. “The Ship of Dreams” was a floating palace for the wealthy elite, reportedly “unsinkable” by incorporating the latest in shipbuilding technology. After winning a pair of third-class tickets for himself and a friend in a poker game, Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio) looks forward to returning to his native America but finds himself drawn to a first-class passenger named Rose (Kate Winslet). After a chance meeting on the ship’s fantail with Rose threatening to hurl herself into the ocean, an unlikely romance begins, but Rose is already promised to ‘Cal’ Hockley (Billy Zane), a high-society gentleman that doesn’t like to lose. On April 15th, an iceberg in the North Atlantic tests the character of everyone on board, from the ship’s captain to the poorest passenger.
When someone mentions James Cameron’s 1997 film Titanic, groans of Celine Dion, Leonardo DiCaprio, and throwaway teen romances often follow (for many diehard fans, of course, these are the selling points). Rewatching a freshly minted, fully restored, and 3D converted edition of Titanic reveals all, however; the film is an accomplishment of filmmaking and a masterpiece on practically every level. On the question of being worth the extra charge for 3D, the answers is wholeheartedly yes; the digital transfer is so pristine that you can count the pores between the stubble on Bill Paxton’s face, and the 3D conversion looks so good that it’s hard to believe it wasn’t shot this way. If you’ve never seen Titanic, this is the way to experience it.
But isn’t this all just backdrop for a fictional romance? There are so many stories regarding the individual passengers and events leading up to the Titanic’s sinking that keeping track of them all would be impossible; there were just too many things going on. Cameron brilliantly created a fictional romance to not only provide an audience-eye view to the disaster but also walk through and touch on all the other stories through the eyes of those characters. While it’s true that the film centers on them for the bulk of the film, it affords viewers the opportunity to experience all of Titanic’s final moments through their contact with each of them. It’s a cheat, certainly, but a clever one that works perfectly to do what no prior film about the Titanic has been able to.
Did you know that only one half of the ship’s top decks were built, then shot reversed with backwards signs and costumes to mirror the other side and complete the illusion? Like Avatar, Cameron used every trick at his disposal to make Titanic as realistic as possible. Also to the director’s credit, no shots or continuity changes appear to have been made to appease any self-perceived mistakes on the creator’s part (no Han Solo shot first revisions here). When compared to other films with similar but ultimately failed ambitions (Pearl Harbor comes to mind), it’s easy to dismiss a film like Titanic as a mere romance or just a disaster film. For those naysayers, Titanic’s success speaks for itself (eleven Oscars), and that three-hour plus running time still goes by very quickly even by the short-attention span standards of today.
When people talk about classic films of the past, movies like Ben-Hur and Gone With the Wind are most often mentioned for their popularity, success, and accomplishment. Fifteen years after Titanic first opened in theaters and on the eve of the 100th anniversary of the actual ship’s sinking itself, will future generations look back on James Cameron’s film with the same kind of reverence? I’d like to think so, but only time will tell.
(a four skull recommendation out of four)