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: Movie Review - Titanic
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Nov 29th 2009
(This review will not try to avoid spoilers, so SPOILER WARNING if you haven't seen Titanic, which is to say, if you do not live on planet Earth)
A successful story, in any storytelling media, is not the same as a good story. "Twilight" is undeniably a successful novel. Three chapters in, I wanted to cut my carotid open. "Transformers" is an undeniably successful film. And it's also a badly-directed, over-cut, loud and stupid piece of shit.
It had been a while since I've watched "Titanic". Hell, I think I was a teenager last time I did, and I was only seven years old when the movie was released to overwhelming success. I would watch it years later. My young impressions of the film were very positive, but I'm not the person I was years ago (thankfully), so I decided to watch it again to determine whether or not, from my point of view, this film deserved the success it got. And also because I've been hearing a lot of people say, "I don't like Titanic" or using the film as proof that James Cameron's next project, "Avatar", will suck.
The verdict is that, once again, James Cameron's film immersed me completely in its admittedly conventional but incredibly compelling love story, which is vital in creating a connection between the viewer and the death of 1500 people in the real life tragedy of the Titanic. Fuck yes it deserved the success it got. It's a painstakingly researched, passionately crafted film, with the dedication of Cameron and his crew displayed in every frame. It's also surprisingly humorous, achieving an amazing emotional balance, something made much more challenging by the sheer scale of the story.
It's pretty much futile to complain about the unidimensional nature of some of the characters, because that was the point. One thing I love about this film is how relentlessly it satirizes aristocracy, and to achieve this effect, it's no wonder Rose's family are absurdly stuck-up and snotty. This leads to several priceless moments throughout the film, and makes the contrast between Jack and them (when they're all sitting on the same dinner table) even stronger. And let's not forget: we're hearing the story from Rose herself, and I doubt her impression of these characters stretched beyond "what a bunch of cunts".
And even though the premise of the movie's core romance is conventional (poor boy, rich girl, etc. etc.), Cameron avoids cliches when developing the actual romance itself. Jack and Rose's chemistry always rings true, because it makes perfect sense. She's a rebellious aristocrat, feeling trapped in a predictable life -- as she herself puts it, "I saw my whole life as if I had already lived it." And he is a smart and adventurous man, the one person in her life who seems to truly care about her -- something established right when they first meet, when Rose is about to commit suicide, and he threatens that if she jumps from the ship, he will "have to" jump in after her.
Always a brilliant storyteller, Cameron avoids melodrama by constantly balancing the dramatic and romantic scenes with humorous moments that hit the mark, even (and especially) during the sinking of the "Titanic". One of the best of these moments is when Rose needs to break Jack's handcuffs with an axe, and he asks her to rehearse it on an object first, with disastrous results.
Equally important was holding composer James Horner back -- and keep in mind this is an unfair statement, since for all I know Horner held himself back of his own accord. But really, all you need to do is watch "Glory", directed by Edward Zwick, to see how ridiculously melodramatic the otherwise talented Horner can be. In "Titanic", however, the music is used to perfection. Whenever a scene needs the famous score, it's there, never overdone. Whenever the scene needs to work solely on dialogue and sound effects, the music disappears -- which is particularly important on scenes with romantic dialogue, where music would have been excessively emotional.
After one hour and a half establishing Jack and Rose's relationship and other interesting characters like (the real-life) Unsinkable Molly Brown, the sinking of the Titanic begins. This sequence, well over one hour long, has always fascinated me for its magnificence. From the impeccable editing to the amazing special effects, it's impressive and emotionally wrenching thanks mainly to Jack and Rose, who work as a way of immersing the viewer into the film to the point where you truly feel every death onscreen, and you honestly care about the crew's survival as well as Jack and Rose's.
Which is why, proving his competence for the umpteenth time, Cameron never spares the viewer, filming every death in appaling and relentless detail, never turning his camera away even when portraying the death of children (something particularly disturbing when one of the frozen bodies the rescue boat finds is of a woman with a dead baby on her arms).
(Cameron does slip in his portrayal of the real-life William Murdoch, though -- on the film, he commits suicide after killing two desperate passengers with a pistol. This is entirely ficticious (although it can't be proved it didn't happen -- or that it did) and the Murdoch family wasn't happy about it.)
(continued in comments)
Nov 29th 2009
As the director, James Cameron not only does an amazing technical job (building an almost full-size replica of the Titanic definitely paid off onscreen), he invests heavily in the story he's telling, especially in some beautifully nostalgic shots when a camera travels through the sunken wreck of the Titanic and dissolves, without interrupting the camera movement, back to 1912, showing the same location brightly lit and full of passengers. Cameron saves the best of these shots to the very last scene, which, without a single word being said, portrays Rose's life after the Titanic in a continuous, fluid and perfect camera movement. Cameron is aided by the convincing recreation of the time period and by the amazing cinematography, which is especially impressive when the Titanic's lights switch off as it sinks, and the lighting manages to convey the darkness without becoming unclear or losing its aesthetic beauty.
Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet have exceptional chemistry, also being utterly convincing in their respective roles -- there is a moment when Winslet's character sees a rich little girl, sitting near her, being taught etiquette by her mother. Winslet manages to make it clear that she's seeing herself in that little girl only with a terrified, but subtle look in her eyes. And Leonardo DiCaprio, in an early display of his now proven talent, refuses to rely on his then-boyish looks, using his charisma and impeccable comic timing to turn Jack into an excellent character. I particularly like the look on his face when Rose takes her clothes off in front of him, and the way he shakes, nervously, after sex -- a brilliant and subtle touch. The rest of the cast, from the captivating Kathy Bates (as Unsinkable Molly), to the heartfelt Gloria Stuart (as the older Rose) and the arrogant Billy Zane (as Caledon Hockley) are, as a whole, convincing and competent.
In fact, Jack seems to be based on none other than his creator, James Cameron himself -- it's no wonder that all the drawings in Jack's book were actually drawn by Cameron, an exceptionally talented artist, and that on the scene Jack draws Rose, it's Cameron's hands drawing her, not DiCaprio's -- not to mention Jack has the same adventurous spirit Cameron had when younger, and still has to this day (just try telling Cameron he can't do something -- everyone said "Titanic" would be a disaster, prior to its release).
So honestly? "Titanic" is a classic. I'm happy to see that, as I near my twenty-somethings, this movie hasn't lost its heart, at least for me. In fact, after more than a year reviewing movies (which made me more observant and nitpicky), it's even more satisfying that I didn't really find anything significant to dislike in "Titanic" -- it simply works. It more than succeeds in its emotional and dramatic goals.
Let me put it this way: in most disaster movies I see, I care more about the main characters (or, when watching a Roland Emmerich movie, no-one at all) than everyone else. I rarely think of the thousands who died in the background, only about the main group that mostly makes it to safety.
And the reason I truly love "Titanic" is that it makes me feel the weight of the catastrophe as a whole, providing a rich and satisfying cinematic experience.
So yeah, since his career truly started (with "The Terminator", since his actual first film was "Piranhas 2"), James Cameron, always a dedicated innovator and brilliant storyteller, hasn't yet disappointed me.
Nov 30th 2009
What do you mean THE SHIP SINKS?!!!
Nov 30th 2009
When do we get a review of Piranhas 2 ?
Nov 30th 2009
It is a well-made movie, but I just never bought the love story in it.
Dec 3rd 2009
Avatar looks....like it won't deliver. Too much going on in one movie (spaceships and remote body control and mecha and alieums and and and). The 3D CG stuff I read about on Wired sounds very interesting though.
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