Sunday, April 15, 2012

TITANIC - REVIEW

Titanic
December 19th, 1997
194 min.
United States (English)

Written and Directed by James Cameron



Once you get through the heavy-handed drama of the central love story you will discover one of cinema's treasures: a sublimely executed sequence that thrills and demands revere. "Titanic" has its highs and lows, but changed cinema forever nonetheless.

100 years ago today (as I write this on April 15th, 2012) the ship of dreams, Titanic, sank beneath the black and frigid waters of the Atlantic Ocean. This disaster brought the lives of 1,514 souls to an abrupt and tragic end. Filmmaker James Cameron portrayed this event in 1997 with one of the biggest releases up to that time or since, "Titanic." On Tuesday I took my fiancee to the local theater to see the updated and 3D-ified version of Cameron and company's feat. That was on April 10th, 2012, the 100th anniversary of the ship departing Southampton, UK on its maiden voyage. Confession: It was my first time to see the entire film. I am told (and I confident in telling you) it has never looked better.

What a blockbuster! Each and every time James Cameron delivers a feature film it seems to change the face of cinema forever more ("Terminatior 2," this, and most recently, "Avatar"). These are tent-pole films of the highest order. As a scriptwriter he leaves plenty to be desired, but he is virtually unparalleled as a craftsman of movie magic. (In fact, one of my favorite TV shows as a pre-teen was called "Movie Magic," which showed us behind-the-scenes of the latest special effects heavy pictures. I will never forget sitting in awe and soaking in how they created some of the sequences in "Titanic"). It would be foolhardy for me to suggest that he is doing this on his own. Sitting through the credits of "Titanic" reminded me once again that to make such a film come to life, it takes an army. One such soldier is James Horner, responsible for the moving, memorable, and mighty score. The soundtrack is fit for the majestic RMS Titanic.

We see the disaster through the bright eyes of Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Rose (Kate Winslet). He's a third class passenger who won his ticket aboard in a lucky hand of poker. She is the finacee of one of the ship's wealthiest passengers. The two meet onboard through most forlorn circumstances, from that point onward their forbidden love (lust) ensues. Cameron's script remains schmaltzy through the first half. There's winking, nudging and petty humor. DiCaprio and Winslet would take another few years to ripen into the fine actors they are today. The result is that so few of the "star-crossed lovers" interactions feel genuine, rather, rehearsed like the mellow melodrama that it is. "Titanic" struggles for a lengthy portion. Be that as it may, Cameron's genius is that he tailored this soap(y) opera for teenage girls the world over and did they ever respond! The film quickly became the highest-grossing in box office history and racked up untold gallons of estrogenic tears. Then something happens.

Once that once-heralded "unsinkable ship" brushes up against the iceberg, a brief encounter that would soon claim the entire vessel, this movie gets unreal. I mean it gets real. It gets absolutely astounding. What follows is truly one of cinema's finest hours. Jack and Rose continue to be our focus, but we see the happenings all aboard the ship and the many, many lives it affected. The chaos that ensues from the boiler room below to the swinging chandelier of first class is captured with immaculate detail and artistry. The Titanic gradually fills with water, shattering the dreams of so many in the process. Perhaps none more so than Thomas Andrews, the ship's builder, played by Victor Garber. He chooses to remain onboard and see it through to the end. He is probably my favorite supporting character. There's also Captain Edward John Smith (Bernard Hill) who mans the ship's wheel somberly even though it is too late to change course.

In a particularly memorable scene an old couple goes to bed in the sinking ship. I deem their brief love story having more weight than the one in the spotlight. The film carefully captures the events occurring all over the ship: The attempt to rescue the woman and the children. The injustice to the third class passengers. The musicians doing what they do best on top deck in hopes of calming their frantic spirits. The exquisite anguish set to "Nearer, My God, to Thee." The sheltered Rose takes plenty of these scenes in and so do we. I admire that Cameron refuses to revel in the destruction, but paints the tragedy as what it truly was. We remain constantly aware of the sinking and see the horror full-scale again and again. There is nothing like this anywhere. This is why the film deserves to be seen by any and all.

I actually welcome the modern-day bookends that are employed. It makes the experience all the more real and relatable to us today. The opening sequences of Brock Lovett (Bill Paxton) and his team exploring the sunken ruins of that majestic ship are breath-taking and, as it turns out, actual. The 3D post-conversion became immediately apparent here and is the best I have seen. It particularly shines during the film's aforementioned finest hour. And would you know it, by the end, the love story between Jack and Rose managed to wash over me. It lands on an emotional level because Jack is able to prove his affection for Rose through a great sacrifice, one she promises she will never forget. As that iconic closing song ends the whole matter we can believe her because we too, as individuals and a collective worldwide audience, will never forget this movie.



★★★★½

CONTENT: language, a scene of sensuality, female nudity, violence, and disaster-related peril

(Updated on 9/11/12)

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