Back in late 1997 when James Cameron released his $200 million disaster film, critics worried that it could go down in history as one of the biggest film failures of all time. Not only did Titanic defy critics and naysayers, it managed to become the top grossing film of all time, earning $1.8 billion worldwide. It also pretty much swept the Oscars, taking home 11 statuettes, and it solidified Cameron as the most daring director of his time. Over a decade later, he topped his own masterpiece by creating Avatar, which surpassed Titanic in box office gross, but fell far short of it in terms of Oscar wins. Here we are 15 years later and of course, with all of the 3D craze going on right now (thanks to Cameron himself), it was inevitable that the second highest grossing film of all time would get the treatment. It makes sense though simply because James is the master of 3D. In fact, after seeing how well Titanic looked in the format, being that it’s not an action heavy film until the end, I would like to see Cameron go back and give Terminator 2 the same treatment. Let’s face it, that film would like really cool in 3D.
Back to Titanic…the film. I had been wanting to sit down and review this epic for a long time now and this re-release provided that opportunity. After going to the showing last night, I was reminded exactly why this film was such the hit that it was. James Cameron has a knack for mixing storytelling and incredible visuals unlike anyone else in the industry. I would say J.J. Abrams and Steven Spielberg come close, but in my opinion, no other director can balance the two out better than Cameron. The story within the sinking of the ship is what makes Titanic sail. James could have given us just another ‘disaster’ piece with massive explosions and over the top unrealistic action sequences that would have resulted in the film being under an hour and a half long. Or he could have gone the other route and made an extremely long film that carried little emotional weight combined with one large action sequence, giving the audience no reason to see it again (think Pearl Harbor). If Cameron chose either of those two directions, the film would not have been as memorable as it was.
So, what makes Titanic such an event picture? Why did it click so well with audiences? There are many answers to these two questions. First and foremost the centerpiece of the film, which is the true story of the demise of the ship, is flawlessly played out. Of course, who really knows what happened amongst the passengers before and during the sinking of the ship. The dialogue and banter between them could have really been about anything, but the audience knows that going in. However, Cameron and crew did a remarkable job retelling what the mood must have been like during the departure and after it hit the iceberg. The highs and lows of emotion come and go a lot during the course of the 3 hour and 15 minute run time and it’s because of this that the audience can’t help but either fall in love with, despise, or feel sorry for each and every character. Another quality aspect of the film is the spot on casting for not only the fictionalized characters, but for the real life ones as well.
Other than Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams in The Notebook, I can’t think of another on screen couple that had better chemistry than Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. From the moment Leo’s Jack Dawson sees Kate’s Rose DeWitt Bukater standing on the upper deck of the ship, you know that this will be no ordinary romance. Both DiCaprio and especially Winslet fit their characters so well that I can’t really imagine anyone else in their roles. Kate’s performance is simply amazing…from the first scene she’s in until her very last scene when she is standing aboard the rescue ship. Every emotion a person can have – anger, sadness, love, pain, fear, excitement, and heartbreak – Rose DeWitt Bukater has…and Kate nails every one of them perfectly. As Billy Zane’s Cal Hockley says to Leo’s Jack Dawson at dinner…”not to impugn your work”…I don’t want to take anything away from DiCaprio. He portrays his drifter character quite well. Jack Dawson’s character is a man who lives life one day at a time…in fact, one moment at a time. It is who he is. He is a poor man who manages to use God’s good graces to get from one place to the next. He’s also a fine artist, although he doesn’t make much of a living off of his talent. DiCaprio gives Jack an added charm that wins over Rose, among others on the ship. Separately, each of them are solid, but together they light up the big screen.
Kate and Leo are, of course, the headliners here but the supporting cast is equally impressive. Billy Zane plays nasty so well. You really loathe his Cal Hockley by the end of the film. Cal is the polar opposite of Jack and it’s easy to see why Rose wants to change the course her life is headed in. Kathy Bates’ Molly Brown (aka the unsinkable Molly Brown) provides some nice comic relief in scenes that would otherwise be far too serious. Frances Fisher also does fine work as Rose’s wealth hungry mother, Ruth Bukater. She hates everything that Jack represents and sees him as a dangerous threat to her and her daughters rich future with Cal. You literally feel the hatred in her eyes every time she stares at Leo’s Jack. The other major characters in the film are well cast also. From the ship’s captain, E.J. Smith, to its architect, Thomas Andrews, all of the players here are brought to life marvelously by Cameron’s direction. And then there is Gloria Stuart. Gloria, who portrayed the older Rose in the film, does a remarkable job with what is considered to be somewhat of a small role. I feel that her role is the most important of the film and here’s why. By telling her story throughout, the gap between young and old is filled. Cameron was smart by having the storyline unfold this way. We see an older Rose first…then we get to go back and see what she was like at age 17 and how the entire Titanic experience made her who she really is. Having never met Jack Dawson, she may have never accomplished any of the things she did during her long life. When we see Rose again towards the end of the film, after seeing everything the character went through that fateful night, we get a better understanding as to why she holds her memories so dear to her heart. Stuart was a joy to watch in this film…once again proving that James Cameron, like Spielberg, always gets the most out of his actors. Gloria Stuart passed away in 2010 at the age of 100. She was born 2 years prior to the sinking of Titanic and she passed away 2 years prior to the re-release of a film that she added so much to.
I think Titanic is a near perfect film. I know that a lot of people didn’t fall for it as much as others, but after re-watching it on the big screen I realized that it is as close to a masterpiece of cinema as one can get. The 3D adds a bit to the overall experience, but that’s not the main reason to go see it again. Not since it’s release in December of 1997 has a film been made that equals its impressive visuals, attention to detail, great dialogue, chemistry between actors, and melodrama. Yes, other films have come along and given us stunning visual effects…and others have given us actors who have fine chemistry…and even more so, we’ve had movies that feature great scripts that feature great dialogue. But no film has done it better as a package than Titanic. The closest post-release film to it would probably be Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring. I did enjoy Avatar a lot, but it lacked the human emotion that Titanic had and plus, you can’t really substitute a real tragedy with a made up one. The true events always pack more of an emotional punch. James Cameron spent a lot of time, effort, and of course, money, to get this epic made and he had to convince two major studios to finance it. Hard to imagine now, but Titanic was a major risk for each studio – Paramount and Fox. At the end of the day, they were both rewarded handsomely, as was Cameron himself. The success of Titanic provided a lesson for studios – let the artist…the creator…take his or her time with their work of art. Invest in the product, sit back, and allow him or her free reign to make their vision of reality. After Titanic, that’s just what James Cameron did. He did not release another film right away. He took his time and prepped Avatar for release and look what happened. He once again changed the movie industry for the better.
The 3D in Titanic is post-converted, of course. Due to the fact that Cameron was the man behind the editing of it, I had no doubt that it would be the finest post-conversion 3D to date. I was right. Let’s be realistic…shooting a film in 3D is always going to give the best results. That’s why most of the ones that are converted to the format after the fact either severely disappoint or only have a few scenes worthy of the upgrade. To my surprise, the best 3D scenes are the underwater shots at the beginning and the pre-sinking scenes of the passengers and crew going about their business. There is also an amazing shot of the dolphins jumping out of the water in front of the ship right after it sets sail. Another memorable 3D sequence is when Jack and Rose get sucked down with the ship and get separated. Cameron does fine work here. Now the conversion is not without flaws. There are a few scenes that appeared a bit blurry and the 3D is sort of useless when everyone is running around frantic on the decks right before the sinking. It actually gives you a bit of a headache, but only during those moments. Other than that, I can honestly say this is a film worthy of the conversion and James & company did a beautiful job doing so. Cameron has said that he would not have released the film again in 3D if he didn’t feel he could do a great job with the conversion…and I am glad that he spent the time and money working on each and every detail of it. Perhaps the flaws I mentioned were unavoidable due to how some of the scenes were filmed…I’m not sure, but what I do know is that some scenes are simply stunning in 3D. A good example is the scene where Jack and Rose are simply walking on one of the decks. There are other actors in front of, behind, and to the side of them, but the 3D effect really makes our two lead characters stand out. The focus is put on Leo and Kate as they carry on a conversation. It was a nice, subtle touch. I recommend that you pay close attention as you watch because there are several other moments like this throughout.
Overall, I can’t give a film more of a recommendation than I am here. I watch Titanic and realize that this is why movies exist in the first place. The film is a feast for the senses…incredible sound, astounding visuals, and heartfelt drama all set against the backdrop of the reality of one of the biggest disasters in the history of the world. James Cameron creates a near masterpiece here. In my opinion, it is still his best film. T2 and Avatar are also exceptional films, but they are not the ‘total package’ that Titanic is. Despite only being 15 years old, this is such a good film that it will continue to stand the test of time. The theater I saw it in Tuesday night was packed…just as most of them were opening night and many nights thereafter back in 1997-1998. And just like then, several people in the audience couldn’t hold back their tears, even though most of them had probably seen the film many times before on television or dvd. It’s a true testament to the quality of the film that it still resonates so many years later. I highly encourage you to check this one out before it leaves theaters again…not necessarily for the 3D itself, but just to see it once again on the big screen, as it was intended. Having said that, you will not be disappointed with the 3D…it’s quite good.
As an older Rose is asked toward the beginning of the film by treasure hunter Brock Lovett…”Are you ready to go back to Titanic?” I say to all of you who enjoyed the film the first time around…YES.
TITANIC (Movie itself) Rating:
TITANIC (3D rating) Rating:
Now James Cameron can concentrate on his next big blockbusters…Avatar 2 and 3, which he is filming back to back. The first of which should be releasing in 2015 and the second one in 2016.