James Cameron's epic version of the Titanic story is
certainly a spectacle, sure to fill all those who watch with awe
and horror. But it is not perfect by any means.
The special effects in this 3¼-hour saga are absolutely
incredible, and worth the admission price by themselves. The combination
of model photography, life-size ship sections, and computer animation
truly makes the sheer size and mass of the foundering behemoth
come to life, and it is definitely worth seeing on the big screen.
One would have to be made of stone not to feel the thrill and
terror of the situation, especially when one remembers that it
actually happened. This is why it perplexes me that writer/director
Cameron felt the need to embellish the already awesome story with
such a trite plotline. Perhaps he felt that the true story of
the Titanic did not have enough action, terror, or drama?
This love story theme is perhaps the most common of all time:
the charming, street-wise scamp teaches the prissy debutante the
meaning of true love, and she leaves behind her luxury life and
horrified family to go with him. It's in about 75% of Disney cartoons,
for one thing. The fact that it would not happen aside, it's just
not necessary for this purpose. The two romantic leads
could just as easily have been two poor people, watching the "haves"
board the lifeboats while they and the rest of the "have
nots" prepare to kiss the waves. Thank goodness, thank
goodness the two lead actors, Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet,
are talented enough to pull it off. The chemistry between their
two characters, Jack and Rose, is unmistakeable from the start,
and their relationship grows so beautifully from a casual class-crossing
friendship to a matter of life and death that we really do care
about them despite the hackneyed story line.
This movie does not have to be 3¼ hours long. The entire
portion set in the present, starring Bill Paxton as the leader
of an explorative mission and Gloria Stuart as the 100-year-old
version of Rose, could and should have been done away with. Paxton
and Stuart are both terrible they deliver their
lines as if they are reading them off cue cards for the first
time, and the ridiculous plotline of the long-lost humongo blue
diamond is needless; it cheapens the rest of the story, and feels
added almost as an afterthought. Likewise, much of the pre-collision
plot on board the Titanic is unnecessary, kind of reminiscent
of The Love Boat and frought with 1990s behavior and slang.
(Would a wealthy, well-bred girl in 1912 have really given someone
"the finger"?) Billy Zane and Frances Fisher, who play
Rose's fiance and mother, are really stereotypical "rich
snob" characters, and real people from the story, like Molly
Brown (Kathy Bates) and Captain E.J. Smith (Bernard Hill) are
barely included in the script. Bates is a good actress, and I
would have liked to have seen more of her.
Titanic is a paradox. The plot before the collision is almost dispensable, but from that moment on, it is absolutely riveting. Russell Carpenter's cinematography is sure to win him one of the film's many inevitable Oscar nominations, and James Horner's music is rich and sweeping. But if you show up an hour late, don't worry: you haven't missed anything important. ****½
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