I realized a while back that while I really dig writing reviews of movies, there are so many films I have loved through the years that I never got the chance to write a full-on regular review for. Fast-forward to Titanic (one of my all-time favorite films, DUH!!!) being re-released, and me geeking out thinking of getting to talk about it in a full review on this site, and an idea is born: A new series of posts I’ll be helming, writing reviews for my “all-time favorite films.” I’m going to pick a handful, because they are like children – I can never choose an absolute favorite, and I sure as hell can’t rank them. I just know that there are A LOT OF THEM. Might as well start off with a bang!!
The sis (X) and I drove two hours, spent at least $40 in gas, $15 in tolls, and $13.25 for a (MATINEE!) 3D IMAX ticket to see this movie we love with all our hearts, souls, and every goddamn cell in our bodies. If your eyes are rolling already, go ahead and take your web-browsing elsewhere, thanks. 🙂
First, my insane back story: I saw this nine times when it came out in the late fall/winter of 1997 (I’m certain that’s SOME kind of record). I was 16 years old, a junior in high school, and honestly, didn’t give a shit about Kate and Leo. Growing up, I was always fascinated with the story of the doomed ship and had this book that I read over and over and ADORED. The class division, the fact that it was such a horrifying tragedy, the fact that it was never supposed to happen – I was hooked into the story. This was also, I believe, the birth of my love for event films that overtake our culture and society. I was enamored with the grandeur of it all – both the ship and how it pretty much overtook the pop culture landscape and how people loved the shit out of it. (Yes haters, people did love it) I couldn’t resist seeing it with basically every one of my friends, for their ‘first time,” to experience it all again through their eyes. (I love shit like that) Yes, I kind of wanted to name my first daughter Rose. Yes, I bawled every time. Yes, I have both soundtracks. Yes, I remember what I was doing the first time I heard “My Heart Will Go On” (washing dishes on a Friday after school). Yes, I remember the first time I saw it, my girlfriends and I piled into Tara Moncheck’s parents’ car, all of us giddy, and I SPECIFICALLY remember my gal Krista Fleming saying, “You guys! We’ll always remember this night!” Way to foresee the future, K-dog.
James Cameron was recently interviewed in Entertainment Weekly about his decision to re-release the film, and its conversion to 3D. He said a few things that made me internally go “Hell yeah!!!”, and emphasized my excitement to see the film. To summarize, he stressed how important it was for a new generation of people to have the chance to see this movie on a big screen – the way it was MEANT TO BE SEEN. He talks about how if you go into a theater to watch a movie that is over 3 hours long, it’s going to be a different experience than say, if you watch it at your house. Which I personally believe is a point that you cannot argue with. Three hours, in front of my television? The laundry is getting moved to the dryer, I’m texting, I’m checking email, I’m heating up a pizza … my attention is diverted, and when you buy a ticket and sit down in a theater, even if you go to the bathroom or look at your cell phone like a monstrous prick, you’re still paying way more attention than if you’re home. Back to Cameron… He explained that while he’s not a fan of 3D conversion, he believes it can be done – it will just cost almost 20 million dollars and take loads of time. And, he argues for some films, it’s not worth it. “It’s a cheap work-around the studios have done to try to capitalize on the audience interest in 3-D. But they’re not earning the right to charge the extra ticket price by providing the quality.” Indeed, indeed. I also wanted to high-five the guy when he explained how he wasn’t tempted to change the film at all, (ala George Lucas) because “every film should represent the time it was made – both the technology that was available and the state of mind and the filmmaker and the actors.” WELL-SAID, and fuck yeah, dude.
Alright, sorry for all the intro-y filler, I knew this was gonna be a whopper of a post. I hope it won’t take you 194 minutes to read this opus. 😉 Onto the film!
Titanic is, at its core, a disaster film. The fact that it’s a true one adds a certain haunting “what if that was me” veil over almost every scene. The love story is central, but it’s used to help us as viewers organically navigate the ship, meet members of all the classes, the crew, and have silly adventures. If Titanic were a Snickers bar, the nouggat would be “disaster flick”, the peanuts are “human interest stories”, the caramel is “love story”, and the chocolate coating is the production value.
It was interesting, to say the least, to rewatch this film. I haven’t seen it in its entirety for probably 10 years. In that time I graduated college, started a soul-crushing career, bought a house, and had a major, 7-year relationship that ended in much the fashion that the Titanic itself went down … so, um, my perspective is a tad different. And dare I say, more forgiving.
The film itself looks absolutely beautiful – a cinema lovers wet dream, in all honesty. Every shot of the ship, zoomed out, from a distance, is STUNNING. Cameron is no liar, he did that 3D good. I kept pulling my glasses up every so often, and noticed that lots of shots had no 3D effect, and in most scenes, only certain objects had the familiar hazy outlines around them. It was done in the way I love my 3D – not so much as tons of shit popping out at your face, but to help the audience FEEL the depth or enormity of what is up on the screen. I felt how big the ship was, in a way I never had. During the scene where Rose almost falls off the side of the ship, when you look down at that water, your stomach flips a bit, as you can FEEL the height. There are a few moments where water splashes out (but not in a gaudy Piranha 3D way), or a specific object looms in the forefront of your field of vision, but it’s all really subtle. Of all the “converted” 3D films I’ve ever seen, this is easily the best.
I know lots of girls had posters of Leo adorning their bedroom walls, but teenage Annie found the love story sickening. I was all, “they’ve known each other, what, 3 days? Gross.” Grown-up Annie found it, surprisingly, nowhere near as cloying as I’d expected to. Jack and Rose were teenagers after all, both in highly emotional situations, almost died together like, twenty times, lost their virginity (I’m assuming) to each other, and then one of them DID DIE. So, you know what? Of course they fell in love after only knowing each other for a few days. But I still think that sex scene is NAS-TAY. Shudder. I had my nose crinkled the entire time. The WET. HAND. I can’t.
The writing also didn’t offend me as much as I had assumed. When it comes to ubiquitous “disaster lingo” – i.e. “My God!”, “Jesus, Mary and Joseph!” – there are MUCH WORSE offenders in the genre. 2012, anyone? The “spitting” scene is just silly, and Rose and Jack say each other’s names far too much than is normal for basic human conversation. But I realized something with this viewing. It’s easy to assume every time somebody says “This ship is unsinkable! God himself could not sink this ship!” it’s just lazy writing that’s hammering home the point that THE SHIP IS UNSINKABLE! However, have you ever experienced something huge, or awesome, epic, even? Did you talk about it with those around you? You bet your ass the “unsinkability” of the R.M.S. Titanic was a frequent topic of conversation amongst its passengers.
The side characters (especially the famous ones like Astor, Guggenheim, and White Star Line chairman Bruce Ismay) are basically caricatures, and totally one-note. In their defense, none of them have much screen time, so the few lines they get have to convey a lot. In Ismay’s case, that he was reckless and power-hungry. Although, (interesting trivia alert!) according to reports, he fessed up that he actually did turn away as the ship sank, unable to watch.
This brings us to the human interest stories. I believe Cameron tried to be as accurate as possible, although there is dispute over the poor first officer, William Murdoch, who, in the film, blows his own brains out after helping loads of rich assholes into lifeboats, and then accidentally shooting two innocent men in the ensuing chaos. According to eyewitnesses, there were differing reports on someone committing suicide. Some saw him alive and others saw him dead. Apparently, his descendants were so upset over this “false portrayal” that the film’s producers had to fly to Scotland to apologize to his family in person, because they refused to remove the scene. Maybe Cameron believes it happened, maybe it didn’t. It’s just one of many captivating stories forever lost to the north Atlantic.
The music is just as enchanting and haunting as I’d remembered. Some films are scored to such perfection, you know in your bones that there is NO OTHER MUSIC around that would match the emotions and images placed before you. James Horner earned those Oscars, of that you can be sure. X and I were the only two to sit through the entire credits. You better believe we wanted to hear “My Heart Will Go On” in a gazillion watts.
So much of this film still moved me, 15 years later. The “Take her to sea, Mr. Murdoch” scene, with the dolphins, is a film-gasm for sure. The ceiling over the grand staircase shattering and the intense montage it leads into. The kiss on the bow of the ship (fuck you if you just made a face!) – it has a sunset, heaving bosom, flowing scarf, magical music, and thanks to the 3D, an actual sense of flying. The ship, all alone in a dark ocean, letting off its flares. Once the ship has sunk, the camera, pulling back to show the thousand people splashing in the -2C water. The captain, who your heart breaks for as the realization washes over his face that these are going to be his last hours alive. I kept being struck with the complete certainty that if I had been aboard, I’d have bitten the dust early on. But nothing makes my soul swell up like the final scene, as Rose’s “spirit” makes her way back down to the ship to be reunited with the entire cast. I noticed, for the first time, that the clock behind Jack is set at 2:20 – the time the Titanic actually sank.
I’ve got a lot of love for this film. It’s grand, in the tradition of old Hollywood. The “King of the World” moment, while obviously cheesy and lampooned to no end since the first time Leo (and unfortunately Cameron) uttered the words, reminded me so much of other classic Hollywood scenes, like, “Frankly My dear, I don’t give a damn”, or “I could’a been a contender.” Haters can hate, and they will, but Titanic holds a special place in cinematic history. There’s a reason it was the #1 highest-grossing world-wide film for so long (only to be unseated by Avatar – another Cameron flick). I’m sure it means more to me than a lot of you, but I’m hoping this starts a trend of other best-seen-in-a-theater films getting re-released. When a film means more to you than some of your family members, you should have more than one opportunity to see it as its creators intended.