This is the first time that I will recommend a film in the first paragraph of a review. Don’t miss Titanic on the big screen. Forget all the politics and events surrounding the making of the film and just go see it. Titanic is easily the best film of 1997.
James Cameron has always been a brilliant technical director. His films featured great special effects and were technically perfect in that respect. Along with this Cameron has always populated his movies with characters that bring us into the stories (unlike Roland Emmerich who creates movies with eye popping special effects but surrounds this eye candy with fluff). What Cameron has not done though is make a movie that is full in the range of emotions that bring a technically good film up to a brilliant film. With Titanic, Cameron tries to put this range of emotions into a film and it works out very well. He shows us that he can not only make a technically perfect film, but can also make a film that makes us laugh, cry, and scream.
The Titanic was the ship that couldn’t be sunk. It was the largest ship built at the time that it set sail on its maiden – and as history tells, last – voyage. The tragedy of it was that the builders of the ship were so confident of the design of the ship that they only outfit the ship with enough lifeboats to save half of the people on the ship. Some time in the early morning of April 15, 1912, Titanic struck an iceberg and sunk in the North Atlantic. There were 2200 people onboard the ship – 1500 of them died.
Cameron does not hide the fact that the Titanic sinks, how could he? He uses a good way to introduce us to the story and to get us up to speed quickly. The movie opens in the present with some stunning footage of the actual Titanic underwater. As we come back up to the surface we find out that an expedition led by Brock Lovett (Bill Paxton) is trying to find the “Heart of the Ocean”. The “Heart of the Ocean” is a 56 caret diamond that was lost with the sinking of the Titanic. When Lovett is unable to recover it he is disappointed. What he does find is a sketch of a beautiful young woman wearing the diamond. In a coincidence, the woman, now 101, sees the sketch during a news broadcast. The 101 year old woman, Rose DeWitt Bukater (Gloria Stuart), comes forth to tell the tale of what happened on the Titanic’s final voyage.
From here on Cameron moves the film back in time and the story is told, mainly, from young Rose’s (Kate Winslet) point of view. Along with this is the point of view of a free going gambler and artist Jack Dawson ( Leonardo DiCaprio). And this portion of the film, almost two-thirds of the films running time, we watch and are engrossed by the love story that is spun between Rose and Jack on the ill-fated Titanic.
Cameron keeps the movie focused on only Jack and Rose. Rose is a rich girl marrying Cal Hockley (Billy Zane) because of his money. She finds herself in a precarious situation while trying to run away from the marriage. From this situation she meets Jack, who saves her from death. The chemistry between Jack and Rose are instantaneous and we are pulled into their story immediately.
What is surprising with Titanic is that Cameron is able to move the focus of the movie from the tedious disaster film that Titanic could have been to a character and story driven story that Titanic is. And for almost two hours we forget about the sinking of the ship and we are with Jack and Rose following what happens to them and not worrying about the iceberg that sits somewhere off in the horizon waiting to puncture the ship.
The first two hours or so of the film moves quickly, mainly because of the good pacing and the great writing of Cameron. But, if you think that Cameron lets things slow down in the third act (and third hour) you’re wrong. Cameron is actually able to pick up the pacing for the third hour and the third hour flies along well because of this. This third hour is the actual sinking of the ship. And this could have been all eye-candy, but Cameron is again able to put more into this portion of the film. And for this last hour we are constantly biting our finger nails in trying to find out if both Jack and Rose will survive the sinking of Titanic. And this shows how well done the film is. The sinking of the Titanic is visually awesome, but in all of this chaos we are still focused on Jack and Rose.
As for the Titanic itself, Cameron builds an almost scale model of the ship to shoot the film with and then sinks it. The visuals all through the film are awesome and have to be seen to be believed. There are many “how did they do it” special effect shots in this film. Cameron proves once again that he can push special effects to its limits and still maintain characters that are believable and dimensional.
DiCaprio does a good job as Jack, but the shining star of Titanic is Kate Winslet. What sets the two lead performances apart is the range of emotion that the two can achieve. And Winslet clearly has a larger range that DiCaprio. She does a great job as Rose and I hope that she wins the Best Actress Oscar for her performance in Titanic.
The supporting actors and actresses also do great jobs with their roles. Worth mentioning is Billy Zane as the callous Cal, Bernard Hill as the Captain of Titanic, and David Warner as Cal’s bodyguard of sorts.
The running time seems long (at three plus hours) but the movie is paced well and moves along quite quickly. This is the best film to date from James Cameron and is the best film of 1997. The studio heads save the best for last. Don’t Miss Titanic on the big screen.