Titanic **** out of four.
There's a moment in Titanic that illustrates what James Cameron is trying to create with his giant epic. It's not a special effect or a computer animation or an explosion of any sort. It's a simple scene: Jack Dawson (amazingly played by Leonardo DiCaprio) sits and draws Rose DeWinter (Kate Winslett). It's amazing because you actually believe that Dicapprio is trying in earnest to create a portrait of Winslett. His love for her is so grand, that he only wants to create a picture that illustrates his love. It has to be perfect, you can see it his eyes. It's a great moment between the actors in a movie that could have so easily ignored them and gone out to be a big budget disaster movie. Cameron isn't after a disaster film or gimmicky effects, he's after an emotion that he wants from his audience: sympathy, maybe even tears. He wants you to cry at the tragedy of the sinking Titanic. And in this movie, we do.
Does Titanic live up to the hype? I think it's better than the hype; It is one of the best movies of the year. A gigantic sprawling masterpiece from James Cameron, who emerges as one the two or three best director of epic movies of our time. Here he has created a movie that is not only amazing to look at, but amazing to feel and to be a part of. As a friend of mine said after the show, "I need a box of Kleenex."
A lot of people have criticized the love story between Winslet and DiCaprio, but I think that's what makes the film so good. Unlike other films that rely on special effects, Titanic is centered around a beautifully told story. The doomed ship is merely the backdrop that makes the story so powerful. Kind of a supporting character (a $200 million supporting character) rather than at the fore front.
With big budget movies these days, there is no story. It's all just an excuse for special effects (Starship Troopers, Con Air, The Lost World, Spawn, Batman and Robin, etc...) Titanic, however, is so much more. Cameron's use of story telling, letting us know how the boat will sink so that we can watch for it at the end was brilliant. From that point on, we forget about the sinking and concentrate on the story. After all, you know the boat will sink. In the meantime, we get to see some of the most beautiful cinematography that I have seen in 10 years. Yes, it is three hours, but you don't notice it. Instead, I was absorbed with the show that Cameron puts in front of you. It's grand entertainment; a documentary, a love story and an adventure rolled into a movie that's bigger than life.
I don't know if Titanic will earn back the money it spent, but it deserves to. I think we need to praise Hollywood and Cameron for going out on the line and making a big budget movie with a heart and characters that we care about. When people are dying at the end, we feel bad because they somehow seem real. We relate to them; we wonder if we would act like them as they struggle to live.
I think what makes it so good is that you feel like you're part of an event. Thirty or fourty years from now Titanic might be on TV (or whatever we have as an equivalent by then) and we can tell our kids, "I was there when that movie opened. I got to watch that in the theaters." It's the kind of epic that transcends generations and will probably be remembered for a long time.
"Titanic" (**** out of four) Directed by James Cameron. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslett, Billy Zane, Bill Paxton and Kathy Bates
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