Titanic (1997)

reviewed by
Michael Redman


A Film Review By Michael Redman
Copyright 1997 By Michael Redman
**** (out of ****)

People tend to drift through their lives living their parent's dreams until they experience a major personal crisis, connect with an inspiring mentor or become so filled with desperation that they are moved to change their path. Rarely do all three happen at once. Even more rarely do they happen as dramatically as they do to Rose Calvert on the Titanic.

Director James Cameron ("Aliens", both "Terminator"s), in the biggest gamble of his career, has come out on top again. At $200 million, "Titanic" is the most expensive film ever made and you can bet that both Cameron and the studio were holding their collective breath when the movie opened. Now they can inhale again: it's a winner.

The tale begins in present time as a salvage crew is searching the wreckage miles beneath the ocean surface looking for the legendary 56 karat Heart Of The Ocean blue diamond. They attract the attention of 101 year-old survivor Rose (Gloria Stuart) who flies out to their ship. Most of the film is a flashback as she tells her story.

The 17 year-old Rose (Kate Winslet) boards the ill-fated "unsinkable" vessel with her fabulously wealthy fiancee Cal Hockley (Billy Zane) and their entourage on their way to America for her fate as a member of the moneyed crowd. Before he died, her father lost the family money and her mother has effectively sold her into slavery to Hockley to maintain their status. It doesn't take long to discover that he is an overbearing controlling rich boy insistent on getting his own way. Her future looks filled with cash but no joy.

Several decks, below in steerage, is the penniless artist Jack Dawkins (Leonardo DiCaprio), a drifter who won his ticket in a poker game minutes before the ship sat sail. Late that night Jack charms Rose away from the edge where she is going to kill herself rather than face her life.

After a stuffy party on the upper level that Jack attends as a reward for rescuing Rose, he takes her to an all-out blast below where the Irish immigrants are partying up a storm. The die is cast: she can see where the passion is. Later as he is sketching her nude wearing the diamond, the sexual tension drips off the screen.

Wisely Cameron has chosen to make Jack and Rose the focus of the film. As magnificent as the re-creation of the Titanic and her sinking are, they are the back-drop to the real story. Unlike other disaster films where the effects are the star, here we have two human beings.

By all accounts, the depiction of the events is remarkably historically accurate. Although the main characters are fictional, the account is right on target. The ship looks so real that you would swear that you are there witnessing the early morning of April 15, 1912. Some of the underwater footage of the wreck are authentic. The film crew spent a few weeks diving with a specially designed camera. Cameron built a 775 foot replica of the Titanic, accurate even down to the carpet from the manufacturers of the original. And then he sank it.

The sinking itself will delight fans of action films. The hundreds of computer-generated shots pay off and couldn't look more real. (Oddly enough, the only scenes that seem artificial are the too-smooth long shots of the ship underway before the disaster.) The movie brings home the deaths of 1500 people out of 2200 aboard. The overwhelming spectacle as the behemoth goes under is breath-taking. Yet in the forefront of it all are Jack and Rose.

There are horrific situations aboard, mostly because of the ship's management. Only half as many lifeboats exist as are needed because they wanted to avoid a cluttered look. As the ship goes down, the poorer passengers are locked down below until the affluent board the boats.

An hour after the Titanic disappears beneath the water, the crew of the lifeboats (some of which are only half-filled) finally attempt to rescue survivors. The image of the boats rowing through a sea of frozen corpses bobbing in their lifejackets is one that will stay with you a long time. The catastrophe is made real, no longer just a historical event.

The only major problem I have with the film is the physical appearance of the two leads. Both are supposedly in their late teens, but Rose could pass for 30 and Jack looks almost pre-teen. DiCaprio's youthful allure works against him. He looks a bit too unruffled for his role. Luckily the film is long (well over three hours) enough that the flaw disappears as the you become involved with the couple.

To nit-pick, it is beyond me why the filmmakers would show one of the world's most recognizable paintings (Picasso's "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon") as being on the ship. It was obviously not and the appearance jars the audience out of the movie momentarily.

There are rumors of an over-five-hour version to be released on laser disc. This is one of the very few films that I would be willing to spend an entire afternoon with and I can't think of much higher praise.

The tears at the end of the film are almost unavoidable. Several scenes are guaranteed to bring feelings to the front. My daughter walked into the restroom afterwards and the place was filled with sobbing women. Especially effective is the panning of photos of incidents in her life that the elderly Rose keeps with her when she travels. Her life has been full because of Jack.

Rose's encounter with Jack changed her as have events in our all of our lives. The emotions that the audience feels are there because everyone can identify with lost loves and many carry those wounds with them forever. Some thrive and others sink and, as on the Titanic, the band plays on.

(Michael Redman has written this column for over 22 years and wishes everyone a joyous holidaze. Redman@bvoice.com will get the electrons to him.)

[This appeared in the 12/24 "Bloomington Voice", Bloomington, Indiana. Michael Redman can be reached at redman@bvoice.com ]

-- mailto:redman@bvoice.com This week's film review at http://www.bvoice.com/ Film reviews archive at http://us.imdb.com/M/reviews_by?Michael%20Redman

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