Titanic (1997)

reviewed by
Ronald Epstein

This Sunday afternoon I had the priviledge of attending a private screening at the Sony Astor Cinema in New York City, of James Cameron's most heralded film, TITANIC.

Postponed from last Summer, with an escalated budget that makes it the most expensive movie in history, this was one film I was eager to preview.

So, is this movie going to sink or swim this holiday? My best guess....it will sink, though with many awards attatched to its hull.

No doubt, TITANIC is the most elaborate disaster movie ever made. It boasts the most amazing effects that I have ever seen done to date. To see a ship fall apart, with actual people running across the ship, flying across the deck, and falling to the water, is just amazing to look at. The effects are so stunningly realistic, you would swear you were looking at actual footage.

But TITANIC is more than a disaster movie, and that's where the problem lies. There is a love story attatched that nearly ruins the entire premise.

I'll give a capsule summary of the story without spoiling anything for you:

The film begins with a modern day excavation of sorts of the sunken Titanic. We see actual footage of the sunken ship, as Cammeron had set up special cameras to film the wreckage on the ocean floor.

Bill Paxton leads the expedition, in search of sunken treasure.

What he finds instead, leads him to a mysterious old woman who recounts her tale of the Titanic voyage.

We meet Rose (Kate Winslet), a young woman, who comes from an upper-class family. Rose is to be wed to a man she does not love.

We meet Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio), a young man, who comes from a poor financial background, and wins a ticket aboard the Titanic, in a poker game.

The two meet under interesting circumstances, and the love story begins. Add in a jealous fiance, and a not-so-nice law officer played by David Warner, and you have a story that, well, gets a bit overplayed and oversappy.

I must add, at this point, that the most likeable character in the movie is played by Kathy Bates, as a woman with "new money" who is a lot less uptight than the other rich folk on the ship. She is a pleasure to see on screen.

When the ship does hit the Iceberg at exactly 1:40 into the film, and eventually sinks, you never really feel for any of these characters. The film is just loaded with unlikeable rich snobs and other folk you never really get a grasp on.

The effects are tremendous. From the roars of gears and pumps in the engine room, to a doomed ship cracking at the seams, this is an effects picture that looks and sounds like no other.

We saw TITANIC in Dolby Digital surround, and by far, it is the best sounding movie I have ever seen. My friend commented it was the best sound mix he has ever heard. When people are in the water, at film's end, you are surrounded by the voices of lost soles.

TITANIC runs far too long. The movie is 3 hours and 15 minutes in length. And, while most of the first 2.5 hours runs very fast and well-paced, the final 45 minutes almost comes to a sudden stop, and you realize that this sappy love story has to finish itself out before the movie finally ends.

Don't get me wrong about TITANIC....it's not a bad as I am making it out to be. It really is an exceptionaly well-made film. The costumes and sets are incredible, and true to the time period. The ship is painstakingly created exactly true to form, as we see actual pictures of the modern-day wreckage, transformed into the movie depiction. This film will certainly win on effects, costume, set design and sound. Cameron has certainly made his best film to date.

Unfortunately, Titanic is not a Best Picture candidate. It just doesn't have a strong supporting story. It's an exceptional disaster film with sappy filler inside. It just doesn't have the emotional impact that I suspect Mr. Cameron was shooting for.

I predict that Titanic will open to likeable reviews. It is a film worth seeing. I predict that it will only do moderately well at the Box Office. With its extreme running time, and lack of enough robust to get substantial word-of-mouth, I expect that it will do even better on Home Video. This will certainly be the definitive AC3 movie for all you Home Theater enthusiasts.

Titanic opens December 19th, and is released by Paramount Pictures and Twentieth Century-Fox.

       I give TITANIC 3 stars (***) out of 4.  That's not bad.
                                       Ron Epstein

riginally posted in HOME THEATER FORUM ===

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