From 20th Century Fox
and Paramount Pictures
Directed by James Cameron
Upon leaving my in-laws' house this morning, I said I had to get home and write my post on Titanic as my 13th favorite film of all time. I said that my style is to watch it again beforehand and that all takes some time. My sister-in-law said she absolutely hated Titanic and thought the first half (actually an hour and 38 minutes) was the most boring thing she'd ever seen. Exaggeration aside, I still don't get it. She hates Titanic? Fine, you don't want to list Titanic in your top 50 films as some people do, but you hate Titanic? Whatever for?
Just to give some time to the other side, I fess up that I have heard countless times since 1997 that people really quite dislike the beginning of the film. It's what many call the love story (icky, isn't it, that Titanic can't have a love story?) and in my opinion it's quite an exciting one. The two leads conduct a furtive affair while her jealous fiance plots revenge. I could not disagree that once the ship hits the iceberg that the film doesn't pick up, but it wasn't at all a bad beginning. Maybe you were just itching to get on with those lifeboats, you naysayers you.
I have a great passion in life and it's called the movies... as if you didn't know. Beginning with this film, all the rest of my favorites are perhaps what one might call my true favorites. It is for them that my passion for the movies turns into my super passion. I'll call them my baker's dozen. I love these films. I madly love Titanic. It gives to me everything I could ever want in a movie. I don't think there is anything for which I would fault this film. I was a little dismayed that the diamond necklace was thrown overboard at the end. I confess that in time I thought I would puncture my eardrums if I had to hear Celine Dion sing that song one more time. But oh so what? This is quality movie-making... a simply magnificent film. (Do you think I should be more wishy-washy?)
If James Cameron isn't the first person you think of when thinking of this film, he needs to be. Really. This is the creator... he has done everything but sink the actual ship. He co-wrote/edited and produced and directed the film in a way that has turned it into an epic of a motion picture. He had the notion of updating the famous event for years before it happened.
He also had a lifelong fascination with shipwrecks. That same fascination is essentially what got me into the theater the first time to see Titanic. Perhaps I should broaden that to say peril at sea is my fascination but the ship usually does at least get battered. I started off with Blackbeard the Pirate (1952). Also included was The World in His Arms, The Golden Hawk and later Jaws and The Poseidon Adventure and The Perfect Storm. I also have a love of great historical events particularly, I suppose, those involving tragedies of some sort. It was only natural I would see Titanic. Technically, I had seen film versions before this one, the most appealing to me was the 1953 film starring Clifton Webb and Barbara Stanwyck. (By the way, this story before the iceberg was of a bickering married couple and their two children, each of whom favored a particular parent.)
Cameron has said that it was not necessarily a film that he wanted to make. He really wanted to dive to the actual wreckage. Once that happened and he acquired so much footage, then it was an easier path to assembling the film. Perhaps no variation of the word easy should be used to describe Cameron or anything about him. He can certainly be a taskmaster but that's how I want my geniuses to be and I think he is perhaps the master craftsman of the motion picture these days and for some years now.
I was immediately taken by the opening exploration of the wreckage or what I call the Bill Paxton part. There had never been a theatrical film showing the actual wreckage.
In addition to the unfolding of the love story from the first part of the film, there is also the story of old Rose, winningly played by Gloria Stuart, whom we see on the exploration ship. After old Rose is shown the nude painting done of her some 84 years earlier, the night before the ship went down, also a hair clip and other treasures from her voyage, Paxton's character asks old Rose if she's ready to return to Titanic. From there the story opens.
The reconstruction of the great ship happened in a newly-built studio on a 40-acre waterfront property in Baja California. Included was a horizon tank of 17 million gallons of water to represent the exterior of the ship. The poop deck was built on a hinge which could rise to 90 degrees within seconds and was used, of course, for the climactic ending where the stern rises and then is quickly swallowed up by the sea. The ship of dreams was built to scale but of course miniatures were also used as was CGI technology.
We know there is no need to fill you in on the story, the fictional one or the more truthful one, but I will elaborate on a few things that captured my attention. It started with Old Rose who completely charmed me with her reminiscences of her voyage. I was fascinated with the portrayals of the classes, totally fascinated with the rich people's dinner as contrasted with the earthy frolicing in steerage. I thought Kate Winslet's entrance as the younger Rose was one of the best in all of cinema, peeking out from that large hat as she arrives on the dock. While I applaud the photography on the entire project, I loved the beautiful closeups of both Winslet and DiCaprio. I know they both will never forget filming this movie with respect to the physical requirements, but boy did those closeups work out. And we know about actors and their closeups.
I was a sucker for the two of them hanging over the bow during the king of the world sequence. I also loved seeing the dolphins swimming next to the monstrous ship. I loved the elegance of the interior of the ship and I was fascinated by visits to the underbelly where we see how the ship functions.
The iceberg scenes were well-executed. The same could be said for scenes where water rises within the ship, some of which had me lifting my feet in the theater. It was tense watching Rose try to get Jack away from a post where he has been wrongly handcuffed. I felt the same about watching them run through the water in the ship's main rooms as her fiance is attempting to shoot them.
I had a sense of wonderment as an elderly couple hugged one another in their bed as water is swiftly rising. Cables were snapping, water thundering through windows, dishes breaking, furniture sliding, explosions, people jumping. And all the while a quartet of musicians is playing its heart out.
The excitement really crackles when the ship breaks in half. The bow immediately sinks. While running as fast as they can to the stern, Jack says to Rose stay on the ship as long as possible. They dodge all sorts of mayhem heading toward the stern. It is slowly going up in the air and they make it to the top where they climb over the edge. This remaining part of the vessel starts its descent to the bottom of the ocean. I think the sinking is truly one of the most exciting and well-crafted sequences I have ever seen in a film... well worth the price of admission and anything thing else you think you have to endure.
Cameron has assembled an interesting cast of actors to fill these roles:
Kate and Leo were known before Titanic, but not like afterwards. They became world-famous. They also became real-life friends and even worked together again (in Revolutionary Road, a wildly different film that I also happened to quite like). What a team. He brought the most appropriate energy to Jack and she seemed so likeable and so loving to him. They are two of the best actors of their generation.
Billy Zane was outstanding as her impossibly arrogant, impossibly rich fiance and David Warner is spooky as his dangerous manservant. Frances Fisher was dazzling as Rose's imperious mother, a poor widow who needs to daughter to marry a rich man. Kathy Bates was a hoot as the outspoken and unsinkable Molly Brown. I thought Bernard Hill was the best Titanic captain I've seen... and I've likely seen them all. I always love Bill Paxton as he shone as the head of the exploring team. Gloria Stuart was just marvelous as Old Rose. I loved everything about her looks and her quiet reserve. I still recall the sparkle in her eye. Oh wait, of course I do... I just watched the film.
All technical credits... camera work, the score, production design, the editing, among them, were exemplary. I loved all the transition scenes that would go from today on the exploring ship to 1912. Fabulous.
Titanic is the most honored of all my 50 favorite films. It was nominated for an astonishing 14 Oscars and won 11, including best picture, tying with Ben-Hur as the most Oscar-winning film in history. Titanic became the highest-grossing film in history (with a reported 2.18 billion, yes a B) and maintained that record until 2009 when another Cameron film, Avatar, stole the limelight.
I have three other 1997 films in my 50 favorites list... Wilde, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and L.A. Confidential. If the latter had won best picture, for which it was nominated, I wouldn't have been unhappy at all. And Titanic bested them all.
It is worth noting that in 2012 Cameron made a fabulous documentary called Titanic: The Final Word with James Cameron. For fans of the film and especially those interested in the history of the voyage and the sinking, this is for you.
Unbelievable as it may seem with all my gushing about Titanic, there are actually 12 films that I like more. Right now I think... really? I guess my heart did go on for 12 other films even more than this one, but again, I tell you, my passion is on fire for these finals 13 films.
The Directors: Delmer Daves