Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Billy Zane, Kathy Bates, Bill Paxton
Plot: A starving artist and a young socialite meet and fall in love during the ill-fated maiden voyage of the Titanic and face both her spurned fiancée and the disaster that sinks the luxury liner.
More than just another disaster epic,
Titanic caught the movie-world by storm, and it’s no surprise to see why.
Countless versions of the infamous disaster already existed on film before this one came along (Titanic in 1953 and A Night to Remember in 1958 to name a few), but in every way that counts - from popularity, to pathos, to special effects, to sheer scale - Cameron's version has them all beat.
At $200M, this was the most expensive production in history and all of this can be seen on screen: there's never been quite such a lavish production or such an impeccable recreation of the luxury that was the Titanic. Unsatisfied with current footage, the filmmakers went so far as to dive deep into the ocean floor and capture their own for the film’s opening sequence.
The romantic story, and the addition of two fictional characters, is really but an excuse to create an audience attachment to the happenings on screen. In true Hollywood manner, many of the inter-personal events surrounding them are contrived and much of the story is overly melodramatic. And yet for the most part it all works marvelously to provide context for the film’s real subject: the Titanic itself.
The film made Winslet and especially DiCaprio into household names, and for good reason - a large part of the success of the film rests on its two stars. The romance might be saccharine at times and wholly improbable, but the two have an undeniable, infectious chemistry. By keeping the main focus on the two main characters and relegating the rest of the cast to appropriate supporting roles only allows us to get even more involved in their fate. Of course, it also helps to have a terrific supporting cast made up of Zane, Kathy Bates, Bill Paxton, Frances Fisher and David Warner, among others.
The movie wants to be the ultimate depiction of the tragedy so that audiences can understand the events in emotional terms. As such, the film uses the lovelorn pair to interact with true-life historical characters and provide a sometimes dramaticized view of the facts that led to the disaster. There are also countless re-enactments of individual, documented human stories - some heroic, some horrible, and each all too believable.
Of course, no film about the tragedy or the era could be replete without the themes of Man vs. Nature. We see and understand the terrible miscalculations involved, the arrogance of these men who thought they were masters of all they surveyed. The self-proclaimed "unsinkable ship" was faced with so many calamities, coincidences, and instances of human error that hitting an iceberg was only the instigator for the real disaster, and only a small part of the real story.
The film also explores the early 20th century class-distinctions – these might be a tad exaggerated and makes its high society elements almost caricatural (to sometimes humorous effect) but makes for a powerful (if obvious) statement when things go badly and passengers are given a chance for survival based on their social status.
This was a stretch for writer / director Cameron who was best known for his sci-fi thrillers like Aliens, Terminator 2, but he’s proven to be at the height of his storytelling powers here. That he achieves just the right balance between all these elements, and manages to create an involving narrative around them, makes the story all the more immediate and emotionally involving.
But the film’s most impressive achievement comes in the final hour, in a mesmerizing recreation of the ship's final moments. This is filmmaking on a grand scale. The incredible use of state-of-the-art special effects make us relive the breath-taking terror by giving us a first-person view as the ocean liner goes into its final death-throes. From taking in water, to going under, to finally breaking apart as passengers are swept away (sometimes literally) by events, these scenes make for an incredible, vivid ride that’s both thrilling and harrowing. Even those immune to the manipulations of the script will be struck by one of the most awe-inspiring sequences ever put on film.
With such sumptuous décor, stunning visuals, and impressive effects Titanic is a rarity among mainstream blockbusters: it’s a sweeping epic, a romantic adventure and a though-provoking recreation of a disaster that has haunted the world for almost a century.
Winner of 11 Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director.
Drama / Entertainment: 8/10
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