Titanic is a love story, between a film director and a ship. James Cameron, usually known for his boisterous movies of indestructible relentless killers and a multitude of guns, took on titanic with a great passion. An avid wreck diver himself, and Titanic obsessive, this was Cameron’s dream job. He knew he had to make this movie to suit the period, its characters and its tragedy. And how better to do that, than to use the template of the greatest tragedy ever written, Romeo and Juliet, a convenient and obvious choice.
From different sides of the classes, our lovers meet aboard the ill fated liner. Rose (Kate Winslet), a girl of fine protocol, stifled and unhappy in an arranged marriage, and Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) a happy go lucky peasant, aimlessly living life to the full. Poles apart but bound in a forbidden love. Between them stand’s Roses fiancé, Cal (Billy Zane) and her stern and uppity mother, who have no trouble in convincing us to despise them. The romance of different classes was not just an idea to pull in the female audience, but also important in defining certain points about how the poorer folk were treated as inferior on the ship, giving us reason to join their journey too.
His story lines may not be as deep and thought provoking as some would like but Cameron does make epic movies, and he makes them very well. Alongside the love story is a story set in the modern day, with Cameron’s favourite actor Bill Pullman diving the wreck, and there are some brilliant dissolves from the decaying corpse to the brand new steam liner.
Cameron’s eye for detail is impeccable, and his replication of the Titanic, and its destruction, was awesome on its initial viewing on the big screen. He took the technology available to him and pushed it to its limits. Computer generated movies were rife at this time, and a lot of identical films were showing, specifically of characters locked in some kind of complex with a CGI beast, so for me, Titanic was another fresh moment of being completely blown away by the achievement.
There are scenes however, where you can tell that some external shots are actually filmed in a studio, notably the scene where DiCaprio and Winslet are arm stretching on the bow of the ship, the unnatural sky and lighting give the game away, somewhat. However, the final scenes, out on the cold Atlantic really made great use of the sci-fi blue that Cameron loves to use so much.
Titanic running at nearly three hours is considered by many to be way too long, but Cameron chose to sink the boat in real time. His idea was an artful choice, and helped to put your own time spent viewing the movie into perspective. He wanted to spend as much time on his beautiful ship as he did on his sinking one, and although the romance gets a bit corny on repeated viewings, the film, even at three hours, is a tension packed special effects extravaganza, and crammed with facts and real life characters and occurrences.
Again, as in many of Cameron’s films the real villains of the piece are the corporations and companies seeking glory in cash and power. We see the arrogance and flawed certainty that led to so many damning decisions in the ships short history. Under the orders of Star Line Director JB Ismay, the ship is led into disaster, and all for just the glory and attention of the worlds press. The scene where Thomas Andrews, the ships designer informs the rest of the crew that the ship will definitely sink is compelling, the silence between sentences is deliberately painful. Ismay is later seen as a coward, boarding the life boat ahead of women and children. In real life he was the highest ranking officer to survive the ship, everyone else going down with the ship as was their duty.
It was important that his story be taken into the bowls of the ship, and to water level, during the sinking, so I suppose this is why he introduced an action subplot. Cal, Roses fiancée, pursues them, shooting a handgun off, through the ship like the Terminator, funnily enough ,an incident not documented in the history books, we can only assume that all witnesses to this episode went down with the ship. Joking aside, there were certain scenes that I felt was an unnecessary Hollywood extra, that being one of them. The films final happy ending in the great Titanic in the sky, being another one, there only to fulfil its generic requirements and one that maddens me. Why after all those years would the spirit of Rose reuinte with some chap she knew for only a day or two. What about her widow of God only knows how many years?
The Celtic soundtrack, and the Celine Dionne theme tune, isn’t my cup of tea, but with the Irish so heavily involved in the building of the great ship, and making up a small percentage of its passengers, it is relevant, unlike the end of Avatar, where Celine Dion was definitely the last thing I expected or wanted to hear.
This awesome disaster movie makes for riveting viewing, thrilling yet heart wrenching, sometimes we get so wrapped up in the celluloid action that we remove ourselves from the true tragedy. Its B-Movie love story is substantial easy popcorn fodder, and it was no wonder that the movie became such a success.