Sunday, May 30, 2010

A Night to Remember

Film: Titanic
Format: DVD from Yorkville Public Library through interlibrary loan on laptop.

For what it’s worth, the movie Titanic has developed a reputation for being overrated. It won a shit-ton of Oscars, but ever since, it has become a movie that one feels slightly embarrassed admitting to liking or even watching. I’m going to buck this trend. I like this film. It’s long, it’s overblown, it’s melodramatic and silly in places, but it’s a damn fine film.

If it’s a spoiler to you that the Titanic sinks, then you don’t deserve to watch anything ever again. Seriously. Either that, or you’re 12 and you shouldn’t be reading this blog anyway. We start not in the 19-teens, but in the late 90s. A crew is investigating the wreckage of Titanic, sending robotic submersibles down the decks to look for salvage. Specifically, the crew, led by Brock Lovett (Bill Paxton) is looking for a huge, heart-shaped blue diamond called La Couer de la Mer, or The Heart of the Ocean. They pull up a chest from the stateroom of the man who last owned the gem, but it is not inside. What is inside, though, is drawing of a woman wearing the necklace that held the stone.

Meanwhile, back in the U.S., an old woman (Gloria Stuart) sees a report of the progress of the dive at Titanic and sees the drawing that has been discovered. She puts through a call to the discovery ship, asking if they have discovered the gem. Since no one knew about the gem, the crew is intrigued, and invites the old woman and her granddaughter out to the site. Once there, she claims that the woman in the drawing is her. They ask for her story, and she tells them. And, through movie magic, we are taken back to 1914.

We meet our major players immediately. Rose (Kate Winslet) is a young woman who is engaged to Cal Hockley (Billy Zane). He is exceedingly wealthy, and in stereotypical movie fashion, he’s also a complete bastard. Rose’s family has, essentially, lost everything but its name, and this marriage will save them financially. They are heading back to the States on Titanic’s maiden voyage. Meanwhile, on the docks, a couple of wastrels named Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Fabrizio (Danny Nucci) win passage on the ship in a poker game.

I’ll cut to the chase here. Rose, terribly unhappy with her fiancé and the life that looks to be ahead of her, considers suicide in the form of jumping off the back of the ship. Jack happens to be there and talks her out of it. Accused at first of attempted rape, he is instead given a sort of hero’s welcome by being invited to dinner in the first-class dining hall, where he is condescended to and derided. However, naturally, Rose falls for him.

The rest of the first half of the movie consists of continual reminders that Caledon is a bastard and that Jack is poor and noble. It would be improper to suggest that the two men fight for her affections, since only Jack has them, but Cal has money and power, and does what he can to make Jack’s life hell. When Rose poses nude for Jack to draw wearing nothing but the necklace (remember that drawing from the start?) Cal arranges for his valet Spicer Lovejoy (David Warner) to put the diamond necklace in Jack’s coat, and accuses him of stealing it.

The second half of the film, or at least most of the second half, is all about the sinking. This is beautifully handled. We see the iceberg, and we get to see the ship filling up with water. It takes more than an hour for the ship to go down, and this feels very much like it is handled in real time. Multiple little dramas play out as the ship sinks. The major drama, though, as it has been through the entire film, is Rose’s attempt to save Jack, Cal’s attempt to keep Jack off a lifeboat and save himself (primarily) and Rose (secondarily).

The aftermath of the sinking is particularly disturbing, like something out of George Romero’s nightmare. As one lifeboat sails back to look for survivors, it passes through a floating graveyard of frozen bodies in one of the most gruesome things I’ve ever seen.

The actual sinking of the ship is what you pay your money for with this movie, and it does not disappoint. It is terrifying in places, tragic, and awful, and was worth every penny James Cameron put into it. And really, that should be enough drama for any film. And yet, we’ve got a whole lot more movie going on here with the love story and the fate of Jack and Rose. It’s almost too much.

*** SPOILER WARNING ***

It’s worth noting that the film ends in one of the biggest dick moves in cinematic history. Rose still has the gem, and the night after she tells her story, she walks up on the deck and tosses it overboard. Seriously, she could just as easily have extracted it from her bag and given it to her granddaughter and allowed her family to live like damn kings and queens for the next five generations, but instead, it’s relegated to worthless bauble status, or it’s more important to make a gesture toward a guy who’s been dead for 80 years than help her actual family. I do enjoy this movie, but this really cheeses me.

*** END SPOILERS ***

If I had to guess why this movie has, since its triumph at the Oscars developed a reputation for being an embarrassing film to enjoy, I’d venture that the main reason is that damn Celine Dion song. It’s not fair to the film to associate everything about it with the French Canadian harpy and her Svengali husband. The song is pretty damn terrible, after all. But so what? The movie is great. There are perhaps no great truths revealed here, or anything that couldn’t have been told in a much shorter story, but again, so what? Titanic is a chance to get your romance on, to see a grand story, and to see some brilliant effects work and a very scary and realistic ship sinking.

Why to watch Titanic: Romance, death, love, and life on the grandest scale.
Why not to watch: That song will go on and on and on and on.

3 comments:

  1. Yes, I think when a movie is as wildly popular as this one was and wins as many awards as this one, there is bound to be a bit of a backlash (Like Forrest Gump or the Bee Gees).
    I'd still take Titanic over Avatar.

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  2. I just watched this completely for the first time. I didn't enjoy the romantic storyline, but there is no denying the special effects, which are still eye-catching after all these years.

    Cameron is not the best at writing non-cliched material (oh Avatar!), but I did like that Rose got to make choices, even if the dichotomies in the film are broadly drawn (rich = evil snobs; poor = all good). Jack felt like a manic pixie dream boy to me; he was there to show Rose how to live her life.

    I saw A Night to Remember before seeing this, and I do prefer that version of this event.

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    Replies
    1. For me, Titanic is all about the spectacle. You sit through the romance to watch the ship sink. I'd like it better without the framing story, which I think cheapens the movie and adds a good 30+ minutes that aren't needed.

      But, yeah, there's a lot of melodrama in this one.

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