Sunday, February 17, 2013

Oscar Month: Titanic (1997)

FILM: Titanic
YEAR: 1997
OSCARS: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Song, Best Original Dramatic Score, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing, Best Visual Effects

I can't say that I am a great fan of James Cameron's work. I haven't seen Aliens or Terminator, love Terminator 2: Judgement Day but despise the highest grossing film of all time, Avatar. So I really wasn't sure what I would make of his other crowning achievement, Titanic. Thankfully, after a really rough start, Titanic sucks you into its shlocky melodrama and produces a long, sad, entertaining epic. It isn't perfect but it works and the performances get better as it goes along.

Titanic begins with an undersea explorer (Bill Pullman) who finds a nude painting of a woman underwater in the Titanic, the ship he has been long exploring. He ends up talking to one of the survivors of the Titanic, Rose, who tells the story of how she fell in love and survived the shipwreck. The film sends you back to the year that Titanic sank and tells the story of Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio), who gets lucky and wins tickets on the Titanic. On board, Jack meets the young Rose (Kate Winslet), who is fed up with her life and doesn't want to marry her fiance Cal  (Billy Zane). They meet, they fall and love. Boom. But then the ship sinks. Spoiler Alert.

The acting in Titanic can be pretty awful, especially the first half hour where Rose and Jack are together. It is so fake, so forced, so inauthentic, that I almost considered stopping the film. None of the other members of the cast are standouts either, but as the film goes on, it gets better. By the second half of the film, the acting isn't so bad and doesn't distract from the film. Winslet ends up giving a good performance but DiCaprio isn't as strong in this as something like Inception.

The plot is also weak. It's cliched, it's boring at times, and it seems to be done just to put a human element into a major catastrophe. But guess what? It works. Hard to imagine, but it does. Like I said, the first half hour to forty five minutes on the boat is just dreadful but eventually the film sucks you into its melodrama and makes you care about two characters. Titanic is not a thoroughly entertaining love story, but it gets better as it goes along. That is rare in a film.

My biggest problems with the film involve length and the way that Cameron handles the sinking. One, the sinking takes forever. Typically, a movie speeds up events but this one basically goes minute by minute through the catastrophe. It takes about an hour out of the movie. It is long and it does get boring. But my biggest problem with the film is that it doesn't make Titanic into an event that you are horrified by. It's intense, but it feels so watered down and fake that I was cringing. Unlike Saving Private Ryan or The Impossible, the sinking is done more for entertainment than to say: look how horrible this is.

But in the end, you will enjoy Titanic. It has a little bit of everything and I can guarantee you that there is something in the film that you will like, no matter who you are. It isn't perfect and it is far from the greatest love story of all time, but it still is an entertaining three hours in the theater. It is also a must see in 3D, if you have the right television.

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