I felt a sudden compunction to watch Titanic again, prompted to some extent I’m sure by my recent appreciation of Mare of Easttown, and I thought I’d probably write it up for the blog. It has been a while since I’ve reviewed an older film on the blog and I figured I could do a bit of an affectionate take down of the film. In fact I’d already decided I could call it ‘The Ending is Just the Beginning: Getting Two People on the Door and Ten Other Things Wrong with Titanic’.
Having seen it afresh though I have no intention of mocking this movie. The script certainly isn’t perfect, most notably when one guy is praying with the words to Psalm 23; ‘though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil’ and Leonardo rushes up behind him and says ‘can you walk a little faster through that valley there, buddy?’. The relationship dramas are more than a bit cliched too with the domineering rich fiancé, the snobbish down on her heel society mother and even the plucky street artist, and the disaster is played a little too much for spectacle. There is also one moment at the two hour sixteen minute mark, when the leads are running down a water filling corridor, where the face swapping is terrible. I’ll forgive the special effects elsewhere as at the time they were groundbreaking but in this one moment it just looks like two stunt performers wearing a couple of Kate and Leo masks they bought in that tourist shop in Leicester Square.
Generally though Titanic is excellent. The performances from Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio, and the conviction with which they approach them, are wonderful and they easily carry the weaker elements of the film. So much are you with them on their impetuous adventure that you don’t even mind that their main antagonist Cal is being played like a villain from a film made in 1912 rather than one set in 1912. You totally believe their love for one another and the dodgy decisions this leads to (getting off the lifeboat, stripping off in the first place anyone would look for them the second they know they are missing, not swimming off to find something else to float on when the door oddly proves a little small) because they are kids and are convinced even after two days that their entire futures depend on one another. DiCaprio had just come off Romeo + Juliet and Winslet from Hamlet and their young characters here are just as convincingly driven as they were when coming from the pen of Shakespeare (even if the dialogue is not quite as lyrical).
Of course even with their focus on each other they always have time to help others in need, the slow believer notwithstanding. This is not really of note, their unimpeachable characters demanding it, but what is interesting is how this isn’t true of everyone. James Cameron’s Titanic really examines what humans can do and be in extreme circumstances, for good and for bad, which is a contrast to all of the other stiff upper lip representations of this story on screen. All existence is here on this boat.
The other thing I’d forgotten, surprisingly enough, is quite how cinematic this all is. This story could not be told in this way in any other medium and the sets, the costumes and the action all look spectacular while still largely honouring those that died in the freezing waters of the North Atlantic. It is true that many on board only have anonymous moments of bouncing off or being crushed under certain parts of the gigantic passenger liner as it tips and cracks but enough of them are presented sufficiently for us to understand the size of the tragedy and the disaster alongside the size of the ship.
Titanic is not a perfect film but it is a great movie.
The Ripley Factor:
James Cameron didn’t originate Ellen Louise Ripley but he certainly contributed to her legend and in Rose he created another ordinary woman who survives through strength of will and bravery in exceptional circumstances. The success of this is very much down to Kate Winslet in the same way the real creation of Ripley is down to Sigourney Weaver and she makes her a believable character both in terms of what she does on the Titanic and after she has got off it. Those shots of photos of her you see at the end, on the plane and the horse (riding like a man) are the real punch the air moments showing a woman whose life was defined by more than the one trip on the one mode of transportation.