Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Man-made Disaster Movie: Titanic Is A Passionless Love Story That Sinks!

The Good: Good peripheral performances, A few moments of character
The Bad: Mediocre special effects, Predictable plots (not just the boat sinking), Contrived love story, Chemistry
The Basics: After several years, I gave Titanic a second chance, only to discover it was as bad as I remembered it being!

I'll admit it, I'm in the minority. I am not a fan of Titanic. I saw it years ago and was utterly unimpressed with virtually every aspect of it. So, when I sat down to rewatch the film as part of my desire to see every movie that won the Best Picture Oscar, I knew I would have to see Titanic again. I went into my latest viewing with my partner, who is a big fan of the film. Despite being initially biased against the movie based upon my prior experience, I figured if there was anything that could change my perception of the movie, it would be seeing it with my favorite person in the world and sharing her appreciation of the film.

It, alas, did not.

Titanic remains one of the most overrated films I've ever seen with two leads who have no genuine sexual chemistry. And while almost anyone who has ever heard the word "titanic" knows about the ship and what happened to it, the film by James Cameron is remarkably predictable in both plot and character aspects. For all the supposed greatness of the movie, this remains a long, tiresome drama that is a mild twist on a "man from the wrong side of the tracks gets the society girl" story. The disaster story is fleshed out with a romance that is more cliche than extraordinary. Ironically, for all those who hailed Revolutionary Road as a great reunion of stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, truth-be-told, their on-screen chemistry was often lacking.

When a team exploring the ruins of the R.M.S. Titanic recovers a safe with a drawing of a woman wearing a famed lost jewel, the Heart Of The Ocean, a woman comes forward to try to help the salvage team that is bent upon recovering such things. Rose, then, begins to tell crew the story of her time on the Titanic. Feeling trapped by her engagement to Cal, Rose boards the Titanic as part of society's elite. Moments before the ship is launched, Jack Dawson wins a ticket in a poker game to get him on the Titanic. But soon Rose feels utterly smothered by the expectations of Cal and society. She prepares to end her life by throwing herself off the front of the ship, but she is saved by Jack.

After several awkward incidents where Jack is reminded of his place in the social scheme, Rose becomes certain she does not want to associate with the social elite any longer. She abandons Cal (as best she can on the boat) and runs off with Jack. Jack, an artist, makes the portrait of Rose, which Cal finds in their room's safe. Cal's assistant plants the Heart Of The Ocean on Jack and arrests the young man. Shortly thereafter, the Titanic collides with its fateful iceberg and begins to sink. The young love Rose and Jack share becomes a nightmarish attempt to evacuate the sinking ship.

Titanic is superlative for its supporting cast. Kathy Bates portrays Molly, a society woman who does not care for conventions, brilliantly. She brings a vibrancy to scenes that are filled with stuffy characters acting boringly. Similarly, Victor Garber (Mr. Andrews, the designer of the ship) and Bernard Hill (Titanic's captain) play their roles with dignity that is enjoyable to watch and becomes the definition of professionalism and sacrifice.

But so many of the other roles are monolithic and cliche even. Cal and his henchman are villains of the most predictable and mundane order. Cal is clinging to Rose, not out of love, but a chauvinistic sense of possession. Outside being an artist, Jack is just a boy from the wrong side of the tracks with little else to distinguish him from similar characters. And Rose is very much a spoiled society girl who is unhappy with her lot in life. Her character is only fleshed out by her mother's insistence that she do whatever is necessary to snag Cal because Rose's wealthy father died carrying an inordinate amount of debt.

So, with characters who are more "types" than genuine characters, Titanic is a movie with a predictable plot that is trading almost exclusively on style instead of substance. As for the style, the film is an awkward mix of phenomenal and droll. The sets inside the Titanic are absolutely stunning, recreated in immaculate detail. The costumes, as well, are beautiful and appear period-correct. There is much to admire about the style of Titanic for much of the film.

Unfortunately, most of the shots of the ocean liner Titanic are sloppy, obvious CG efforts which have a poor physical relationship to the ocean setting and the sky. When the boat is moving and when the camera is posed at improbable angles - especially as the Titanic is going down - the effects are anything but special. The reality of footage of the actual Titanic on the ocean floor stands out compared to the computer-generated replica and when the reality and the CG are put side by side, it is just horrible. The epitome of bad special effects comes in the frozen bodies, several of which are obvious mannequins.

After a ridiculous amount of time, the movie ends and the viewer feels cheated, not so much because they knew the end from before the movie began, but because of the narrative structure. From the outset, viewers know that Rose survives, so the process of how she gets rescued is mildly interesting at best. But some of the other characters could have had surprising resolutions to their stories, but for them being mentioned early in the movie.

As well, while director James Cameron has an obvious appreciation for some physical details, he fails to capture certain essential realities. The darkness of the boat after the lights go out and sound as it would have traveled after the boar went down are less-realistically presented in Titanic.

On DVD, Titanic comes with the theatrical trailer and the ability to see the movie seamlessly in one take (the old VHS had two cassettes). There is a new two-disc version which offers Titanic fans more goodies, but I only had the one-disc version for review.

Ultimately, Titanic is another big budget special effects film of a tragedy which fleshes out the known tragedy with a lackluster character story that is more of a fairy tale than it is an original or inspired story.

[As a winner of the Best Picture Oscar, this is part of my Best Picture Project available by clicking here! Please check it out!]

For other works featuring David Warner, please check out my reviews of:
The Adventures Of Brisco County Jr.
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret Of The Ooze
Star Trek V: The Final Frontier


For other film reviews, please check out my index page by clicking here!

© 2010, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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