Monday, July 23, 2012

#707. Titanic (1997)

Directed By: James Cameron

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Billy Zane

Tag line: "Nothing On Earth Could Come Between Them"

Trivia: After filming, the remains of the full-size set were sold as scrap metal

Titanic is one of the highest grossing motion pictures in box-office history, but when it was first released back in 1997, I completely avoided it. It’s not that I wasn’t interested; I’d read quite a bit over the years about the Titanic, and caught nearly every PBS or National Geographic special dealing with the disaster. My decision to give James Cameron’s version of events a miss stemmed from all the hype surrounding the movie. I'm always hesitant to check out the “hot, new” anything, whether it be on TV or at the cinema. Maybe it has to do with expectations, and the belief nothing can ever be as good as its hype might suggest.

So, I didn't see Titanic until years later on DVD, and it blew me away. The H.M.S. Titanic and its ultimate demise are recreated in stunning detail, but it was the film's romantic subplot that really impressed me.

Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio) is convinced it's his lucky day; in a poker game, he won 2 boarding passes for the maiden voyage of a brand new luxury liner, bound for America. Unfortunately, the name of the ship is the H.M.S. Titanic. Also on Titanic’s passenger list is Rose Bukater (Kate Winslet), a frustrated young socialite who’s engaged to be married to upper-class snob, Cal Huckley (Billy Zane). Rose’s mother (Frances Fisher) is pushing her daughter into the marriage for financial reasons, and as a result, Rose feels trapped, so much so that she even attempts suicide. But a chance encounter with Jack changes her outlook on life, and what begins as friendship soon becomes more. With Cal's bodyguard (David Warner) watching Rose's every move, she and Jack go to great lengths to hide their affair, but fate forces their hand when Titanic strikes an iceberg, dooming the ship, and many of its passengers, to a watery grave.

From their first meeting on the stern of the Titanic, where Rose was about to end it all by leaping into the frigid Atlantic, it was obvious DiCaprio’s Jack and Winslet’s Rose were destined to become one of the screen’s most memorable romantic pairings. As Rose hangs over the edge of the ship, Jack tries to dissuade her from jumping by regaling her with the story of when, as a young boy, he went ice fishing in Wisconsin and fell through the ice. He tells Rose water that cold is like “a thousand knives stabbing you at once”, and he wasn’t looking forward to experiencing it again. Yet, he assured her, if she did, indeed, jump, he’d have no choice but to dive in after her. At that moment, we sense a spark between them, and by the end of the film, this "spark" is an all-out bonfire. In these characters, Titanic builds more than a great romance; it provides an emotional connection to the tragedy. Suddenly, the sinking of the Titanic is more than something that occurred many years ago. By introducing us to Jack, Rose, and a few others who were doomed the moment the ship departed England, Titanic becomes a disaster story we feel very, very deeply.

Cameron and his crew did a tremendous job recreating both the time period and the tragedy, yet Titanic is also a touching romance, and it’s for this reason that I believe it justly earned every single dollar it's ever made.

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