(1997, Drama/Romance, color)
Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett and Kevin Murphy
The unwashed are a delight!
In a Nutshell:
The boat sinks.
In the words of one Kevin Murphy, Titanic is about “a scrappy little newsboy who falls in love with a much older woman, then draws a nudie picture of her.” That’s pretty much the whole thing in a nutshell. The girl is Kate Winslet as Rose (pretty sure she’s supposed to be in her late teens) while the boy is Leo DeCaprio as Jack (supposed to be in his twenties, but looks fourteen). Billy Zane supplies our little melodrama’s Base Villainy requirements as Rose’s dastardly fiancé Cal, and Kathy Bates is the wise old woman Molly Brown, though she’s only old in comparison to our fresh-faced protagonists. The whole thing literally goes down on one of the unluckiest (and most adapted for film) ships in history. After their vessel slips below the waves, Jack freezes to death in the icy Atlantic waters while Rose survives to cast off her upper class restrictions and become a liberated (i.e. lower class) woman.
That’s about fifteen, twenty minutes worth of drama right there. Titanic fills the other three hours with CGI glory shots, broad, earnest dialog laced with historical factoids, and lots and lots of shipwreck-related carnage. Oh, and a pair of modern day bookends in which Bill Paxton presses Rose’s older, wrinklier self to reveal what happened to Cal’s super-valuable diamond The Heart of the Sea. Old Rose leads him on by voiceovering much of the unbearable tedium of the film, then sneaks out to the deck of his research vessel and surreptitiously drops it over the side to, you know, prove a point. About something. Love maybe?
Did the descriptor “unbearable tedium” give me away? I hope so; I meant it to. If Titanic was a drinking game requiring me to take a shot for every fifteen minutes in which nothing happens, I’d have passed out, oh, thirty minutes in. Part of this is because I don’t drink, and probably can’t hold my liquor. Another part is that the story doesn’t introduce us to our main characters until minute twenty five, and doesn’t stop introducing them to us for another twenty minutes after that. It’s a thimbleful of romance and a hatful of tragedy diluted with a bathtub of filler.
That said, there’s nothing particularly wrong with it. It’s lavishly produced, meticulously researched and earnestly played. The star-crossed lovers hit all the right notes, even if they take their time hitting them. I might take issue with the way the movie gives us a shiftless, irresponsible little twerp for a male lead and then tries to pass him off the paragon of manhood. (I laughed long and loud during Leo DiCaprio’s world-weary description of his extensive globetrotting. To do all those things in all those places at his tender age, he would have to have started traveling when he was two.) But then, I’d have to take issue with modern romance in general. Tom Cruise’s romantic leads of the eighties were even more irritating. If anything, Leo’s Jack represents a step forward for the genre.
I find myself wondering how I’d feel about the film if my tastes were different. If I was a lover of cinematic romance, (or if the movie’s running time were cut, say, in half) I might have enjoyed it. The Lord of the Rings films have given me some of the favorite cinematic experiences of my life, but after forcing myself to remain upright for the three-plus hours of Titanic, I feel I can sympathize with not insignificant number of uninterested girlfriends who stood by their men through endless hours of ominous portents and screaming orcs. Ladies, on behalf of your significant others, I’m sorry.
A few of my favorite comments: As Paxton opens a safe recovered from Cal’s stateroom, Bill describes the resulting sludge as, “the seasick puke of people long dead,” and then proclaims this a solemn moment. During one of many, many CGI glory shots of the Titanic, Kevin says, “Hey look, The Sims are on board.” When Rose asks Jack about Wisconsin, Mike replies, “If you kill yourself and go to Hell, it’s like that.” It’s a decent enough commentary but, well, I don’t know if it really was this way, or if my perception of the film colored my perception of the riffing, but the riffers didn’t seem to be into the film as much this time around. They (or possibly just me) seem to be holding it at arm’s length. That, and the fact that it’s three tedious friggin’ hours long, sort of spoiled my enjoyment of it.
(1997, Drama/Romance, color)