Still holds up 20 years later
Titanic (1997): A seventeen-year-old aristocrat falls in love with a kind but poor artist aboard the luxurious, ill-fated R.M.S. Titanic.
For those who don't know, I consider Titanic to be one of the films that made me realize my love for movies. It's a true modern Hollywood epic, coming in at a whooping 194 minutes, and features one of the most exhilarating hours of cinema (the sinking of the Titanic) I have ever seen. It's amazing that this film still holds up extremely well 20 years later, but that's thanks largely to the fact that director James Cameron and his crew basically rebuilt the Titanic from the ground up, then sunk it using practical effects. THAT SAID. Before you just assume I'm gonna gush about this film in this review and thus should be entirely discredited, this film is FAR from perfect. So no, as much as I may love this film, it is FAR from perfect.
Let's start with the bad first, because otherwise you may not believe me when I say I have issues with this film. The biggest problem with Titanic, by FAR, is the love story. It's not great. When you have something as dramatic as the Titanic sinking on screen it's not an issue at all, but in the second act of this film (before the iceberg) there's not a whole lot for us to go on other than this story. As a result there's a lot of cringe-inducing dialogue in this second act. Leonardo DiCaprio is one of the top actors in modern history, but even he struggles with some of these lines. The scene where he pulls Rose out from a tour of the ship and tries to blurt out a monologue of his love for her is......bad. It's just bad writing. Additionally, even though she was (somehow) nominated for an Oscar, there are several scenes in this film where Kate Winslet REALLY struggles. She's a great actress, no doubt, but this performance is not that good. Well, let me rephrase that. She's pretty good in the first and third acts, but in the second act she, like DiCaprio, really struggle with the material they are given. Her struggles are just a bit more obvious. The two of them really don't have any chemistry, either. But I think most of this can be traced back to Cameron's borderline awful dialogue. Fortunately there are a couple of sequences in the second act like the third class dance party that break up this monotony, but otherwise the second is bad to the point that it is nearly unwatchable. Also, Billy Zane's character Cal doesn't hold up very well now, as he definitely comes off as a bit of a cartoon-y 90s villain. But it's Billy Zane, and as we know Billy Zane does what he wants. Also, Jack's friends Fabrizio and Tommy really aren't given much to do here, which is saying something (especially for Fabrizio) when he literally runs on the ship with Jack and this movie is 3+ hours long. Probably would have been for the best had we gotten more scenes of the three of them versus scenes of Jack + Rose. Finally! There are some scenes here where Cameron just couldn't help himself and did his best Michael Bay impersonation. Most notably, when the first column of the ship falls on Fabrizio. (Don't cry spoiler this movie is 20 years old I can do what I want haha) Did we REALLY need to see that? Really? Did we really need to see people falling into the ship as it splits in two with a whole bunch of random explosions? These shots are a tad distracting in the otherwise exhilarating third act, but that still does not change the fact that the third act of this movie is one of the most exhilarating hours of cinema ever filmed.
Let's start there with the good, because that third act (the sinking) is the obvious centerpiece of this film. If you have no idea how this film was made, you really should change that, because it's incredible. This crew basically rebuilt the Titanic, inside and out, and then sunk it in a controlled environment. The fact that they really did recreate the sinking of the Titanic using practical effects makes this entire sequence that much more real. Heck, this film looks better than some other modern-day films because of it! (Looks at Justice League) This whole sequence is incredible, from the ship striking the iceberg to Titanic's final plunge into the ocean. And, despite how epic it feels, Cameron somehow manages takes the time to have some wonderfully intimate moments spread throughout it. I still rock the ugly cry every time we get to the "Nearer, My God to Thee" sequence. It's a beautiful moment in the middle of all this chaos, and it's easily my favorite sequence of the entire film. (And one of my favorite sequences ever, for that matter.) A director, Cameron included, being willing to risk adding a sequence like this into the climax of their big budget film has been lost in modern Hollywood, which makes me really sad. Additionally, there are really strong performances from Kathy Bates and Frances Fisher. These actresses play "the unsinkable" Molly Brown and Ruth Dewitt Bukater respectively, and man are they awesome. I was freaking stoked when I saw Kathy Bates in The Boss a few years back just because of her role here in Titanic. I don't think I've seen Fisher in hardly anything else which is unfortunate because her performance as Rose's mom is the best performance of the entire film! Also, every member of the White Star Line is awesome, even the extras that only have a few lines. There are a LOT of members of White Star Line, and I love all of them, even Mr. Fantastic. Finally, I have to hit on the technical departments, because there's no doubt Cameron's crew hit it out of the part on nearly all of these. The costumes are amazing. I cannot even begin to imagine how expensive the costume budget was for this film, because not only do Rose and her mom wear some exquisite costumes throughout the film, but all the extras in the background do as well! I can't imagine how expensive the costumes were in some of those first class party sequences. No wonder they won an Oscar. And no wonder they won an Oscar for the production design! Though when you rebuild an entire ship, inside and out, then sink it, that Oscar is kind of inevitable. But geez great job to the production crew for rebuilding the Titanic, then being totally ok with their lives as James Cameron destroyed it. FINALLY, we have to talk about the score. The late James Horner has a lot of great scores to his name, but his score for Titanic is undoubtedly his best. This film's score is in my top 10 favorite scores of all-time, with iconic theme after iconic theme. Yes, the Celine Dion's "My Heart will Go On" is VERY 90s, but the rest of this score is pretty timeless, with Horner's "Hymm to the Sea" being synonymous with both the film and the Titanic disaster itself. And the song in the third class party is easily the best moment of that otherwise monotonous second ac, and we only have Horner to thank for that.
So.....there you have it. Yes, I still gush over the third act of this film, (I didn't really touch on it but there's a lot to like in the first act, too. Most notably the fact that they got permission to film the actual Titanic sea disaster in the early sequences somehow) but this movie is still 3 hours long, and that middle hour has some borderline unwatchable moments thanks to a weak script. But the production value, practical effects, score, costumes, and "Nearer, My God to Thee" still make this a great film, and one that I know I will still be watching 50 years from now. (It will probably still hold up then, too) Happy 20th anniversary to one of the films that helped me fall in love with cinema!
The Critique: Despite a monotonous second act, Titanic features some of the most exhilarating and gut-wrenching sequences ever put to film that still manages to look better than many modern films thanks to its incredible production design and practical effects.
The Recommendation: If you've somehow never seen this film....well you already know you need to change that so don't mind me.
The Verdict: 8/10 Great
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