James Cameron has made a name for himself over the years. First, it was as a master of science fiction action, with his first two Terminator films and Aliens becoming genre classics. However, Terminator II showcased his keen eye for film technology. This is something that he would continue to utilize in his future films to great effect. By great effect, I of course mean box office numbers. With the release of Titanic in 1997, Cameron gained a new nickname: “King of the World”—a reference to the ecstatic declaration he made when he received the Oscar for Best Director for Titanic. Titanic became the number one box office hit in history, topped 12 years later by Cameron’s next film Avatar. With Avatar, Cameron once again solidified himself as a master film technologist. Filming the largely-computer generated movie in 3D was considered a gimmick before everyone saw the film and how excellently Cameron had executed the technique to increase the audience’s level of immersion in the Na’vi homeworld. Now, with this 3D re-release of Titanic, Cameron hopes to put post-conversion 3D on the map. Post-conversion 3D has been a hot Hollywood gimmick since Avatar’s release, and involves converting a film into 3D despite the fact that it was not filmed in 3D. Post-conversion 3D is widely considered inferior to films actually shot in 3D, and simply a lazy way to bolster ticket sales. Cameron wouldn’t be denied, however, and Titanic 3D exists solely to prove to the naysayers that the technique can be done well, even on a film that’s fifteen years old.
The film is presented as a recollection by elderly Rose Dawson Calvert, who reveals to treasure hunters sifting through the wreckage of the Titanic that she is actually Rose DeWitt Bukater, a passenger who was believed to have died during the sinking of the ship. Rose recalls that she had boarded the Titanic as a first class passenger with her arranged fiancée, Cal Hockley, and her mother. Rose’s mother insists that the engagement hold, despite Rose’s misery, since it would solve the DeWitt Bukater’s financial problems. Rose considers committing suicide by jumping off the ship’s stern, but is saved by penniless artist Jack Dawson, who won a third class ticket in a game of poker. Rose and Jack start a tentative friendship, despite the disapproval of Cal and Mrs. DeWitt Bukater. Jack and Rose’s friendship eventually grows into something more, and their fledgling relationship is put to the ultimate test when the ship fatefully strikes the iceberg responsible for its demise.
Let me preface this by saying this was my first time seeing this movie. So pretty much everything was new to me, except the ending, which I had been told about years ago. With that in mind, I was left in awe at Cameron’s insane attention to detail. I had read about the painstaking lengths he had gone to recreate the ship, even going so far as to create a 90 percent scale model of the ship and its interiors down to the silverware. As such, Titanic is an absolutely luscious production, and Cameron continues to prove that he has an excellent eye for epic scale mixed with intimate moments. Some fairly terrible dialogue, unfortunately, frequently hampers these intimate moments. The romance, in general, is extremely corny, but in a way refreshing when compared to what passes for romance in Hollywood these days (read: The Twilight Saga). Having also seen Avatar, I think it’s safe to say that Cameron is a decidedly weaker writer than he is a director.
The subpar dialogue is assisted to some degree by strong performances across the board. Leonardo DiCaprio is my favorite modern actor, and it was interesting to finally see the role that made him a household name. I felt that he did well as Jack Dawson, but didn’t bring the intensity of his earlier roles in films like The Basketball Diaries or What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. He is committed in Titanic, though, so it’s not like I felt he was phoning this in or anything. I suppose I felt like the role itself wasn’t serious or well written enough for him, and the dialogue didn’t help with that mindset. Meanwhile, Kate Winslet was more rounded and I enjoyed her performance more so than a lot of her more recent roles that I’ve seen. The dynamic between the two leads is the utter opposite of what can be seen in the film Revolutionary Road; they exude chemistry and charisma in Titanic, whereas in Revolutionary Road the fact that they were portraying a couple so far out of love made their performances feel extremely forced in some ways. I make this reference because this is the Kate-Leo movie I experienced while most others had only ever experienced Titanic. I found the supporting cast to be good with no particular standouts, although I was a little irritated with how sharply Cameron tried to present Cal as the movie’s big bad villain.
So, in regards to the cinematography, I found it to be excellent. The camera angles of the ship exterior are glorious, particularly during the film’s climax. The interior shots also excellently convey the rich and luxurious nature of the ship. The interior shots are also where the 3D shines; just as in Avatar, Cameron utilizes the 3D in a subtle manner that merely makes one feel as though they are in the film’s world. The 3D did not feel tacked on at all, although I’m not entirely sure its benefits justify the conversion. I will say that watching the ship sink was jaw dropping, although I’m not sure if I attribute that more to seeing it on the big screen in all its glory or if it was the technical wizardry of the 3D effect. Either way, the film’s special effects hold up very well 15 years later. James Horner’s score also holds up extremely well, although I can’t say the same about that infamous Celine Dion song.
I enjoyed Titanic. Do I think it deserved the Best Picture nod over L.A. Confidential and Good Will Hunting? Not even remotely. The cheesy romance against the epic backdrop of the ship’s famous sinking may be really appealing to some, but what really grabbed me is the sheer amount of spectacle the film offers. Poor dialogue hampers a film that is otherwise very technically proficient. If you’ve already seen the film and want to see it in 3D, I’m not sure I can recommend it. Yes, Cameron definitely succeeded in proving post-conversion 3D can be well done, but it still seemed pretty unnecessary to me. However, if you are a fan of Titanic but never got the chance to enjoy it on the big screen, I absolutely recommend going to your nearest theater and watching it. Much like Avatar, I feel that this movie probably loses a lot of appeal on anything smaller than a theater screen. In fact, I’m not even sure I would have enjoyed it as much if I had seen it in some other way. Watching thousands of tons of steel tear apart while people scramble for lifeboats on a huge screen just seems really compelling to me.