Titanic (1997)

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It’s not a surprise why “Titanic” ended up becoming one of the highest grossing movies of all time and was later de-throned by “Avatar” by the very same director that brought us the aforementioned movie. Both films are so utterly broadly written and vague in their mass appeal that they’re pretty much guaranteed to be massive hits. With his hand on the button of the latest special effects, and a script that can be as ho hum and derivative as possible without a single complaint from his audience, “Titanic” is one of the two major blockbusters from director James Cameron. And like his future massive hit “Avatar,” it is an immense crowd pleaser because it doesn’t challenge or push its audience to think. It merely offers up vague characters, hackneyed archetypes, and a bang up special effects presentation that is still the small highlight in a giant disappointment.

Back in 1997 I still recall “Titanic” being the film everyone was talking about, and after three tries (once on VHS, twice on cable television), I still find it difficult to sit through it the entire way. One thing that is certain is that though director Cameron never challenges his audience in his films, “Titanic” was a challenge for me since it’s over three hours in length and still one of the worst films I’ve ever seen. It’s over wrought, badly written, badly acted, and has one of the most manipulative climaxes I’ve ever seen. With the final sequence of the Titanic sinking from the gigantic iceberg, causing the massive flood on the ship that took the lives of many people, Cameron plays his audience like a Violin in an almost Pavlovian technique.

He tugs at our heart strings with melodramatic manipulative scenes that are intended to have a giant banner on the screen flashing “Cry Now!” to the crowd. There are people falling to their deaths, there’s a little girl being taken away by rushing water, there’s the loyal captain who is ready to sink with his ship, and yes, there’s even an elderly couple lying in bed together prepared to die beside one another as the water pours in from every direction. I was almost expecting Cameron to feature an insert of a sad clown holding two puppies in his hands as he drowns in his cabin. Director James Cameron takes one of his most beloved historical incidents and transforms it in to a McDonald’s product with none of the dignity we saw in past iterations of the Titanic sinking like “A Night to Remember.”

There’s a theme song, a bright atmosphere, a terribly broad love story about class warfare that we’ve seen a thousand times before, and an artificial empathy for these characters intent on gauging audiences more than relying on genuine emotions. Director Cameron displays incredible foresight, though, banking on the appeal of Leonardo DiCaprio, a young man who, at the time, was on the precipice of becoming a teen heart throb. Adding some elegance is Kate Winslet, whose character is terribly superficial, but attractive in many respects. Of course the story between Jack and Rose is musty and dusty. It’s almost like something out of “Dirty Dancing.”

It’s beat for beat, sans the climactic dance sequence. Jack is the low class worker, Rose is the high class socialite bored with her lifestyle. She finds a new vigor and lust for life when she meets Jack, and the two form a passionate relationship that involves nude sketches, and foggy windows. Of course, the classes don’t mix and it inevitably transforms in to a violent free for all. Billy Zane is, of course, the villain in this piece playing Evil McScalliwag. Who’d have guessed? The man usually plays nice guys, right? And if director Cameron isn’t quite sure you’re in the fetal position weeping, the entire story is reflected by Rose in modern times, a withered old woman still traumatized by the events of the ship.

Everyone else’s conflicts seem null and void. I often wonder, did the crew discovering the Titanic take interviews from everyone that survived the Titanic, or did they just ask Rose? What made her so special? Was everyone else just not worth focusing on? I guess people are just in love with romance, no matter how derivative or dunderheaded it may be. Just look at the box-office numbers for this film. Still a long, tedious, one-dimensional exploration in to the power of love and how film directors can manipulate an audience as blatantly and shamelessly as ad executives, “Titanic” is one of the worst films I’ve ever been forced to sit through.