Titanic (1997)

I made a decision very early on that I would spend some time only reviewing Disney films but today I’m making an exception. As you may know, today is the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. What better way to commemorate it than by posting a memorial….which I cannot do because I shall be in Greece…Instead I’m going to post both. On this the 14th of April, at the time when Titanic hit the iceberg, I shall be posting this review of James Cameron’s 1997 epic and on the 15th, at the time when she sank, I shall post the memorial. Lets take the plunge….Pun unintended…And take a look at Titanic.

The film revolves around an old woman named Rose (Gloria Stuart) recalling the story of her voyage on Titanic to Brock Lovett (Bill Paxton) as he searches for a diamond necklace named The Heart of the Ocean. The story begins when a young, First Class Rose (Kate Winslet) as she is boarding the Titanic with her mother Ruth (Frances Fisher) and her fiancée Cal (Played by Billy Zane). Rose feels tortured and trapped by her social position’s inclination keep up appearances so she does the only logical thing and attempts to throw herself from the ship where she is saved by Third Class passenger, Jack Dawson (Leonardo Di Caprio). The two eventually begin a love affair and, when the ship begins to sink, the two fight for their lives to survive.

There has been so much written and talked about with this film. It has been analysed to death, it is a staple movie in any good Film Studies course and frankly I can see why. I’m also really torn about my opinion on the film as a whole. I can’t decide whether I think it’s overrated or not.Firstly I think we should look at the actors and characters. The acting is superb, can’t fault it at all. Kate Winslet is brilliant, Leo is brilliant, Billy Zane (an actor who doesn’t get half of the credit he deserves) is great, Kathy Bates is great. I cannot fault the acting at all. The characters are a little different. Jack’s a great character. He’s stong minded and persistent as well as intelligent, he’s a very likable character. I especially like the final scenes when the ship is sinking and Jack is telling Rose everything will be ok and trying to prepare her for going into the water and you can tell he is just as terrified as her, that’s a nice touch that others might have missed. Rose is…interesting…The only reason why she falls in love with Jack is because she’s trapped in this horrible situation and Jack is the first person to act as a release. She only fell in love with him in an act of rebellion and escape. Even so, she’s done some pretty terrible things. She leaves her mother, letting her believe that her daughter has died and she leaves her fiancée (a man who may well love her) thinking the same thing…Oh and do I even need to mention the final scenes with the door? I mean, that’s been done to death.

You couldn’t, I don’t know, sit up?


Furthermore was Rose’s situation that bad to begin with? This is a point that came to me very recently. Originally I felt that the story was very cliché, it’s basically Romeo and Juliet on a sinking ship. Then I started looking at Rose and found that she was a more complex character. Then I looked at the idea that the story had villains, the mother and Cal, they seemed like stereotypes. When I looked into it more, however, I found that the story needed the villains, without it there would be little conflict and Cal and Ruth add a lot to the story. Furthermore, their more developed than I thought. Ruth loves her daughter but the position the family is in (The father died, leaving them nothing but bad debts and a good name) means that Rose has to marry Cal because then they will be able to live well and survive, without it they will be living in poverty. When Rose jumps from the lifeboat her mother actually looks worry for her safety, especially when the ship actually sinks. Cal is also more developed than I thought. At face value he just looks like a controlling, abusive dick but, when you look into it a little more, it becomes clear that Cal is a product of the time. This is the Edwardian age and gentlemen were expected to act this way. Not only that but it looks like he may actually love Rose. The scene where he gives her the diamond is actually a little touching and it does come across as an act of genuine affection. In a way, all the douchey shit he does can be explained. When he’s a bastard to Rose he’s just following the standards of the time. When he’s trying to kill Jack, he’s trying to stop the woman he loves from leaving him. I suppose you could argue he’s a tragic character. These are good, developed villains.

The supporting characters are also really good. Most of them are historical. Kathy Bates as Molly Brown is exceptionally likable, Kathy Bates is a brilliant actress. Ismay is well portrayed, a little out of context, he generally wasn’t so much of a coward, the debate still rages. Captain Smith (Played by King Theoden from Lord of the Rings, Isn’t that weird?) is likable. The child actors, though there are only a couple or so and they rarely make an appearance, are actually really good actors, good believable performances. The Italian guy and Tommy are ok, memorable enough but nothing special, good acting though. Old Rose is ok, likable enough., Brock’s ok as is the Granddaughter, but we don’t spend enough time with them so we don’t get to identify with them a lot. This IS NOT  a bad thing though, because the film is focusing on the ship in 1912 rather than the salvage crew in 1998. The other historical characters are done very well. John Jacob Astor, Benjamin Guggenheim, The Major and Sir Cosmo Duff Gordan (God is that an awesome name) are all introduced well and subtly enough. I really like the fact that most of them make an appearance towards the end. I have a feeling their may be a deleted scene with Cosmo and his wife bribing lifeboat crew not to go back for survivors for fear of being swamped and we see John Jacob Astor and Ben Guggenheim die when the Grand Staircase floods.

He’s either looking at an approaching wall of water or the legandary and mysterious SuBo sex tapes…


The story, as mentioned before, is pretty typical at face value. Romeo and Juliet on a ship, the poor guy and the wealthy girl whom society condemn etc but the characters are developed enough to bulk the plot up a bit, Rose is such a complex character when you really look at her and the story is improved dramatically for it. The writing is good, Cameron really goes out of his way to get the historical accuracy that the tv series of 1996 lacked considerably. It sounds stupid but for me, I got invested enough in the love story and the relationships between the main set of characters that the fact that the ship sinks went to the back of my mind. I didn’t forget that it was going to happen, more I wasn’t anticipating it as much. That’s testament to really good writing and story telling. The love story is done relatively well, they do try to build the relationship between the two but, because you don’t see a lot of the time they spend together, it doesn’t seem very well paced. My two main problems come with very enjoyable and incredibly dangerous drinking games. Take a drink every time Rose says Jack’s name or vise-versa and when someone makes an ironic remark regarding the ship sinking eg “God himself could not sink this ship” or “When the ship docks I’m getting off with you”.

The music is good, “My heart Will go on” is a generally good song and the musically score overall is very good. There’s a dark reprise as well which works great when the ship is sinking. By far the best things about the film though are the visual effects and the art direction. I don’t think I have ever seen a better film visual effects wise than Titanic. Nothing else even comes close, apart from maybe the Disney films but for a live action film to look this incredible is just mind-blowing. The ship was actually built as a set, although in separate sets and it was slightly shorter than the original ship, and the effort that Cameron put into it is very, VERY evident. They actually looked through old photographs and blueprints to get everything just right. The rooms are brilliant, the corridors are brilliant, the Grand staircase is just sensational, I love the look of the dome and the oak banisters, it’s just perfect. The look of the ship is perfect, such a brilliant piece of art design, it’s perfect, completely flawless. I would’ve loved to have been an extra on this because it looks so fun. The only problem that I have with the design is completely subjective and very minor. I don’t like how a lot of the action, during the sinking, takes place downstairs, below deck. I should’ve liked to have seen all the nice sets being flooded, rather than the white, boring (albeit still well constructed) corridors. In fact, most of the sinking takes place below deck and that is really annoying. That’s a pretty big problem as far as I’m concerned. The lighting is great, I love the backdrop of the ship all lit up against the black midnight sky and the colour of the water looks really icy (is that a weird comment to make? I don’t know) The lighting in that one scene where Jack and Rose are stuck behind the gate, is just perfect, the flashing and the sparks really add to the tension…even though you know that they’ll live because an elderly Rose is narrating…I suppose you wouldn’t be blamed for losing site of that fact because of the change of actress…Maybe that’s another good comment on the writing, the fact that they’re trying to add some suspense, and actually doing really well, despite the obvious fact that Rose won’t die.  Give James Cameron some credit, he may be a dick but he knows how to make a film.

Look at him with his bottle of expensive champagne and his fancy suit and his cryptkeeper friend…

I don’t think this is an overated film anymore. I think it is very well deserving of those 12 Oscars. The characters are, for the most part, great, well written, often very complex, likable characters. The story is bulked up by the villains and the nature of Rose’s character as this sort of complex person with a very minor Anti-Hero nature, in fact she reminds me a little of Bella from Twilight, ALTHOUGH ONLY A LITTLE, give Cameron some credit on this one. The lighting is great, the music is good and the sets and art design are just perfect. I can think of only a few problems and they are very minor.

A brilliant film, great characters, great actors, good music, perfect direction and art design. Though at times I did think it was a little bad on the pacing side of things.



2 thoughts on “Titanic (1997)

  1. My favourite characters? The four musicians who, despite being aware that they’re going to die, continue to play…


  2. Looking back on it, I don’t think Cameron meant for the villains or even Rose to be as complex, sympathetic or developed as it could be argued they are. I think it was completly accidental, maybe he just wanted to focus on the love story and the sinking but it always felt like we had to do more work to percieve Rose, Ruth and Cal in the way that most people do.


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