johnlink ranks TITANIC (1997)

A day after watching one of Leonardo DiCaprio’s newest three hour movies, we decided to watch the original Leonardo DiCpario three hour movie. This has been on my mind a bit as of late if only because there is a musical cue in FROZEN, which my kids watch at least once a day, that reminds me of TITANIC. I haven’t seen James Cameron’s epic since the 20th century, so I thought it was time to revisit the shipwreck.


I watched TITANIC (1997) on 1.3.15. It was my fourth viewing of the film and first in over fifteen years.

When James Cameron was trying to get the green light for this movie, he pitched it to studios as “Romeo and Juliet on the Titanic.” That log line serves as both a perfect example at how easy it was to get movies made in the 90s, and a gross oversimplification of a 3 hour and 20 minute epic film. TITANIC is a movie with flaws to be sure – you don’t become an easy target for spoofs unless you have plenty of cheesy moments – but it also a successful telling of a tragic event.

James Cameron wrote, directed, produced, and edited this film. It is safe to say that this thing was his baby for a long time. He does a solid job on all of those fronts, with the writing aspect maybe falling one step behind the other tasks. His script is not bad by any means (he does a great job of dispensing information without it feeling like boatloads of exposition), but there are enough clunky moments and hammy lines that prevent it from being a truly great script.

The story is simple. A crew led by Brock Lovett (Bill Paxton) is searching the sunken hull of the Titanic in the contemporaneous 90s. He ends up with a woman on board his vessel, Rose (Gloria Stuart) who was a survivor of the original disaster. Most of the movie occurs in flashback with Rose telling of the 17-year-old version of herself (Kate Winslet) boarding the Titanic with her prearranged fiancee Cal (Billy Zane). She is a high society girl that wants to get away. She finds herself running into the arms of the (literally) third class Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio). They begin a love affair over two days before the Titanic strikes an iceberg and begins its decent to the bottom of the ocean. The movie tells the story through a handful of people who are in some way involved in Rose’s life. Her status as a woman among the elite allows that circle of people to include folks like the ship’s designer Bruce Ismay (Jonathan Hyde) and it’s builder Thomas Andrews (Victor Garber).


Much of the first half of the flashback is spent establishing the relationship between Rose and Jack and then putting them on the run from Cal and his policeman/butler Lovejoy (David Warner). As hard as it is to believe that the duo can keep outsmarting The Phantom and the Master Control Program from TRON, they do. Jack draws her naked and then they make love in an old car. It’s all romance and happiness until the ship hits the berg. Then the true survival begins. The scenes depicting the breaking up and sinking of the titanic may be slightly dated after 18 years, but they still hold surprising effectiveness. There are heart wrenching moments involving old people, children, single moms, and infants. This blog is filled with reviews that demean films that don’t earn this sort of torturous climax (most recently: TROY trying to go from violent action epic to a movie where it is ok to rape women in the streets and literally throw infants over walls to their deaths). But TITANIC, for some of its cheesy quotes and oft-imitated romantic melodrama, absolutely earns these devastating moments.

DiCaprio and Winslet are still young actors figuring out how to act. Winslet doesn’t always seem comfortable with the words she’s speaking, though some of that is character. DiCaprio still wears everything on his sleeve at this point in his career and hasn’t learned the art of the quiet smolder which would later become such a vital tool in his actor’s toolbox. Billy Zane is pure villain, but he gives that part what he needs. Bill Paxton’s character doesn’t do the movie much service, he is there only to make the audience feel bad for being indifferent before they learn the ‘truth’ of the Titanic, but he gives it what he can. Noone else stands out, per se, though Kathy Bates does a nice job with the underwritten Molly Brown.

This movie was a major, major event in the late 90s. It broke records, was nominated for dozens of awards (winning many), and became as much a part of the vernacular of that era as THE MATRIX would a couple of years later. THE MATRIX lasts in our collective psyche because it is the language of the young internet demographic. But TITANIC should be remembered as a movie from a similar time that had as big an impact in terms of how movies were made. This was a $200,000,000 movie that exceeded expectations in the box office. The special effects, quietly, were a benchmark for the next decade. James Cameron could have done the movie a service by having some script tweaks (I probably sarcastically say “I’ll never let go, Jack” once a month), but it will long stand a cinematic icon wether it is recalled that way or not.



The bonus points are for the awesome James Horner musical score and for some superior special effects creation, especially when considering the effects are nearly two decades old.


FINAL SCORE: 7.75 out of 10


~ by johnlink00 on January 4, 2015.

One Response to “johnlink ranks TITANIC (1997)”

  1. I remember many years back putting this movie on about 2 in the morning – couldn’t sleep so I thought a movie might put me out. Sometimes they do even if they are good or bad. 3 hours later I was still wide awake and this movie was just finishing. I couldn’t stop watching it. It really has some kind of charm about it.

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