Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet in Titanic (1997)


(director/writer/editor: James Cameron; cinematographer: Russell Carpenter; editors: Conrad Buff/Richard A. Harris; cast: Leonardo DiCaprio (Jack Dawson), Kate Winslet (Rose DeWitt Bukater), Gloria Stuart (Rose Dawson Calvert), Billy Zane (Cal Hockley), Kathy Bates (Molly Brown), Frances Fisher (Ruth DeWitt Bukater), Bernard Hill (Capt. E.J. Smith), Victor Garber (Thomas Andrews), Bill Paxton (Brock Lovett), David Warner (law officer); Runtime: 191; Paramount Pictures; 1997)

“An unconscionable disaster, made for those who are less impressed with intellect in films than with special effects and a soap opera romance.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

An unconscionable disaster, made for those who are less impressed with intellect in films than with special effects and a soap opera romance. This is a film whose budget was for $200 million and while doing a dutiful job in re-creating the grandeur of the ship and its ritzy atmosphere, it failed in everything else. That is, except in the gall to think it has created a masterpiece.

If there is anyone who stills believes there is such a thing as an unsinkable ship, you’ll believe Leonardo DiCaprio’s innocuous portrayal of an artist and that the soap opera romance story told is tantamount to a work of dramatic art. This epic disaster film of the Titanic’s sinking upon hitting an iceberg on April 15, 1912 is all gloss, high-class trash, and pure Hollywood. While even in its quest for accuracy it still does not play up the fact that a near-by ship refused to come in time to save those who were in the water from freezing to death, thereby causing the unnecessary deaths of hundreds of the fifteen hundred who died. Films backed by big money like this one rarely ever go after controversy, much preferring to steer a trouble-free course with a clever eye on the bottom line.

This three hour and eleven minute disaster film opens with a team of deep sea explorers, led by Brock Lovett (Bill Paxton), looking for the Titanic’s treasures and the valuable jewels it had on board. These slick treasure hunters are disappointed that their found booty has turned to mud and that the only thing they have discovered, is a nude picture of a woman with the world’s most valuable blue egg-shaped diamond necklace (Le Coeur de la Mer) around her neck. But to their surprise they receive a call from the lady who posed for that picture, who is now 101-years-old. And, the film begins by flashback telling of what happened to the Titanic, narrated through the eyes of Rose (Gloria Stuart who in real-life is an 87-year-old former actress who appeared in the Gold Diggers of 1935).

The filmmaker stresses the difference in classes on board, by showing the haughty rich boarding on first-class passage and the noble lower-class in steerage. The first one we see to board from first-class is the gorgeous and well-plumed Rose (Kate), with her snooty mother (Francis) and the man she is soon-to-be-married-to, the wealthy scion to his family business, Cal. He is played hideously and one-dimensionally by Billy Zane. By way of steerage comes our boy Jack Dawson (Leonard), who wins his ticket in a card game. All the lower-class people are the salts of the earth, while all the upper-class people all seem to be snobs. There is one notable exception, “The Unsinkable Molly Brown,” who represented the class of “new money.” She is played without creating any further interest in her character by Kathy Bates, who seems to be going through the motions of what the character is supposed to be like. I think any actress on board that ship could have played that part.

Everyone aboard the Titanic was stereotyped. What gave this film watch-ability was the way the ship was re-created down to its last details, giving one the romantic feeling of being on the real voyage. At least, the money spent for visual effects went to some good use.

The love story begins when Jack stops Rose from jumping overboard, as she is apparently confused about her loveless romance and upcoming marriage and contemplates suicide. The remainder of the film is about these star-crossed lovers, trying to get together but being opposed by her mother and her future husband.

The other part of the film focuses on the ship’s management telling the captain to speed things up. The captain against his better judgment is obliging to that wish, supposedly for the publicity the ship would get if it docked in New York ahead of schedule. What was ultimately unforeseen was that the fog created conditions that made it impossible to detect icebergs, as the ship would ram into those icebergs at full speed.

The photography was great. The costumes were terrific. The sound system was as good as it gets. Everything about the special effects was first-class. If you judge a film by those standards, then you will be more than pleased with this film. If you are looking for a cruise into deeper water then I’m afraid you’re out of luck, this one will only leak in the shallow water it’s stuck in. I waited a long time to see this film, choosing to watch it on TV and not on the big screen. I have no regrets why I waited so long. By the way I saw A Night To Remember (1958) and thought that version of the Titanic to be just grand, not cluttered with a trivial story like this one. It just stuck to the historical event.