The Stanly News and Press (Albemarle, NC)

Opinion & Letters to the Editor

April 13, 2012

Where does Cameron’s ‘Titanic’ rank?

Friday, April 13, 2012 — Perhaps, I should begin with a confession. I like James Cameron’s film “Titanic”. I liked it when I saw it 15 years ago.

I have enjoyed it the numerous times I have seen it on video, and occasionally if I catch it playing on television, I will stop and watch, waiting for my favorite moments.

That being said, I do not think “Titanic” belongs alongside ”Schindler’s List”, “The Godfather”, or the ”Lord of the Rings Trilogy”. All of those films have affected me in more powerful ways than the saga of Rose Dewitt Bukator and Jack Dawson.

On the other hand, I have a great respect for Cameron’s determination to make an old-fashion epic love story set to the backdrop of one of the most horrendous disasters of human history. “Titanic” was not a film of 90’s.

 It was a film of 40’s or 50’s made with 90’s technology. (I would offer that Steven Spielberg did the same thing this year with his film “War Horse”. No one would argue that “War Horse” offered a realistic depiction of war as did Spielberg’s own “Saving Private Ryan”.

“War Horse” and “Titanic” are films from the past made in the present. They harken back to a time when Hollywood made epics routinely.)

As for “Titanic”, all the proof one needs that it was made well is found in the 11 Oscars the film eventually won. (A record held by “Ben-Hur” alone for 38 years which has only been matched once since “Titanic” by “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King”.)

Over the last 15 years, “Titanic” has certainly had its critics. Some of the harsher criticisms have dealt with the writing. One should note that among the staggering 14 Oscar nominations the film received, it did not get a nomination for screenplay.

And if it had, it would have lost to the superior script written by two struggling actors, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck; that pair of nearly unknowns won their first, and thus far only, Oscars for “Good Will Hunting”.  

And yes, “Titanic” has poorly envisioned one dimensional villains. And do you really need a scene with gunplay as the great ship is sinking? Is there not enough real drama without someone firing shots? No and yes.

But Cameron was more interested in the spectacle than dialogue or plot and as one who believes a great script is paramount, I concede it is permissible that the director went for the spectacle.

As a spectacle, the movie succeeds. And not just in the scenes after the iceberg.

When the ship leaves port, it is spectacular. When Rose stands on the front of the ship and the wind blows through her hair as the sun sets, it is beautiful. When Jack and Rose dance down among the third class passengers, it is hard not to tap your feet. And who can forget Jack and Rose running through the ship to avoid Rose’s fiancé and his butler.

Cameron’s skill in showing us every part of the great ship is a masterwork all on its own.

There is far more to celebrate in “Titanic’ than some critics want to acknowledge such as two great performances by the leads.

There is great attention to detail in art direction, costumes and cinematography and staggering effects. And ultimately, two characters we do not want to go down with the ship.  

I would offer one detail about the film that I have never heard or read from any other source. From the first time I saw it, I noticed that Cameron spends a lot of time filming hands.

In fact, Jack even shows Rose some sketches of hands he has drawn. Over and over again, the screen fills with images of hands. I wonder if the director’s point in all these shots of hands is a reminder that the “Titanic’ was built by human hands, and the handiwork of man can always fail. There are greater forces in the world than what we can make with our hands.  

I have not seen the new 3D version of the film, released to coincide with the 100th anniversary of “Titanic’s” ill-fated maiden voyage.

I am not sure whether I will see the new version, but I am sure I will watch “Titanic” several more times through the years because there is much that I admire about the film, and in the end, I want to again see Jack and Rose fall in love and then do all they can to ensure that their love survives. 

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