Titanic Movie Review
Director: James Cameron
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Billy Zane, Frances Fisher, Gloria Stuart, Bill Paxton, Suzy Amis, Danny Nucci, David Warner, Jason Barry, Kathy Bates, Victor Garber, Bernard Hill, Jonathan Hyde, Eric Braeden, Bernard Fox, Michael Ensign, Jonathan Evans-Jones, Mark Lindsay Chapman, Ewan Stewart, Jonathan Phillips, Simon Crane, Ioan Gruffudd, Edward Fletcher
Oscar Wins: Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Director, Best Film Editing, Best Musical Score, Best Song ("My Heart Will Go On"), Best Sound, Best Sound Effects Editing, Best Visual Effects, Best Picture
Other Nominations: Best Actress (Kate Winslet), Best Supporting Actress (Gloria Stuart), Best Makeup
Like most 80s girls, 1997 was a big year for me. I became a bat mitzvah…I traveled to Israel with my mom...and I saw the movie that would change everything.
For me, Titanic was not just a formative experience, it was THE formative experience. Every penny I earned went to buying another ticket to see this blockbuster on screen. Leonardo DiCaprio literally covered my walls (and, together with Joshua Jackson, basically spurred on my sexual awakening). As I sat there in the theater watching this beautiful love story unfold, I became utterly and completely swept up in it. Up to that point, it was the most amazing movie I had ever seen and, frankly, still holds up.
The opening shots of Titanic take place about 85 years after she sank, deep on the ocean floor. As a rover explores the wreckage, the ship calls from the grave for its story to be told. Staterooms once built for millionaires are now inherited by crustaceans. Shoes, dolls, glasses and even china bearing the White Star Line logo remain virtually intact, frozen in time.
The purpose of this expedition, led by Brock Lovett (Bill Paxton), is to locate a rare jeweled necklace, romantically called “The Heart of the Ocean.” However, the only relic Lovett is able to locate is a nude drawing of a young girl, seemingly wearing the necklace he’s looking for.
When an elderly woman by the name of Rose (Gloria Stewart) sees the drawing on TV, she recognizes it as her younger self. After a call to Lovett, she’s flown out to his ship and, through her retelling of that fateful night, our story begins.
For most passengers, the RMS Titanic was “the ship of dreams”…but for young Rose (Kate Winslet) it was a slave ship. Forced by her penniless mother to become engaged to a rich, snob named Cal Hockley (Billy Zane), Rose is perhaps the only passenger not looking forward to stepping foot on American soil. In fact, she’s so upset with the course her life has taken that she tries to kill herself by jumping off the ship. However, she’s saved by one Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio), a brash kid from steerage who won his ticket aboard the Titanic in a lucky hand of poker.
Despite their obvious class difference (Rose being a first-class passenger and Jack being in third), the two form a friendship that quickly turns into love. Their romance is written in such a way as to show off as much of the ship as possible, with Jack accompanying Rose to dinner in a first-class dining room, followed by a jaunt down to third class where they dance and drink beer. We later follow the lovers as they walk the first-class promenade, run through the engine room and explore various rooms on the ship we wouldn’t see otherwise, such as the gym and the chapel.
Titanic also intertwines fictional characters, such as Jack, Rose and Cal, with historical figures who were on board the real ship, such as Margaret “Molly” Brown (Kathy Bates), the ship’s designer Thomas Andrews (Victor Garber), and wealthy first-class passengers including John Jacob Astor IV (Eric Braeden) and Benjamin Guggenheim (Michael Ensign).
Now in a movie about the RMS Titanic, certain things HAVE to happen. The boat has to sink. People have to die. Families must make those gut-wrenching decisions about whether to board a lifeboat or stay together until the bitter end…and it’s in these moments where Titanic truly shines. In the scenes that are most harsh to watch – the ship cracking in two, the sea of bodies screaming for help, a mother reading to her children knowing they won’t make it out alive – Titanic goes from romance to tragedy in the most heartbreaking way possible.
Clocking in at just over 3 hours, Titanic takes about 25 minutes longer to watch than it took for the ship to sink (actually, minus the credits and present day shots, the movie is 2 hours and 40 minutes long, the exact length of time it took the ship to sink). However, it cost about 25 times more to make than the original ship cost to build. Director James Cameron actually rebuilt the Titanic 90% to scale, then sunk it. Combined with several computer graphics, the outcome is something truly extraordinary.
Of course, it’s no shock that the movie was a worldwide success. It became the first film to reach the billion-dollar mark and became the highest-grossing film of all time until Cameron outdid himself with Avatar in 2010. It was nominated for 14 Academy Awards and took home 11, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Original Song (“My Heart Will Go On”) and Best Original Dramatic Score (which it rightfully deserved).
Narratively, Titanic is a masterpiece of storytelling, broad enough to entertain, yet nuanced enough to educate. Cameron puts us inside the psyches of those on board and it’s easy to see some facet of ourselves in the wealthy class as well as the poor. Money be damned, we’re all flesh and blood. We’re all susceptible to the force of nature. In other words, we’re all on the same boat.