Titanic (1997)
The sheer spectacle makes it good, but flawed entertainment
14 June 2009
It's not too hard to figure out what kept audiences flocking to "Titanic" when it came out. The sheer spectacle of it as well as the sweeping sense of romance which Cameron succeeds in evoking made this a 'must-see' theatrical experience. At the time and even for a while after, "Titanic" seemed like it would go down as an epic for the ages, a masterpiece with the overwhelming reputation of classic epics like "Gone With the Wind". The Oscar wins seemed to cement that.

Then came the backlash, which was inevitable for any film with this sort of popularity. The thing is, "Titanic", to some extent, deserved its backlash. It is obviously nowhere near as bad as some say, but viewed today, 12 years later, in a home setting away from the 'theatrical experience' many enjoyed back then, the movie's flaws are easily exposed. The screenplay is really not strong at all, the characters are more like caricatures, and the romance not particularly convincing. At most, during the excruciatingly long hour and some spent on set-up, this romance which Cameron seems to think is the epitome of romantic cinema, a love affair to match the scope of the film, seems like a cute fling. Jim Cameron's knack for writing some truly execrable dialogue is not gone just yet, and while I can knock back a beer or two (or seven) and watch Ripley lay waste to xenomorph after xenomorph in "Aliens" while cracking one-liners, it's a little hard to take in this setting. Still, most of the dialogue is solid or average, and there are some good lines. The narrative structure and momentum is nothing special at all- poor dude meets rich girl, they 'fall in love', Titanic hits the iceberg and then there's an hour of running here and there and special effects.

So the film was over-hyped, yes. Jim Cameron's previous films were all better, bar "True Lies" and his cheap debut feature "Piranha 2", but that doesn't mean "Titanic" doesn't have its positive points. It is obviously a wonderful technical achievement that still stands tall, is very nicely-shot, and there are a number of excellent scenes. Indeed, the sheer spectacle of the final hour and some, from the moment the ship hits that iceberg, is still easy to get carried away by, and Cameron proves that he is more than capable as a popcorn entertainer. DiCaprio is very charming and proves himself as a dramatic actor in the latter stages while Winslet does her typically annoying nonsense, but on the negative side Horner's score is pretty mediocre.

It's a good enough film, over-hyped yes but that is the fault of the public, not the film, which remains flawed but ultimately fairly enjoyable, on par or better than most big budget flicks and disaster movies, but it's no masterpiece, and now excuse me, I'm going to watch "Aliens" again.
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