Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

TITANIC (1997)

TITANIC (1997). Director: James Cameron.

James Cameron's Titanic sort of combines the first two films about the disaster (Titanic; A Night to Remember), but doesn't add a blessed thing to them except even more harrowing detail of the final moments, and eye-popping special effects work. There is little suspense or atmosphere and the long love story is never that compelling because these are not people whose relationship has a lengthy, interesting history (as is the case with Webb and Stanwyck in the original), and -- let's face it -- Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet are not in the same talent league as the first picture's stars. (And, to be honest, Gloria Stuart is no Katharine Hepburn.) In the final moments they never register the kind of terror they would have been feeling, only the alarm they probably experienced being hung up on whatever wobbly device the FX department cobbled together for the sequence. The effects are marvelous, but a picture about the Titanic tragedy is not supposed to be The Poseidon Adventure -- "Wow! Watch The Ship Flip Over And People Die!" -- but a moving human document. The problem isn't just the screenplay, but that director Cameron, a very capable action/FX helmsman, is not the kind of filmic genius who could have turned this picture into a masterpiece. He muffs a lot of sequences, such as when the ship's officer shoots at the crowd and then commits suicide -- imagine what Jean Negulesco could have done with that! And why did he allow Winslet and other actors to wade around through supposedly frigid water without reacting to it (until DiCaprio finally says something about it in a later scene.) Titanic certainly isn't a bad film, and it does hold the attention for more than three hours, but considering that forty years have gone by since the last Titanic movie, you would think we'd have something that improves upon its predecessors in more than just special effects (which were actually perfectly good in the earlier pictures). On that horrible night in 1912, 1500 people died terrifying deaths in what must have seemed to them like Hell on Earth. It's doubly awful that they seem to have died just so James Cameron could declare himself "King of the World" and an utterly mediocre singer like Celine Dion could have herself a hit record.

Verdict: One can only imagine what the victims would think of all this "Titanic" exploitation. **1/2.

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