Titanic ★★★★★

I finally saw Titanic the way that it was meant to be seen: in a theatre where the staff didn’t realize it was screening in 3D and had to scramble to find glasses before showing the first 30 minutes of the movie with something stuck on the lens of the projector. Truly a magical afternoon that highlights how well multiplex monopolies are preserving the theatrical experience. 

Aside from that misadventure, seeing Titanic theatrically in a 4K 3D remaster was a truly magical experience. I’m willing to say it. Titanic? Great movie! It really was the end of an era for a certain type of filmmaking with good ol’ Jimmy Cameron constructing massive sets (including almost a full size submersible replica) and then destroying them all on camera with extraordinary amounts of water. The CGI holds up well (especially after the remaster touch ups), but the physical set pieces remain so remarkable that they still got vocal reactions out of a my audience yesterday, a full 25 years later. 

But before getting to that remarkable hour long set piece, Cameron dedicates an entire feature film worth of screen time to endearing viewers to a vast ensemble of characters to ensure that when the climax arrives the steaks are high and every death hurts. Some of the dialogue might be cheesy, but on a structural, emotional, and thematic level the script is remarkable. It shouldn’t move that fast and hit that hard . Even with Leo and Kate delivering perfect performances, the love story shouldn’t work that well. All of the Titanic lore and nerdery shouldn’t slot so smoothly into a propulsive narrative. The wraparound plot should be cringey. Yet somehow Cameron pulled off one storytelling miracle after another.

Even beyond all of the visceral, emotional, and narrative excellence, the film is quite loaded thematically without overplaying it’s hand. Built right into the true events of the Titanic are powerful fables about class, gender, the grim extremes humanity will reach to survive, the nobility some can show in accepting death, and the hubris of man attempting to conquer nature with technology. Cameron was wise enough to not only see all that, but explore it all through a powerful and charmingly corny love story that undermines all of the cynicism. 

It’s easy to scoff at Titanic. Like Avatar, Cameron really puts his heart on his sleeve and is so sincere in his intentions that the movie can’t help but feel a little embarrassing. Yet, give yourself over to the bold and broad film that JC made and it’s an overwhelming cinematic experience in the best sense of the word. It certainly helps to be someone who saw Titanic as an impressionable pubescent. The impact it had on culture is hard to describe to someone who wasn’t there. It steamrolled through pop culture in a way that just isn’t possible anymore. There will likely never be another phenomenon like it again. It hindsight, Titanic probably represents the high point of Hollywood’s dominance over mainstream culture. It’s been all downhill ever since. 

It should also be noted that Titanic is the 3+ hour movie that is most difficult to endure without taking a pee break. Right at the moment in the running time when your bladder starts making demands, Cameron unleashes the largest sequences of water pouring, flowing, and destroying ever shown on screen. It’s a real ‘fuck you’ to peeing audiences everywhere. Perhaps part of the reason people kept coming back to experience Titanic so many times in theatres was to catch all of the scenes that they missed while pissing in previous screenings. James Cameron is a diabolical genius. That could have been part of his plan all along. Worth considering!

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