Titanic ★★★

Cinephile Detox (22/30)

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A film like this is in some ways a "cheat" of the intents of the challenge I've been embarking on lately, as quite a few people look at Titanic as a champion example of special effects, not to mention cite Jimmy Cameron's attention to detail and ability to replicate the scope and fear of the real-life shipwreck in a move very much akin to a passion project. That's not what made it one of the highest-grossing movies of all time, though (it's part of it, granted). Literally everyone went and saw this epic of a film for its central love story, famous for just how many hearts its wrenched no matter the gender and for the emotions its stirred, getting people to forever bond with these two characters and causing one of the most promising young actors/teen idols to be one of the wealthiest actors on Earth thanks to "Leo-Mania". Naturally, I enjoyed the things everyone else was less focused on and wasn't too enthused, but ambivalent towards the thing people adored out of this mildly-bloated 3.25-hour venture.

Yes, it is every bit as much melodramatic as its strongest dissenters like to point out, and the central romance tends to work on its simplistic terms rather in any deeply moving way. Rose is very much a character filled with vitality, one who longs for the freedom a voyage like the Titanic promises, a freedom offered only by Jack, the loosest, most enthusiastic person on the ship that seems to care for her more than anyone else. It's the type of star-crossed lover story you're likely already familiar with if you've read Romeo and Juliet and the like (minus the whole mistaken suicides part), only this time used as a backbone for one of the most infamous nights in history, a move I sort-of understand given the need to give emotional importance within the film and yet something I felt I could have done without. The side characters, real and fictional, are for the most part one-dimensional and not that worth trying to keep track of all of them (though Billy Zane is a bit of a delight and genuine menace as the snooty, controlling fiance to Rose that I can forgive). Cameron's way of writing pre-sinking tends to come across as unremarkable and in some ways juvenile given the copious amounts of dramatic irony, but not abrasively bad enough for me to care.

Once we get to the second half of the film where the Titanic begins to sink, you can really tell this is the movie Cameron secretly wanted to make. The utter chaos and fear in trying to get to the under-supplied life boats is palatable and intriguing, everything enormous in its scale as the ship floods more and more. There's a panicked sense of immediacy in every scene, helped by the band's insistence of keeping things uplifting before resigning to their fates, and the tension is precise and improves most of the human characters as the situation changes everyone into "do-or-die" mode, attempting tactfulness in their escape or knowing when to give up. Cameron's tendency to really play up the dramatics in his films, though, shows up here as there's several scenes filmed just like his usual action bonanzas, only here feeling overwrought given the historical setting. I'll give it some slack given that it accomplishes what it tries to go for in reminding its audience that trying to survive in this environment was a terrifying prospect, but it's a method of gawdy intensity that makes Cameron's films hit-or-miss to me.

In a way, Titanic is more of a showcase of James Cameron as a great and confident director rather than a profound film on its own merits. Cameron knows exactly that trying to get a wide audience interested in a film deeply rooted into history books like this is by giving people understandable and universal romance elements while also keeping things more-or-less black and white in who to follow and who to antagonize. Looking at most of his films reveals Cameron tends to be more interested in technology and how a film looks than a great plot (though to be fair I love the first two Terminator films to take that theory entirely seriously), being a class act by trying to honor as many of the ship's survivors as possible and caring about the human element of the story, even if the way he writes it isn't too successful. As a director I can admire Cameron's thought process even if I'm mixed on his work, but as a motion picture it's a work of art tainted with paint splotches calling themselves a love story, and it balances out to being something I want to admire more, but can't really muster anything more than decent, barely-fulfilled emotions.

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