Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie's plot.
So as a run-up to my Titanicsploitation mini-marathon of the month, wereupon I watch Titanic II from Aslyum Films, the old Dirk Pitt vehicle Raise the Titanic and the 1943 German Nazi propaganda film directed by Werner Von Klingler, I decided to brush up on the original movie- being that I haven’t seen it since it first came out and all. And by original, I mean the big movie from 1998 that everyone thinks of when someone mentions the Titanic Disaster. Directed by a fellow you may have heard of named James Cameron (the director behind Piranha 2: The Spawning) and based on a small incident some 98 years ago - the sinking of the RMS Titanic, we get the biggest, highest grossing movie* of all time: Titanic!
* Unless you account for inflation, and then Gone With the Wind still powns all comers.
Loveable urchin Jack Dawson wins a trip on the Titanic in a card game. Sneaking up out the third class steerage section, Jack saves Rose the reluctant future bride to the bastardly Cal, from jumping off the back of the ship in a suicide attempt. Jack and Rose instantly fall in love, begin partying with the Irish riff-raff lower classes below deck, steaming up the back windows of a car and otherwise acting like 1990's people trapped in 1912 bodies. Then an iceberg hits the ship, the ship sinks and everyone but Rose dies. Roll credits and cue Celine Dion.
You know the frustrating thing about Titanic? Here is a ship with 2,229 individual stories. Each one of them is vastly more fascinating that the contrived love story between Jack and Rose. How about the coal fire in coal bunker number six? How about The Californian, the ship that was just five miles from the floundering Titanic, who saw the distress flares but did nothing? Hell, they could have played up the rumored cursed Egyptian artifacts in the hold and been more interesting that the trite love story we got.
Story aside, I do have to hand it to Cameron. The man does spectacle well. Big disaster, big music, big camera swoops, the big ship in big trouble. The sets look gorgeous, the wreck is super-sized. Cameron's camera work is elegant; the disaster itself is lovingly exploited with people cartwheeling off railing and crashing through skylights in a way that would make Irwin Allen proud. From stem to stern, I could honestly believe that Cameron somehow managed to raise the Titanic and got someone to polish up all the brass. The sets were beautiful and the dynamic of the film amazing. The problem is that it takes 2.5 hours to get there and all the background characters are nothing more than cardboard cutouts who serve only to fill the gaps when Jack and Rose aren’t on-screen. Along the way, we have to slog through the most tepid (and frankly unbelievable) love story to come out of Hollywood in a long time. Think the "romance" in the new Star Wars movies was bad - it's freaking Rick and Elsa in Casablanca compared to this.
Of course that by bigging up Jack and Rose in over the historical people is that when the Iceberg hits and people start dying, there's no emotional connection. When the guy bounces off the propeller, when the ship breaks in half, when the 3rd class passengers are drowning behind locked gates, I feel nothing (except for Propeller Guy, who makes me wince). If Cameron had focused on the Big Picture and filled in the background characters, it would have helped generate an emotional response. One death is a tragedy, 1500 deaths is a statistic. But then I suspect that somewhere along the way poor ol' James has lost his lean, mean side. Avatar, for example could have been as half as long as it was and still been good. Someone seriously needs to take the editing scissors to his final cut. Ah, but I digress.
And then it just chafes my inner titanic nerd in how the movie blows simple basic facts. Facts like presenting First Officer Murdoch as a scoundrel who took bribes to let people on lifeboats, gunning panicked passengers down before turning the gun on himself (I can’t begin to tell you how wrong that characterization is) or the hamfisted exploation on how the watertight bulkheads worked. But it's easy to sit here and nitpick Titanic to death for its dramatic, sociological, historical, or expositional faults. If the movie makes a ton of cash, it must be speaking to someone in the audience. But for me, I'd just rather skip to the end and watch stuff blow up and/or sink.
THE DVD -
We get Titanic in the original wide screen 2.35:1 presentation - anamorphic, of course. I don’t remember clearly how the colors looked in the theater, but they must have been more vivid that what we get here. The print seems a bit washed out and just bland. It's not bad, just a bit "bleh". On the other hand, the soundtrack gives my subwoofer a real workout – so I can’t fault the audio portion of the presentation.
THE EXTRAS -
Say what you will about the movie, you can’t deny that the DVD isn’t packed with stuff! First up, three commentary tracks! In the interest of full disclosure, I must tell you I didn’t take the 18.3 weeks necessary to watch the movie THAT many times. However from the samples I listened to, there's plenty of minutia and trivia and behind the scenes stories to go around. Track one is Cameron alone, track two is an assorted cast and crew track and track three is the historians going on about "Yeah, that's historical!"
We get an alternate ending with commentary from Cameron, a Celine Dion music video, a handful of mini-documentaries, 45 minutes worth of deleted scenes (again with commentary by James Cameron), a documentary with survivors of the original wreck and the history of the HMS Titanic - probably the most fascinating extra of the bunch. We get an assortment of those self-congratulatory Press Kit featurettes - light, fluffy and utterly avoidable. Then we get a gallery of posters and promotional material, a making of for the fake news reel, footage of the dive to the wreck of the Titanic, tours of the set and more still galleries and behind the scenes production stills. Plus there's probably a whole bunch of stuff that I missed when writing down these notes.
A more comprehensive collection of extras you’d be hard pressed to find.
THE BOTTOM LINE -
After 400 reviews on Epinions, I suspect that my meager three star rating will quickly sink out of sight much like - oh, say the Lusitania (You thought I'd say Titanic? Naw, that ship sank in just 12 minutes and not the 2.5 hours that Titanic took) without so much a ripple. Is Titanic a bad flick? Far from it in fact! It just suffers from being twice as long as it needed to be. When you get to the Money Shots - water crashing through windows and people dying - Cameron delivers the goods. The problem is that it takes a marathon runners endurance and stamina to slog through the pointless character development to get to the good stuff.
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Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: Good Date Movie
Suitability For Children: Suitable for Children Age 13 and Older