Titanic

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Why I hate "Titanic"

Oct 7, 2000 (Updated Oct 9, 2000)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Good cinematography and acting

Cons:Insulting, unctuous, manipulative, and generally forgettable

First of all, I have to say that I didn't rate "Titanic" on its enjoyability. It's indeed an enjoyable film if you toss aside all prejudices and sit down for a few hours and watch it. I could think of worse movies to watch (exhibit A: a certain Spielberg film; exhibit B: a certain Zemeckis film), but the fact is that "Titanic" is insulting to the viewer and even more insulting because of its belief in its own greatness.

You have to be living under a rock not to know the plot: rich girl meets poor boy, and they fall in love in the midst of certain doom on the sinking ship. Now how could anybody possibly consider this plot something new and original that should be made into a movie? The fact that this movie even got made without major plot revisions says a lot about James Cameron's influence in Hollywood, which doesn't portend good things for the movie.

Ah, the characters. The film, much like Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged", presents a cast of one-dimensional characters, all either good or bad. I'm totally serious - if you haven't seen "Titanic", watch it, and see if you can spot one moment of duality that hints at anything like complex characterization. The film expects us to believe that Kate Winslet's character Rose would, in real life, behave as she does. This girl comes from a proper, upper-class family, has lived a sedate, social life up to now - but all of a sudden, she'd fall madly in love with this steerage boy and give up all her life's opportunities to have a fling with him? That's right, Cameron, keep telling yourself that. This is bad psychology - she simply wouldn't even be able to do this because of all the class differences between him and her that would have been pounded into her brain for years. Maybe she'd rebel in some other way, but definitely not like this.

And the stereotypes! How incredibly offensive can you get?! Let's see...meretricious, obnoxious rich people (except for Molly Brown, the good-hearted millionaire who acts as sort of a patron saint for Jack), bad-tempered, thick-accented Irishmen, sleazy-looking Italians, Englishmen constantly spouting "bloody"...these badly-done characters, and the main characters, ultimately detract from the movie because they're like cardboard cutouts that fit easily into a child's puzzle. These characters behave and interact predictably, so of course they get shoved into predictable situations.

The plot is stock, the characters are bad. Do I have to say just how manipulative this movie is? There are a few genuinely poignant moments (none involving Jack and Rose)...the (irritatingly-accented, which I ignored) steerage mother putting her kids to bed while the ship sinks...Mr. Andrews standing forlorn waiting to die...the horrifying spectacle of somebody keeping the steerage passengers locked behind a gate so they won't have a chance. Too bad that these good moments couldn't have been used in a better movie, one which would use them intelligently, in a way that wouldn't just tug the heartstrings of the audience.

I actually found it disturbing that Cameron underestimates the intelligence of the audience so much that he's got Rose saying "Jack! This is where we first met!" as the two of them hold desperately to the ship's rail when it flips upright. The basic problem with "Titanic" is that James Cameron focuses on an uninteresting, cliched plotline, completely ignoring all the real human drama that's happening around the two lovebirds who have collided with destiny. It makes exactly the same mistake that "A Night to Remember" avoided.

And of course, the screenwriting! I wince in horror at some of the dialogue in this movie - although the actors do their best to make Cameron's unreadable dreck sound good, what can be done with lines like "I love waking up in the morning not knowing where I'm gonna go or who I'm gonna meet. Just the other night I was sleeping under a bridge, and now here I am, on the grandest ship in the world, having champagne with you fine people!"? Gloria Stuart delivers her lines near the end about "waiting for an absolution that would never come" and about how "a woman's heart is a deep ocean of secrets" bravely, but you can tell that she's mortified by them - as James Cameron should have been.

Technically, the movie is well-made. It looks decent, at least, even though there's some bad CGI of water splashing through corridors, skylines, and such. And thanks to Russell Carpenter, there's a modicum of original cinematography (don't ask me why, but I especially liked a scene near the end where the rescue ship pulls into harbor, it's raining, and Rose stares up at the Statue of Liberty - never mind that the statue is facing the wrong way). It's an interesting movie to watch.

And the acting is generally good, with a few exceptions. Kathy Bates does what she can with the character of Molly Brown. Frances Fisher plays a brainwashed rich bitch decently, and Kate Winslet is pretty good (if unappealing) as the spoiled rich girl. Bill Paxton does well as the plunderer of the great ship, with a crew of salty seadogs. And Gloria Stuart is actually very good as the old Rose (although this might just be due to her age...name one very old actor or actress who put on a bad performance). Of course, there is the commonly-detested DiCaprio performance, which reeks of method acting and melodrama (enough of the pensive, thinking-hard, "I'm smarter than I look" faces already!). But it's easy to just wait for DiCaprio to freeze and die (a wonderfully cathartic moment!) and enjoy the other performances.

The problem with "Titanic" is that it's hideous incompetency cloaked in legitimacy. It looks good, crisp, exact, precise - just like all movies do these days. But the disgustingly bad characters and manipulative quality ruin everything. This movie is brain candy, for those who indiscriminately watch movies and think that any movie that moves them - even through manipulation - and that doesn't show any obvious errors is a great, noble work of art, and that "if you don't like 'Titanic', maybe you just don't like movies." (thanks to user ProfGroovusK for providing me with this revoltingly pompous quotation from none other than James Cameron. Just the sort of thing a stupid movie person like Cameron would say.) The problem with James Cameron is that - just like Steven Spielberg - he's excellent at making crowd-pleasing action movies...but when it comes to real human drama that doesn't rely on melodrama and pathos, he fails. The spectacle and supposed "vision" in "Titanic" is just another way of saying "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain."

A friend of mine commented to me recently, "'Titanic' is such an embarrassment to the Academy, and I think people are starting to recognize that." Very true, and if you can ignore the teenyboppers who sobbed through the movie eighty times, and actually give the movie a critical look, you may just recognize that it wasn't nearly as good as you thought.


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