The RMS Titanic was a behemoth of machinery. A technological marvel for its time.
Despite its aura of majesty and strength, the ship was marred by severe design and operational flaws.
Titanic: Kinks in the Nautical Armor
The iceberg’s initial impact breached five watertight compartments: one above the allowable quantity of maintaining the ship’s float.
The ship didn’t have enough lifeboats for every passenger on board, purely for aesthetic reasons.
Aside from that, the crew was reckless with their operations. They went top-speed inside a reported iceberg field at night time.
The result of these oversights?
1,500 people lost their lives in the dark of night, under a frigid sea.
The Titanic boasted the status of being the pinnacle of man’s ingenuinty, though the tragic result proved otherwise.
Kinda like the movie.
Titanic: A Colossus of Cinema?
You know, the movie where Kate Winslet uttered “I want you to draw me like one of your French girls,” the epitome of seductive one-liners?
Hey, I’m not here to bash the movie.
Far from it, really. It’s not my favorite film, but it’s my favorite kind of film: the kind that carries much potential, though has a few flies in its celluoid ointment.
It’s the kind of film that I can still admire, while picking apart its flaws and explaining what they could’ve done better.
Trust me, us bloggers LOVE this stuff. It’s a treasure trove of content. 😉
During the mid-1990s, James Cameron wanted to depart from the usual action/sci-fi pieces he’s known for. He delved into ocean exploration with 1989’s The Abyss and strived to take his passion further.
What better than to film about the greatest nautical disaster in human history?
Cameron was going to visually recreate the Titanic in all its architectural splendor. Splendor that many did not get the chance to see, as the ship sank only four days after disembarking for the first time.
Making a bland documentary wasn’t going to sell tickets. This was going to be an expensive endeavor on Cameron’s part.
So, HOW was he going to recoup the cost? HOW would he entice filmgoers to spend their money at the box office? You guessed it…
He was going to write a LOVE STORY. *cue Jaws theme* (Wait, wrong sea movie)
*cue Celine’s lovely Titanic theme*
James Cameron is…a stranger to writing romance, especially when it tries to pass for Shakespeare. It feels like a great bulk of the film’s melodramatic dialogue was written by a playwright.
Maybe the dialogue could’ve worked during the Gone with the Wind era (rise of the talkies) where classically-trained actors were the norm.
In the modern era of method actors, the audience expects to hear believable dialogue with a dash of panache (consult with Mr. Tarantino if you’re feeling lost).
But even so, the modern-day scenes, involving Bill Paxton and his team of treasure hunters, had “everyman” dialogue that fell flat.
In a nutshell, Cameron wasn’t too concerned with the dialogue in spite of writing some sharp exchanges himself (Aliens, Terminator, and The Abyss).
Cameron was more interested in creating a spectacle: A grand historic event serving as the backdrop of a love story gone awry.
He was going to create the Ben-Hur of the 1990s.
Every love story needs to have its villains: Players scheming to tear the two lovers apart.
In this case, it was Cal, Lovejoy, and Ruth.
Cal, played by the darkly dashing Billy Zane, was Rose’s fiance and your typical richboy snob, pouty lip and all. Lovejoy is the clutzy servant that follows Cal’s orders to the letter (the Otis to Cal’s Lex Luthor).
Ruth is Rose’s scheming, manipulative, aristocratic mother who arranged her daughter’s marriage ‘to secure her family’s financial future.
Frances Fisher played her brilliantly with her cold, blue-eyed stare that could freeze and shatter recalcitrant souls.
For me, however, the villains just didn’t work.
There was no layer of complexity given to any of these characters. They were caricatures, dare I say, of standard villain tropes. Were we supposed to empathize with them? Understand their ulterior motives?
Though it’s a 3-hour epic, the movie didn’t provide the space to ask ourselves these questions. What makes their schemes all the more unbelievable is they persisted in their designs while the ship was sinking.
If you had roughly 2 hours to get off a sinking ship, in the middle of the night time Atlantic, and the Officers are prioritizing women and children into the lifeboats, I don’t think your fiance and her lover will be on your list of concerns, Cal.
But, that’s just me.
And Lovejoy during the sinking?
“You slept with my boss’s girlfriend, so I’ll leave you chained up while this ship sinks! Muahahahahaha!!!!”
In all fairness, this was the mid-1990s. Three-dimensional villains were unheard of at the time. Villains that you could relate to and even empathize with (say, Ra’s Al Ghul from Batman Begins) wouldn’t show up until a few years later.
So, I’ll let the villain part slide.
Love Story -Cont.
What about the love story? Did it work?
Ultimately, it did work. During the movie-watching experience, there were a few missteps the writers made.
Why did Rose reject Jack and then say “Oh! I changed my mind!” after seeing a little girl put a napkin on her lap at dinner?
Why did Rose suspect Jack stole the diamond when he already displayed a disinterest in her opulent lifestyle?
More importantly, why did Rose consider Jack the love of her life when she was only 17 years old and knew him for 2 days?
The afore-mentioned dialogue didn’t exactly help, either:
Jack: “How did you know I didn’t do it?”
Rose: “I didn’t, I realized I already knew!”
“Take some practice swings with that ax, will ya?”
“Water that cold, feels like a thousand knives all over your body…”
I could keep going, but I’d bore you. The dialogue bordered on schmaltz. Hell, it was schmaltz. Did the love story work? During the experience, it didn’t.
BUT, remember when I said that it ULTIMATELY did work?
Ultimately…it was Perfection
What I mean by that is the final scene. The scene where old Rose passes away in her sleep and her spirit moves on to the Titanic afterlife.
There, she meets all the souls of those that departed during the sinking.
They all gaze at her and smile. Happy to see their fellow passenger after 8 and a half decades.
And then Rose sees Jack at the top of the Grand Staircase, looking into the clock saying 2:20 (the time the Titanic finally vanished into the sea).
Without a word, Jack smiles and offers her his hand. They embrace and kiss at last, after 84 long years.
The departed souls look on and applaud. Happy to see Jack and Rose finally become one after so many years apart.
That, to me, is what the perfect ending to a love story looks like.
The kind of ending that acknowledges the tragedy that ensued and gave the survivors and victims closure.
It’s the kind of ending that ties everything together with every heartstring it could find.
Tugging at Heartstrings
I am of the opinion that Good Will Hunting deserved the Best Picture Oscar that year (1997). While the movie was written (and acted) better, it didn’t tug on your heart strings the way Titanic did, that’s just a fact.
The voters of the Academy, being human, voted with their hearts and not their brains. This, I can’t and won’t disparage.
The voters were subjected to the power of filmmaking. Films are supposed to make you feel.
If it influenced an Academy voter’s decision, well, guess what? Titanic did what it sought out to do.
And yes, the film succeeded on other fronts that didn’t involve the visual spectacle. It was also emotionally-powerful cinema that will stand the test of time.
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