Friday 18 April 2014

Movie Review: Titanic (1997)

A spectacular and tragic epic, Titanic is a haunting love story set within one of the most somber disasters of modern times.

In 1996, treasure hunter Brock Lovett (Bill Paxton) retrieves a safe from the wreck of Titanic and finds within it a portrait of a nude young woman wearing only a precious necklace. The elderly Rose Dawson Calvert (Gloria Stuart) hears of the find on the news, and steps forward as the woman in the portrait, joining Brock's search vessel to recount her story.

Southampton, 1912. On the way to the United States, a young Rose (Kate Winslet) boards the gigantic new ocean liner Titanic with her mother Ruth (Frances Fisher) and wealthy fiancé Cal (Billy Zane) as first class passengers. The free-spirited Rose is being forced to marry the detestable Cal for financial reasons. Meanwhile, on the Southampton waterfront scrappy young artist Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio) wins his third class ticket in a poker game just before Titanic departs, and joins the maiden voyage of the unsinkable ship.

With Cal's behaviour confirming her worst suspicions about a miserable future that lies in wait, a disconsolate Rose attempts to commit suicide by throwing herself overboard. Jacks talks her out of it, and much to the disgust of Cal, his bodyguard Lovejoy (David Warner) and Ruth, Rose and Jack start a friendship which evolves into a romance across class lines. Jack encourages Rose to follow her passion and break free from the shackles of Ruth of Cal.

As her sense of adventure comes to life, Rose poses nude for Jack wearing the priceless Heart of the Ocean necklace, a gift from Cal. Meanwhile, Titanic's Captain Edward John Smith (Bernard Hill) is encouraged by J. Bruce Ismay (Jonathan Hyde), an executive with the ship's owner White Star Line, to travel as fast as possible. This makes Titanic less manoeuvrable in the dangerous North Atlantic waters, and when an iceberg is spotted late, the great ship is unable to avoid a ruinous collision. With the hull torn open and several compartments flooded, the ship's designer Thomas Andrews (Victor Garber) realizes that Titanic will indeed sink within a couple of hours. In the ensuing chaos of more than 2,200 people attempting an evacuation into the chilly waters of the Atlantic and a criminal undersupply of lifeboats, Rose and Jack try to save their love and each other.

Directed by James Cameron and featuring a dazzling full-scale reconstruction of the doomed ship and incredible special effects, Titanic soars by placing a small, very human love story at the heart of unimaginable tragedy. The Romeo and Juliet romance between Jack and Rose provides a tender face to the victims of the disaster, and transcends the headlines to create warm poignancy in the midst of chilling death.

The mammoth 194 minutes of running time pass by effortlessly. The first hour establishes the modern-day preface and the characters on board the doomed ship. Cameron, who also wrote the script after meticulously researching the passengers and their background, mixes his fictional lovers with real-life participants in the drama, including the "unsinkable" Molly Brown (Kathy Bates), Captain Smith, cut-throat executive Ismay and humble designer Andrews. Many of the ship's famous first-class passengers, officers, crew and band members are also based on real-life counterparts.

The second hour focusses on the rapidly deepening relationship between Jack and Rose. This is a transformational experience for Rose. Although her independent streak was always there, Jack awakens her spirit, and she progresses from obedient daughter and unhappy fiancée to a woman embracing what life can offer. Finding the courage to pose for Jack is the hinge event of her life, as she literally and figuratively sheds the past and embraces opportunity.

The final hour is a simply awe-inspiring recreation of the Titanic's sinking. Using a combination of special effects, death-defying stunts and filming in gigantic tanks, the loss of Titanic is recreated as a poetic calamity on an unimaginable scale. As the grand ship sinks, passengers die in agony and the worst of human behaviour comes to the fore, Jack and Rose fight to stay alive and stay together, and Cameron finds the essence of life, surrounded by death. Titanic's demise in the shadow of Jack and Rose's love is, quite simply, one of the finest prolonged sequences set to film.

The denouement is back on Brock Lovett's ship, as both Brock and the elderly Rose find what they have long been looking for.

DiCaprio and Winslet were both catapulted into superstardom, as they gave Jack and Rose the simple innocence and determined rebellion the propels young love against all obstacles. Kathy Bates as the brassy Molly Brown and Billy Zane as the privileged but selfish Cal are the most prominent members of a deep supporting cast.

Titanic was the most expensive film ever made upon its release, and went on to become the world's highest grossing film, until surpassed by Cameron's own Avatar (2009). Titanic is a remarkable triumph, one of cinema's all-time crowning achievements in both visual excellence and emotional impact.

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