At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Titanic “97”

MPAA Rating: PG-13/ Genre: Epic Romance-Disaster/ Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Billy Zane, Kathy Bates, Frances Fisher, Bernard Hill, Jonathan Hyde, Victor Garber, Jason Barry, Eric Braeden, Bernard Fox, Jonathan Phillips, Ioan Gruffudd, Martin Jarvis, Danny Nucci, David Warner, Gloria Stuart, Suzy Amis, Bill Paxton/ Runtime: 195 minutes

I would like to start this review by taking a minute to truly think about the career that James Cameron has had in Hollywood. Indeed it says something when a director is able to find that proverbial middle ground between a “blockbuster” and a “great movie.” Indeed I say this because even though this duo is not exactly exclusive, they are a bit harder to mix together than you might and usually only possible by a director like say Spielberg. Yet even with all of his early success from The Terminator to Terminator 2: Judgment Day, some of his finest work was still on the horizon. I say this because in the long-gone year of 1997, Cameron unleashed upon the world a gigantic, flowing, epic film known as Titanic, a film that is an absolutely phenomenal three hour plus iconic masterpiece that manages to conjure up nearly every single ingredient in film and then mix them all together into astonishingly brilliant synchronicity. Indeed this is a film that despite being an eleven-Oscar winning and one of the top 5 highest grossing films ever made is one that, thanks to that mix, a truly iconic cast, and a powerful love story for the ages, will always have a place in your heart.

The plot is as follows: Titanic’s tale takes place in April of 1912, and focuses on a young and beautiful woman by the name of Rose as she embarks on board the RMS Titanic with her snobbish and controlling fiancé who is the son of a Pittsburgh steel tycoon and thus heir apparent to immense wealth. When our story opens, this undynamic duo is currently on their way back to the United States where they are to be wed. Yet despite her future husband’s lot in life, the promise of never having to worry about money ever again, and the quite generous engagement gift of a priceless gem known as the “Heart of the Ocean,” Rose is not at ease with life or the possibility of being in a long, boring, and dictated betrothal to a man she cannot and does not love with all of her heart. Yet when a desperate Rose decides to attempt to end everything by jumping off the boat and into the Atlantic Ocean, she finds herself saved by a handsome yet also decent of heart young man named Jack Dawson. Dawson, we soon learn is in the third-class area due to having not bought, but rather won his tickets aboard in a high-stakes game of cards mere minutes before the ship took off. Yet regardless of their class differences, the duo conjure up an instantaneous bond and recognize that a chemistry exists between them. As thanks for saving Rose’s life, Jack finds himself invited to dinner in first-class where, over the course of the evening, Rose comes to respect and adore Jack’s sense of freedom, his overwhelming vibe of charisma and charm, and just his carefree attitude about life. Cal on the other hand…..not so much to say the least. Yet, despite Cal’s attempts to keep the two apart, Rose and Jack continue to fall more and more in love….even as one of the most horrific disasters in history looms dead ahead…..

Now beyond the phenomenal accomplishments done by the tech team, and the film’s incredible gift of absorbing the audience’s attention into both the overall narrative as well as the narrative that bookends the film, more on those later, it is the romance between our 2 main characters that is a lot of peoples’ highlight of the film and honestly it is not hard to see why. Indeed this is a beautiful and vibrant romance that feels real despite the contrasts the narrative inserts into the picture, but even these are thrown out so as to give the romance both significance and a beating heart to go with it. To that end it should be noted that DiCaprio and Winslet have a phenomenal chemistry that doesn’t feel scripted, but instead feels honest and true from the very first glance. Indeed our lovers may not be able to ignore the limits cast on them by society yet at the same time they cannot deny the connection they share. A connection that allows both to see a destiny where the struggles they have right now will give way to a future where they are both together, happy, and deeply in love regardless of what society has to say about it. Suffice it to say then that audiences love this romance so deeply they want them to be together. Not just briefly on the ship mind you, but for them to make it off the boat and thus live out the proverbial “happily ever after”. Yet this is a connection that is so passionate and stronger that, for this couple, “happily ever after” isn’t about making to their twilight years or an immense amount of time spent together. Rather it’s about having such a powerful and eternal love that it can defeat giant blocks of ice, a broken in half boat, and maybe even death itself. Indeed this is a love that reaches the peak of the emotion yet finds its pit in the physical realm with a just as quick decline. Nevertheless it is a genuine love in what is undoubtedly one of the most emotional romances the movies have ever given us. Indeed when you have a beautiful pair of hearts that were always meant to be in each other’s lives like this pair were then they will always go on together no matter what and that isn’t just true in the movies, but in real life too.

Now just as incredible as the romantic love story in this film are the performances that surround it. This starts with Leo’s now iconic-performance as Jack, and yes while it can be a tad bit disjointed at times, it ultimately manages to overcome those issues and become a quite well-rounded turn that also manages to be a hint toward the more complex performances that he is known for as of late. Not to mention, but Leo’s main acting gift is in his eyes, a fact especially true here as he manages to give off a genuine feeling of love towards Rose, a love that is perhaps made the most obvious during the infamous naked drawing scene. Yet equally as memorable however, is Kate Winslet’s turn here as Rose though, in all fairness to DiCaprio and his work in this, there is a lot more complexity attached to Winslet’s character due to the  inner conflict she has. Not about if she wants to be with Jack, we already know the answer to that, but rather if she can even possibly be with him. Indeed it is safe to say therefore that her arc in the film is best showcased by a strong yet realistic sense of discovering just who she wants to be. Indeed Winslet manages to provide Rose with a set of real pathos that goes beyond the idea of love and into something far greater than any definition of the word will do. Indeed it is this genuine and realistic bond that she creates with Jack that lifts the movie all the way to the story’s end, and even on to the older Rose at film’s end and for Titanic’s most defining moment from a narrative and a character perspective. We also get wonderful character work from such screen dignitaries as Kathy Bates, Frances Fisher, Victor Garber, Jonathan Hyde, and Bill Paxton. Yet out of the entire supporting cast, it is Billy Zane as Cal who soars above most. Indeed Zane literally is so in sync with this character that he not only becomes a terrific human antagonistical foil, but also one of the easiest antagonists you as an audience member will ever find yourself rooting against. Indeed as the movie goes on we see Cal’s gold-painted charisma evolve into a heated jealousy which then becomes a strong urge to control our heroine because all he sees her as is property. Yet when all his other machinations fail, this control turns into a tidal wave of rage and madness that seeks to keep Jack and Rose apart at truly any cost. Indeed it is quite the performance, and Zane manages to nail it hook, line, and sinker.

Now it may not completely overwhelm, but it most certainly does cast a dark shadow over this film’s glorious romance is the pending disaster that will both sink the vessel and also test this newly blossoming relationship like never before. Indeed the fact that this film’s plot will completely pivot on the sinking of this great vessel is not exactly surprising yet it nevertheless sneaks up on the viewer to the point that even though we know it is coming, the rest of the movie up to that point has been so absorbing that it still seems almost unexpected when it does occur. Indeed it is with that in mind that I should say that the most amazing thing about this film is its skill in making a moment that everyone knows about as psychologically riveting, emotionally draining, and letting the audience feel that they are a part of the horror as possible. Indeed the build-up to the actual disaster and the immediate aftermath following the collision are created with a simple yet riveting potency, but underlined by a stable, fixed, and quite restrained music score that inserts into the audience a vibe of unease as well as a consistent fear of just what is ahead. We also watch as the silent anxiety of the ship’s crew is counterbalanced by a significant amount of the passengers acting completely nonplussed about the incident to the point they are kicking huge globe-shaped ice bits like soccer balls as well as leaning over the rail to gape in wonder at the injuries sustained by the boat that has been caused by nothing other than the frozen form of the surface on which they glide. Thus what we get from there is a creepy foresight of doom and gloom and a feeling of powerlessness that manages to result in truly unthinkable outcomes as well as a degree of panic. Panic that the director then manages to seep directly into wherever you choose to watch the movie, and literally seems to both put you on the doomed vessel, and in its last moments, have you hanging on for dear life and afraid you too will plunge into the chilly water below. Yet even when watching the film from the safety and comfort of your home theater, the fact that you know what is on the horizon and that it may be factual, but remolded for a fictional narrative still doesn’t make the tragedy any easier to swallow nor does it sever your bond to the romance that is quickly turned from a playful meet-cute of two destined souls into a horrific fight against other people, sinking ships, and even nature itself. Yet the tragedy of these circumstances even branches out not only into our characters as they realize not just what is going on, but what is about to happen, but also into the cruelly ironic upbeat mood of the grim music that the ship’s band chooses to play as well as the loss of both love and life yet the strengthening of the hope that the lost love will be able to live on in the hearts and souls of those aboard, and who have found each other in the tall shade of a heart wrenching destiny.

Now from the opening moments all the way to conclusion of events is one of the film industry’s best love stories, and from the moment of impact to the last bow, pun intended, for the ship is one of the most harrowing disaster movies ever filmed. Suffice it to say then that this film is not only a crown jewel of modern movie magic, but a magnificent, riveting, and near-perfect recreation not of a ship, but of a period in history. One that is definitely the result of hours of careful research, nailed to the letter skill in filmmaking, excellence in digital effects work, and spot-on model work as well. Indeed right from the get-go the film has you hooked as we follow an exploratory vessel come to the remains, and the captain of the vessel offer a slightly cheesy, but accurate speech about just why his mission and the Titanic itself are so significant. Yet as he is doing this, the film brilliantly shows us the unnerving image of this truly grand ship in her final stop on this Earth, and from that moment on the film never lets go, pun intended. Indeed it makes for one of the most mesmerizing sights ever put to film, and I feel it is only through a vow to perfection that this film is as complete as it is. Indeed in every single department in this film, this is the rare film where everything just seems to come together flawlessly though flawlessly might still be too loose a word to describe how complete this movie feels. Suffice it to say that very few films are able to pull this one off, 77’s Star Wars or 75’s Jaws are two which come to mind, which thus means this film is amongst some truly dignified peers. Indeed even if you should choose to see this film’s narrative as overdone, the movie itself as over-hyped, and the love story as over clichéd, you still will not be able to deny the impressiveness of the vast scope and magnificence from a technical perspective of what is most assuredly a modern classic and one of the finest films ever put to celluloid.

All in all it is safe to say that Titanic truly is a gorgeously made epic-style movie that manages to shine brightly with how purely wonderful it is from a technical, narrative, and concept-style angle in nearly every single scene that is presented to audiences. Indeed it might even be just the right amount to perhaps make some movie lovers start crying at merely the extravagance of the film let alone the romance, and impending sadness that hover over the first half of the movie, and wreak havoc on the latter half. Yet even though, to be fair, the film is stricken with a significantly high degree of what we could call “overexposure”, I definitely feel that the box office record it set, the Leo craze it caused amongst girls at the time, and the extraordinary theme song written by Celine Dion had a lot to do with that. Yet I will even be so daring as to say that it might also be a wee bit underrated as well. That is if you can call the, as of this writing, third-highest box-office grosser in film history and the receiver of close to a dozen Academy Awards underrated. What I think I can safely say though is that this is an absolutely incredible movie in nearly every single way possible. Thus take a seat, and watch it for the incredible style of craftsmanship if for no other reason and be ready to be amazed once again because of how well this holds up both from a dramatic and a technical perspective. Suffice it to say then that this film has everything working in its favor, and it manages to get everything to work in perfect synchronicity. Indeed there is barely anything out of place, and its ginormous budget was well-spent. Indeed this is a genuinely magical experience, and an emotional ride quite unlike any other film I have seen, and one that will not only astonish, but also move and inspire anyone who watches it as well. Indeed the ship may have been the ship of dreams, but the movie about the ship will always be the stuff movie magic is truly made of, and I promise you that as long as cinema is around, this film truly will always go on…..On a scale of 1-5 I give Titanic a solid 4.5 out of 5.