Jack and Rose still fall in love, everyone’s favourite iceberg still shows up to ruin the day and Titanic, the ship that absolutely no matter what cannot sink, still sinks. So what’s changed? Nothing. Nothing at all. That is, unless you count the retrofitted 3D which has been post-converted to cash in on the 3D cash cow. But if you’re going to add 3D after the fact then who better to do it than director James Cameron (Avatar)?
Suffice to say that the 3D conversion is actually somewhat decent, since it was done by people who understand how to use it properly and not as a cheap gimmick. For the first 20 or so minutes I was suitably impressed; the effect worked particularly well with the underwater footage of the real life wreck of Titanic, emphasising the suspended particles in the gloomy water and upping the surreal, spooky factor.
But then I completely forgot about the 3D. About 2 hours into this 194 minute beast I suddenly realised that the film was still in 3D and not 2D. I then spent the rest of the movie actively paying attention to the extent of the effect’s use, concluding that outside of those first few minutes the much touted 3D isn’t really all that special. It’s not bad per se, simply struggling to overcome the limitations of a movie that wasn’t made for 3D. It certainly doesn’t hold a candle to something like Hugo, a film designed to use 3D as an effective aid to cinematography.
So why bother if you’ve already seen it? Well, why do we bother to see any movie more than once? Titanic is still every bit the consummate epic, tailor-made for viewing on the big screen. Sure, the sappy romance between Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Rose (Kate Winslet) has its fair share of cheesy dialogue, and Jack’s infamous ‘I’m the king of the world!’ is as cringe-worthy as ever, but this tale of scuttled love nonetheless works wonders in forming the emotional core of the story, which chronicles the ill-fated maiden voyage of the ship Titanic.
Much of the tension in the first half derives from the fact that Jack and Rose belong to different social classes. Jack wins his third class ticket on Titanic in a lucky poker game five minutes before departure; Rose travels in first class with her fiancé Cal (Billy Zane), the film’s human antagonist. Rose doesn’t really want to marry Cal but is being pressured in order to secure her family’s future. Enter Jack, a free spirit, who wins Rose’s heart from her arrogant, snobbish husband-to-be (not that he had it anyway) and opens her to the idea of emancipation from the expectations and formalities of the upper class.
It might be a bit of a stretch that they fall hopeless in love so quickly, but then I’m reminded of the lines from Céline Dion’s classic theme to the movie:
Love can touch us one time
And last for a lifetime
And never let go ‘til we’re gone
On that note, the score by James Horner is outstanding. Eerie, sombre, touching and uplifting, it’s no surprise that it won Best Original Score at the Academy Awards that year (not to mention the other 13 Oscars the film was nominated for, 10 of which it also won).
Nevertheless, the romance and class struggle work in tandem to create a terrific dynamic that works well enough that it could have been a movie in and of itself. Of course, there’s more than just that though. There’s Titanic. The ship of dreams is brought to life through a compelling mix of CGI, models and working sets, successfully transporting you back to 1912. The scale is truly jaw-dropping, and while some of the effects show their age a tad it’s impressive how well they hold up almost 15 years after the film first released.
It’s that dreaded iceberg however, that transforms the movie. When Titanic collides with that icy monstrosity it’s abject terror, as Jack and Rose must fight to stay alive lest they let the icy waters freeze them to death. It’s no stretch to say that the last hour features perhaps some of the best disaster footage ever put to film. Moreover, Cameron’s use of a framing device to tell the story from the perspective of an elderly Rose and treasure hunter Brock Lovett (Bill Paxton) is a masterstroke. Indeed, towards the start we’re shown a computer animation that shows how Titanic sank, allowing us to recognise the stages of sinking later on.
And it’s no secret that it sank, rather spectacularly as well. Part of the ‘fun’ is actually picking out all of the decisions that led to the collision; reportedly 1517 passengers lost their lives. It makes sense then that Titanic has sailed back into cinemas to commemorate the centenary of the tragedy. Don’t come for the 3D however, come for the experience. This is that rare kind of cinematic event, huge in scope and ambition, an epic of uncommon power that’s delivered with a degree of technical wizardry that few films ever exhibit and even fewer get so thoroughly right.
Titanic is a spellbinding saga of love, class struggle and one especially nasty iceberg. Tragic, exciting and unrelentingly captivating, this is the kind of epic filmmaking that has become a rarity in contemporary cinema.