THE ULTIMATE BOATSHOW?
James Cameron isn’t a writer’s writer; he’s got a tin ear for dialogue and he’s not very original in refreshing fatigued plot conventions. But—and this is a big saving grace of a but—his blockbuster Titanic is no cheat. Enshrouded by the factual events of the tragedy, Cameron has made a heart tugging, super-satisfying fantasy—the most crowd-pleasing tragic romancer in a decade, maybe two. When Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jack and Kate Winslet’s Rose kiss at the bow of the ship—with not a fake but real sunset bestowing its imprimatur—the audience is so plugged into the contrivances that the picture’s obvious weaknesses are wiped from consideration. Cameron’s very smart: the now-cold facts about the “ship of fools” have been worked over time and again, and probably the best of the documentaries—Titanic: Death of a Dream & Titanic: The Legend Lives On—are of such sweeping inclusiveness that to go over the material once more would be worse than redundant; instead we get Cameron’s concocted love story that swoons us into the technology of just how the unsinkable proved otherwise. It wouldn’t have worked, however, without Winslet and DiCaprio. With so much abundant health, Winslet’s a near-Rubenseque version of Meryl Streep without her speechnology and Gillian Anderson without her attitude, and DiCaprio’s got a wile, winning little-boy smile that gets the teeny bops all aflutter, yet his easy-going charm puts adults in a receptive mood for his antics. In their Ivory-scrubbed freshness, they get us to dismiss the improbabilities that enforced class separation would accelerate a relationship in this specific historic period and time-limited circumstance, and, in what is the movie’s surprise, they also manage to steam up Cameron’s unexpected brand of eroticism. When Kate sheds her robe and stands before Jack, or when he’s stretching her ala Goya’s Maja Desnuda (those are Cameron’s hand we see, and his drawing), we’re a little startled by the director’s sensual touch. Playing the aging Rose with an excess of endearment that Ken Starr in another time might find indictable, Gloria Stuart’s line about being “a dish” is the movie’s best laugh. Frances Fisher as Kate’s stone-cold mother and Billy Zane as Kate’s fiancé are prima one noters. Wasted not because she can’t do Molly Brown but because she hasn’t much to do, Kathy Bates thankfully provides the answer to how penniless DiCaprio finds a tux to wear. For a change, a musical score is underscored as a fulfilling supporting role: James Horner’s new age Celtic music—complete with Sissel doing a bagpipey Enya-like pastorale—becomes an indispensable, euphonic part of the whole, and with never more earned pathos than when Celine Dion renders to the love ballad a quixotic, scaling articulation that gives you a case of goose flesh. (The CD soundtrack, mastered using 24-bit technology, has all the whirling roadshow sound components we were too busy to pay attention to as viewers, and those tracks pertaining to the sinking are frightful workups of quasi chorale, synthesization and pseudo symphony.) When the iceberg does its dirtywork, we’re as riveted by the technology used to diagram the ship’s death as we’ve ever been by special effects in any previous movie. When the Titanic rises out of the water and then just about splits in two, the audience’s collective jaw dropped audibly. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a sound quite like it—a combo of horror and marvel. Peter Camont’s reproduction of the cavernous engine room is nothing less than magnificent. As the images of pandemonium pour in, the technological aspects of the spectacle take charge to lessen our emotions. Tears are shed, of course, for Jack & Rose, yet Rob Legato’s and Thomas L. Fisher’s FX create a buffer; we watch the computer-added breath or scan the floating bodies with their iced hair to see if it’s all too effectsy. Some scenes aren’t working as we might wish: the old couple in bed—waiting for the sea to drown them—or the Captain’s fate elicit zilch from us. On the other hand, a dead woman floating spread-eagled in the ship’s innards is eerie, a lyrical downer. Comparisons of this spectacular to the soapy, prissy Clifton Webb-Barbara Stanwyck Titanic (unaccountably earning an Oscar for its screenplay) or the based-on-then-known-fact A Night to Remember are inevitable but meaningless. Techo-realistically, there’s a closer connection to 1960’s The Last Voyage, during which a real liner is dynamited and flooded. This most recent voyage is truly an event; we’re like first-hand witnesses to the colossus’ demise, and not too far removed from a similar kind of numbness survivors claimed—going catatonic by the magnitude of what is happening right before our eyes. But Cameron’s quite the fox: he damned well knows that audiences don’t want to go home sobered by realities, thus we get a smoochy reprise. I fell for it too. Titanic would be the ultimate boatshow if the director’s cut could be projected through the medium it really deserves—IMAX. Instead, Cameron decided to do a 3D conversion that achieved at best 2½ D.
Text COPYRIGHT © 2001 RALPH BENNER (Revised 1/2015) All Rights Reserved.