Rated - TEPID, verging on theSIMMERING
Why would a titanic director like James Cameron (The Terminator (1
& 2), The Abyss, Aliens, True Lies) reduce a mega-subject like the
sinking of the Titanic to a micro-subject like a love story?
Didn't he trust the audience to comprehend a large-scale tragedy?
Didn't he think we'd be interested in the technical details of the
sinking? I know he is. Did he assume we'd be bored by a retelling of
this classic tragedy?
If that's what he thought, I'd say he was wrong.
I loved every minute of the technical side of Titanic. I loved the
early scenes set in the high-tech present. I loved the way he used old
Rose - the wonderful Gloria Stuart (The Old Dark House, The Invisible
Man) to tell the story. I loved the shots of the huge brass turbines
pumping like some infernal machine. I loved hearing scraps of detail
about the engineering and the speed of the ship and the damage that the
iceberg had done. I loved lines like "She is made of iron. She will
sink" from Victor Garber as the boat's builder. If only more time out
of the 3 hours or so had been spent on all this fascinating, juicy
detail. But it wasn't.
Instead we had Kate Winslet and her heaving bosom, and Leonardo di
Caprio, valiantly trying to transform dreadful (and often
anachronistic) dialogue into something half-believable. We had Billy
Zane, inexplicably cast as a snooty upper-class villain, spouting
absurd dialogue in a crazy voice. And we had The Theme of the movie.
"Upstairs Downstairs"...and never the twain shall meet. Except that
they do, and a whole lot of snogging goes on, below the stairs, and
above the stairs, and on the stairs, and in a car, and on and on...This
prompts Billy Zane to utter, in the most ludicrous tones, the immortal
line "What made you think you could put your (voice shakes) hands on my
fiancé?" It is at that moment that the film itself hits rock
Actually, so much is made of this Upstairs Downstairs theme that it is
tempting to see the movie in Elizabethan-world-view terms. The Titanic
sank, not because of man's hubris in thinking we could build an
unsinkable ship, but because a lower-class spunk dared to love an
upper-class chick. The universe couldn't cope, and God sent an iceberg
to put Leonardo in his place.
And the iceberg! In a movie about the Titanic, the minimum requirement
is that the iceberg is scary. This one isn't. It looks like it's made
of masonite. US$200 million spent, and they couldn't even make the
iceberg look real! A friend of mine (Keith Howes) said it looked like
one of the plastic shopping bags he saves for recycling. Believe me,
Do I sound harsh? Perhaps. But it is the sheer scale of the film that
makes my disappointment so great. There are so many good things about
this film, and the director is one who loves gadgets and toys and
engineering. So why did he waste so much time on a pedestrian (!) love
story. And why didn't he give us more of the fascinating detail of the
tragedy? Why did he show Morse Code SOS calls, and neglect to show us
how the Titanic made the first radio distress call? Why didn't he give
us more of the fascinating detail? Why didn't he tell us more about the
Californian, which ignored the distress calls, and the Carpathia, which
steamed to the rescue from too far away? Why, after 3 hours don't we
have any more idea why the ship sank than we had after watchingA Night
I have no answers to these questions, but at least I have the memory of
a few fabulous scenes: I've already mentioned the huge pistons, and I
loved all the engine-room scenes. Here are some other truly great
· The sight of the huge propellers as they lifted out of the
water - it still makes the hairs stand up on the back of my neck.
· The sight of the man hitting the propeller - absolutely
· The people clinging to the railings as the ship tipped one way
and the other.
· Victor Garber, as the boat builder, stands leaning at in
increasingly steep angle against the mantelpiece as the ship sinks.
He's absolutely bereft, but he adjusts the time on the mantle-clock .
· An elderly couple cling to each other on a bed. (But who were
· The plates fall out of the cupboard as the ship tilts (this is
a pinch - or a quote - from A Night to Remember).
· The moment when a ship's officer has to use a gun.
· The scene stealing performance of the officer who leads the
search for survivors from a lifeboat. His scene was unbearably moving
and quite uncanny - but it was over way too soon.
Counterbalancing these great moments, we have great disappointments
like the pretty ordinary digital miniature shots, where the people all
walk the same way, at the same speed and at the same angle.
In the end, it is a very uneven film, and it rarely moved me. It should
have had me sobbing uncontrollably. Even the documentaries make me cry.