December 19, 1997 in Seven

Love Boat , We Know Ending, But The Trip Sure Is Thrilling Aboard ‘Titanic’

Chris Hewitt St. Paul Pioneer Press
 

Well, the boat sinks.

But even though you know how “Titanic” ends, it’s still a sight to see. We are accustomed to empty movies that are partially saved by jazzy special effects, but “Titanic’s” effects are central to what is wondrous and amazing about it. They give the movie its soul.

In the film, the ship rams into a teeny-looking iceberg and appears to survive the crash, but very soon the 2,200 passengers know the dreadful truth - the boat will sink, it will do so slowly (about two hours) and there will be no way to save more than 1,500 people. The sinking scenes have an aweful, awful beauty because the movie shows us how spectacular the ship was.

Writer/director Jim Cameron has found lovely ways to convey his affection for the Titanic (still eerily preserved at the bottom of the Atlantic). “Titanic” has several lyrical shots in which we glide seamlessly from, for instance, a present-day underwater shot of the ship’s stern, to a shot of passengers on the same spot more than 80 years ago.

The movie begins with a sketch found in the wreckage, which leads to Rose, a feisty 101-year-old Titanic survivor (Gloria Stuart), who says, “It’s been 84 years and I can still smell the fresh paint” on the ship. Via flashbacks, in which Kate Winslet plays Rose, Stuart tells the story of her star-crossed, shipboard love affair with Leonardo DiCaprio.

It is this Romeo-and-Juliet-get-very-very-wet romance that gives “Titanic” fits. DiCaprio is likable as a plucky guy out of Dickens, but Winslet is a chilly presence and her character has been given a ridiculous romantic dilemma - does she choose the poor, saintly DiCaprio or her fiancee, a rich jerk who obviously ought to trade in his dinner jacket for a strait one?

(It doesn’t help that Billy Zane, sporting hyper-trimmed eyebrows that make him look like a transvestite lizard, overacts.)

Those three sink under unseaworthy dialogue (“I’d rather be his whore than your wife”) and their romantic triangle would be more interesting if Winslet had a real choice. As for the other characters, where are they? For a movie with a three-hour-plus running time, there are surprisingly few people to care about. And that detracts from the suspense - we only like three people and we know that at least two of them will make it (Winslet, who has to grow up to be our 101-year-old narrator, and Molly Brown, who wasn’t called the Unsinkable Molly Brown for nothing).

If the romance seems fake, “Titanic” is buoyed by another theme, the shocking difference in the way the sinking boat’s first- and third-class passengers were treated.

Instead of “Women and children first,” it was more like “Tycoons and billionaires first.”

That disparity leads to the stark, horrifying finale, which gives the movie the weight and the brutal force of tragedy.

MEMO: These sidebars appeared with the story:

“TITANIC”

Location: Newport, Valley Mall, Coeur d’Alene, Post Falls

Credits: Directed by James Cameron, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet

Running time: 3:13

Rating: PG-13

OTHER VIEW’S

Here’s what other critics say about “Titanic:”

Duane Byrge/The Hollywood Reporter: On its highest level, “Titanic” is no meager disaster movie, greased by generic formula and goosed by big-bucks technology, but it is rather a probing scope of what great feats mankind can accomplish and, in turn, what terrible results these feats can spawn. Fortunately, Cameron lets the film’s philosophical seams and girdings show. “Titanic” and no one will ever forget is one big, bruising movie that will appeal on different levels to different audiences.

Karen Hershenson/Contra Costa Times: Let’s forget about the astronomical budget, the jiggered release date and director James Cameron’s reputation for on-set tyranny and appreciate “Titanic” for what it is: one spectacular movie.

These sidebars appeared with the story: “TITANIC” Location: Newport, Valley Mall, Coeur d’Alene, Post Falls Credits: Directed by James Cameron, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet Running time: 3:13 Rating: PG-13

OTHER VIEW’S Here’s what other critics say about “Titanic:” Duane Byrge/The Hollywood Reporter: On its highest level, “Titanic” is no meager disaster movie, greased by generic formula and goosed by big-bucks technology, but it is rather a probing scope of what great feats mankind can accomplish and, in turn, what terrible results these feats can spawn. Fortunately, Cameron lets the film’s philosophical seams and girdings show. “Titanic” and no one will ever forget is one big, bruising movie that will appeal on different levels to different audiences.

Karen Hershenson/Contra Costa Times: Let’s forget about the astronomical budget, the jiggered release date and director James Cameron’s reputation for on-set tyranny and appreciate “Titanic” for what it is: one spectacular movie.

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