James Cameron, before the release of Titanic, was considered one of the world’s most daring action film-makers. His previous canon of work, including The Abyss, Aliens, True Lies and the first two Terminator films made the world stand up and pay attention to a man whose vision of action and adventure ranked with Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. Then he announced he was shooting a $200m film about the ill-fated ship Titanic. People scoffed and waited patiently to pour scourn upon the man who had seemingly gone mad in pursuit of an old school epic romance story. Then it was released, and the nay-Sayers and critics simultaneously shut up.
Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio), a poor street kid wins two third-class tickets to board the maiden voyage of the biggest ship ever built, the RMS Titanic. Once the Titanic sets sail, Jack meets wealthy socialite Rose DeWit Bukater (Kate Winslet) on the stern of the ship as she contemplates suicide. Convincing her to step down, the two begin a romantic relationship despite Rose’s family forbidding it. As they become closer, the Titanic drifts closer to the iceberg and the end of the maiden voyage of the ill-fated ship.
What Cameron is able to do in Titanic, is tell an epic, intense and personal romance set against the backdrop of one of the most well-known stories in modern times. Using his experience of action and adventure films, the scenes involving the ship and the iceberg are heart-pumping and exhilarating. However without the central relationship between Rose and Jack, Titanic would just be another The Poseidon Adventure or 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Luckily in DiCaprio and Winslet he found two leading actors with the young naivity and incredible talent to tell a convincing love story without feeling hackneyed or sentimental.
This is not to say that Titanic completely avoids sentiment in its pursuit of epic perfection, but it manages to temper the ‘sappy’ emotional hooks and saves them for a time when your nerves are already frayed beyond all recognition. With a film that runs over 3 hours in length, Titanic has the incredible foresight to shift gears at key times so that you are rarely bored and never disinterested.
Cameron, ever the perfectionist and visionary, actually rebuilt large portions of the Titanic to give the most realistic impression of being aboard the super-liner. This means when you see Jack and Rose desperately running down a corridor that is quickly flooding that is actually taking place within the bowels of the recreation of the ship. The amount of logistical thinking and foresight that Cameron must have had to bring this behemoth to life scarcely bears thinking about, but the important thing is he managed to do it and people responded by making Titanic the biggest box office hit of all time. This is of course until he broke his own record with the far inferior Avatar.
There are few directors with the sheer nerve to create such an expensive film simply because they could. But James Cameron is that man, and in Titanic he has created an epic love story for the ages. If only we didn’t have to live through Celine Dion’s explosion in popularity as a result.
A Note on Titanic in 3D
In 2012 Titanic was re-released in post-fit 3D for a new generation to enjoy. As with all 3D post-fittings, Titanic benefits not one bit from having this process applied. In fact, it removes the audience from the story-telling and action and makes it seem more like a fun-fair attraction that an engaging, absorbing love story.
Titanic is a masterstroke of direction, acting, screenplay pacing and overall atmosphere creation.