Does the world need another Titanic review? Emphatically NO - BUT after screening this many years after its release in 3D with a couple of teen aged relatives last week I have a new appreciation for this warhorse and liked it much more on a second viewing many years later.
It's a grand large epic film that is generous of heart and soul. It's brimming full of old fashioned film values, both from a visual and story telling point of view. They literally 'don't make 'em like like that anymore', and I don't think they had 'made it like that' for many years before the 1990's, when this film was released.
Let's get this out of the way first: the 3D adds very little to the enjoyment of the film. Cameron has done it meticulously ($18 million K, apparently!) , but it only seems to make a difference in close up and rack focused scenes, and very little in the wide epic effect driven shots. Also, apparently the only changes he made were to change the night sky in a couple of shots, which was originally geographically inaccurate. To me the only other thing he should have amended is the tiny, bug like humans on the wide shots, which still look like computer generated people. They are still fake looking.
The film has two big assets that are still very much in its favor: A) A superbly executed romance story that makes us care deeply about both characters. The unlikely upstairs downstairs romance is richly justified and believable, both due to Cameron's Romeo and Juliet-esque simple but effective writing (in this story instance, anyway, more quibbles later) and flawless, charismatic and beautiful performances from Leo DeCaprio and Kate Winslet, never better or more utterly committed and passionate. Before I get off this topic, how many films have failed to make similar situations believable and failed? Thousands. And the DeCaprio/Winslet chemistry is literally lightning in a bottle.
B) Cameron's meticulously constructed and imaginative visual film-making chops. The set up scenes showing of the boat's beauty and gargantuan majesty make you feel like you are touring the Titanic in person. Then, the last hour where the boat gets destroyed and sunken contains a treasure trove of creative and thrilling set pieces all of which top the one before it, from the amazing flooding, the boat's systematic destruction, to the stunning choreographed passengers panicking and going to the top of the boat's nose, till its inevitable sinking. Though long, Cameron never repeats himself and is full of new surprises through the film's exhaustive 3 hour plus length.
The aftermath and the floating dead bodies are as poignant as ever, and the film in a non didactic way, makes the social inequalities and class struggle palpable, especially to sensitive like kids my niece and nephew who have never read Das Capital or heard of Marx, either Karl OR Groucho.
On the down side, every character who is not Jack or Rose is a one dimensional stereotype, from Billy Zane (at least he lots of panache and is quite memorable hamming his way through this) as Rose's evil fiance, to Frances Fisher as her selfish, cold social climbing mother, to David Warner as an evil, murderous (for no particular reason) butler.
The film soundtrack with its Irish Celtic penny whistles and repetitive Celine Dion theme has aged badly and sounds stultifying, dated and stuck in the mid-nineties.
The film is WAY long and could use about 45 minutes to an hour cut off its time. Here's where to start: The intro and extro scenes of the contemporary adventurers working for Bill Paxton, looking for treasure and particularly Winslet's legendary diamond necklace are far too long and unnecessary. These scenes are well executed, and it's nice to see actual footage of the undersea wreckage 100 years later. Still, we don't see Leo De Caprio and Kate Winslet until more than a half hour into the film. We see Gloria Stewart as the geriatric version of Rose, and she's fine, but I was impatiently wanted to see the Titanic in its glory and so did my niece and nephew.
Grand film making with old fashioned and soul stirring story telling techniques is rare these days, and when it's been tried (i.e. Pearl Harbour, Australia, Amistad) it has failed miserably. James Cameron's Titanic achievement defied the odds and it's near impossible to hate this wide, crowd pleasing kind of film that crosses all cultural barriers to tell a story for the ages, thrilling for people from every age group, economic or ethnic background.