By Alex and Nate Blake
We’re back for our first couples review after getting married in May, and for our return we decided to introduce a new series of film reviews in which we look back at films that will be reaching the 21 year milestone. These movies hit theaters so long ago that if they could consume food and beverage, they would be old enough to legally drink alcohol. A lot of these films will be ones we haven’t seen for years or even decades. We’ll be looking back on our first experiences with them and compare that with our most recent viewing. We’re cheating just a bit with our first pick, as it doesn’t officially turn 21 until December, but hot summer days are the best time to crank up the a/c and watch a three hour movie.
And we are back! The hiatus was much needed, but now that the knot has been tied, I need to bitch about film again.
It’s impossible to forget the moment Titanic arrived and became a pop culture phenomenon. From December 1997 to the early 2000s, the world just seemed obsessed with the film and the real-life tragedy that inspired it. My parents didn’t see Titanic in the theater, and neither did I. They were more strict than my friends’ parents about what we were allowed to watch. I did not see my first PG-13 movie until I was almost nine years old (just before Titanic left theaters) and it was the very nudity-free Jurassic Park. When my parents rented Titanic, they hated it. They admired parts of it: the visual effects, the score, the ship splitting in half. But they mostly found it overhyped, overlong and boring. Because my brother and I had been hearing about this film for nearly a year, my Dad decided he would let us experience some of it. Using multiple VCRs, he edited the film down to an age appropriate 70 minute cut that included no F-words, no nudity and none of the more intense peril. It was unwatchable. Part of the reason is because the rental was copy protected, so the edit alternated from color to black and white the entire time. Obviously, with more than half of the film’s scenes chopped it, it made no sense either. I bring this up, because as I watched the film in its entirety (not for the first time) over the weekend, it occurred to me how much the fully intact cut still doesn’t make a lot of sense.
Most people of my generation have very fond memories of watching Titanic as a child. I am also not one of those people. I have seen this film only once before this particular viewing experience. It was 1998 or 1999, I was young, and I gave no shits about these people on this boat. Honestly, this viewing experience wasn’t much different. I am just older and more jaded than I was in the 90s.
When I was in my teens, my parents finally let me watch the film, and I, in the middle of 2002, caught the Titanic fever. The effects and the craftsmanship blew me away. I bought the film on DVD and sought out any books, articles and documentaries I could find on how the film was made. I learned a lot about film making because of Titanic and it is one of a few key movies that pushed me to study film and media in college. That said, up until this weekend it had been quite a while since I sat down and watched the entire film. Less than halfway through it this time, I realized something: my parents were right.
So, let’s start this shit show at the beginning. I had a love hate relationship with the first half an hour of this movie. On the one hand, the use of foreshadowing was really great. On the other hand, there was a whole lot of exposition that was completely unnecessary. The tour of the boat underwater fixates on the dining room and the suite that Cal and Rose share. Both of these locations feature key scenes that further the plot throughout the film. The discovery of the safe also foreshadows key plot points. When Rose and Cal are loading the boat, we see the safe for the first time. It helps to establish that they are wealthy compared to the rest of the travelers. They wouldn’t need a safe if they didn’t have valuable things to lock up in the first place. In addition to this though, the safe is part of one of the scenes that show Rose freeing herself from Cal.
Unfortunately, the foreshadowing was the best part of the first half hour of this film. The rest was completely unnecessary exposition. I think it would have been better told just as a historical account and not through the use of flashbacks. For example, there is the scene when one of the treasure hunters on board the Akademik Mstislav Keldysh shows her a computer model explaining exactly how the boat sank. She personally experienced this though. She didn’t need the explanation. I also feel like it would have been better to not spoil the fact that Rose is still alive. It would have been a better story to save that reveal until the end. Honestly, the use of “old” Rose added very little to the overall story. With that being said, RIP Bill Paxton, but what the hell was with that hair??
Now the moment you have all been waiting for: movie crush of the week. This week it was quite a contested race. I loved Kathy Bates in this movie. She was the most interesting passenger included in the film by far. However, there was someone, or should I say something, that moved the plot along more than any actual character in this film. That’s right people, I am making the unprecedented move in making the iceberg my film crush of the week. Molly Brown (Kathy Bates) was the one character that I actually enjoyed. The iceberg was the second most compelling character. If you can’t tell, I really did not enjoy this film. However, this serves as a nice segue into why I hate Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Rose (Kate Winslet) so much as individuals and as a couple.
As do I.
I did not believe for a second that Kate Winslet was supposed to be playing a 17-year-old. The most believable part of this was her attitude, her mood swings, and her terrible decision making. I found her character to be vapid and dull.
The love story between Rose and Jack brought this story down. This would have been a much better film if it told the story of some actual passengers or crew instead of this fictional couple. The love story, if you can even call it that, was uninteresting and unrealistic. And because I am so dedicated to this blog, I will provide you an explicit list as to why this relationship is the worst.
1.) First of all, bitch you are engaged! I get that it is a terrible relationship. But, that does not mean you should run off with the first poor man you meet on your boat.
The relationship between Jack and Rose doesn’t seem like love as much as a way for her to escape. One thing the film does well is making us sympathetic towards Rose. How could anyone not be? Cal is an abusive, possessive jerk and her mother Ruth (Frances Fisher) is just marrying Rose off so she doesn’t have to suffer the humiliation of working as a seamstress. Given the circumstances I don’t blame Rose at all for wanting out, but that doesn’t make me believe she loves Jack. I guess that bit where she jumps back onto the ship is supposed to sell me on it, but at that point I’ve also stopped caring because I had to sit through that nonsense where she uses the axe to free Jack from that pipe he was handcuffed to right after it is made painfully obvious she has never swung an axe before.
2.) YOU HAVE KNOWN EACH OTHER FOR LITERALLY THREE DAYS. I don’t know about you, but I would not be willing to die for some dude that I had known for three days. I don’t care how great he may seem.
3.) The writing between them sucks and they had approximately two conversations of substance during the entire movie and one of them was dedicated to how much her fiancé sucks.
It’s frustrating to watch this film now, knowing how much more Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio are capable of. They do have charisma together, but their biggest obstacle here isn’t Cal (Billy Zane) or an iceberg or a sinking ship. It is a terrible script. The dialogue for almost every one of their scenes together is stilted and vomit worthy. It’s only one small step above Padme and Anakin’s awful dialogue in the Star Wars prequels. Check out this winner of a line:
Jack: “…you’re the most amazingly, astounding, wonderful girl-woman, that I’ve ever known.”
Or this on-the-nose observation from Jack right after the ship plows into an iceberg.
Jack: “This is bad.”
Or, how about a piece of dialogue that unintentionally gets to the root of the biggest problem with the relationship between Jack and Rose:
Rose: “When the ship docks, I’m getting off with you.”
Jack “This is crazy.”
Rose: “I know. It doesn’t make any sense. That’s why I trust it.”
Lines like that destroy any chance the love story had of pulling me in. When a screenwriter has to use dialogue to point out how absurd something is in the hopes that doing so will somehow make the situation more plausible, it’s time for a re-write.
4.) This isn’t romance. It is lust. I do not understand why the rest of the world hails this as a great film romance.
5.) Now let’s talk about this fucking door. I don’t care what you say, Jack could not fit on that door. It is not about surface area. It is about weight distribution. One of them had to die. GET OVER IT.
6.) Did everyone forget that Rose considered the possibility that Jack stole from her moments after the ship hit the iceberg? And then she gave a half assed apology for doubting him. This all points to the hallmark of a lasting relationship.
I could keep going, but I will spare you the rest of my rant.
The hour or so of the film where the Titanic is sinking is when James Cameron’s decision to focus almost solely on this love story for 90 minutes ruins what could have been a gripping historical account. Instead of giving Molly Brown and some of the historical characters more screen time for the first half and making this more of an ensemble piece, everything is about developing this 48 hour relationship between Jack and Rose and trying to convince us that it is one of the deepest loves ever felt. By doing so, Cameron can’t switch away from either of them for too long during the sinking without it feeling like a jarring change in the point of view. So we only get a couple moments here and there where the sheer loss and scope of the tragedy are allowed to be felt. Those moments are incredible. The band playing “Nearer My God to Thee” over a montage of passengers accepting their fate, Molly Brown and the survivors next to her in the lifeboat looking on in total awe and horror, the sickening sounds of the ship splitting in half. Those are all amazing cinematic moments. They are more effective and moving than anything Cameron is trying to force us to feel through Jack and Rose.
While watching the film this time, it occurred to me how my experience with it is similar to that of watching Cold Mountain. In that 2003 civil war epic/romance, the love story between Jude Law and Nicole Kidman also takes up most of the screen time, but doesn’t result in the film’s most memorable characters or moments. Natalie Portman, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Kathy Baker and even Jack White all have more interesting roles. One difference is that I think Cold Mountain does a better job of providing well-rounded supporting characters, so that even though the main storyline between Law and Kidman is kind of a dud, I can still occasionally watch Cold Mountain and find something of merit in it. The supporting characters in Titanic are one dimensional props. Cal is the villain, Captain Smith is noble but careless, Mr. Ismay is a coward, Mr. Andrews is likeable but arrogant, Mr. Murdoch is unsure of himself in a time of crisis. It’s all paper thin. The closest any of the supporting characters come to being fully fleshed out is Molly Brown, who deserves way more screen time than she is given.
Now, I didn’t hate everything in this film. And I do understand that it was groundbreaking for the time. However, it was not groundbreaking because of the script or the plot. Instead, it was monumental because of the way this film was shot and how visually stunning it was at times. I assumed that most of the exterior shots of the boat were CGI. I was shocked to find out that they built an actual 45 foot long miniature replica for those shots. The extra effort definitely paid off. There were also some really cool transitions that were used, particularly when they transitioned from the to past to present time. In general, I think the flashbacks were unnecessary, but they did them in a really cool way that almost made me forget how stupid they were.
There was also a series of shots that really caught my attention. Throughout the film, there were cuts to the underbelly of the boat. On deck, you see all of the decadence and wealth. Below, you see men working hard to keep the boat running and not getting to enjoy any of these luxuries. These cuts really demonstrated the economic divide of the time. The lighting was also dramatically different further demonstrating this divide. On deck, it is light and airy, as if they have no worries. Down below, it is dark and cramped. You can almost feel the distress of the men below deck. The juxtaposition of these shots really brought into focus the historical context in which this film was set.
The best part of this film was by far the cinematography and the score. The best scene between Jack and Rose was the scene at the bow of the boat. However, even that scene was only what it was because of the cinematography and score. Without the work of Russell Carpenter and James Horner though, this scene would have come across as just as cheesy and cringeworthy as the rest of Jack and Rose’s relationship.
I’ve already made my opinions about the love story clear, but it is just so incredibly weak. Would it help if the dialogue was better? Yes. Could it have been worse if Kate and Leo didn’t have chemistry? You bet. But buying in to them being as in love as Cameron wants us to think they are requires a suspension of disbelief that I’m just not capable of. Jack talks her out of killing herself, which he later claims she wouldn’t have done anyway. That’s interesting to consider. Rose makes a lot of noise en route to the stern of the ship she appears ready to throw herself off of. She runs instead of walking, for some unexplained reason, and is sobbing. Are we to assume her and Cal have just had a fight? I guess that’s a possibility. There is never an explanation for the level of distress Rose displays at the beginning of the scene. Yes, we know she is unhappy with the direction of her life, but it seems like there should be some breaking point given to explain why now, why this night? Anyway, either the running and the noise are intentional on her part to attract attention, or it is just a device being used by Cameron to explain how Jack is alerted to the suicide attempt about to occur. I’m going with the former, as it does seem like she wants someone to stop her.
So Jack convinces her not to jump, they bond over some of his drawings and enjoy a night of drinking and dancing. After this, he is convinced she is the most “amazingly, astounding” woman he has ever met. “Amazingly” is how I imagine the Donald described Melania’s after first laying eyes upon her. Anyway, Jack shows Rose his flying trick, she poses nude for him and they have sex in a car. All of this looks fun, but in comparison to other film romances it is pretty shallow. I’m convinced that if they both could stay afloat on that damn floating door (which I will say nothing more about), they would have broken up shortly after being rescued by the RMS Carpathia.
I understand that for some people that this movie is a nostalgic film from their childhood. However, the writing was not good, the plot was lacking throughout, and the characters were annoying at best. The two things that saved this film were the cinematography and the score. Visually this film was stunning, the costumes were beautiful, and the iceberg brought a little something extra to the plot.
Maybe I’m spoiled by all the quality love stories that have been released since Titanic, but there is something more gradual and believable about the way relationships in Brokeback Mountain, Atonement, Once, Call Me by Your Name and even the first 10 minutes of Up play out. This is a love story that seems like a fantasy in the mind of a teenager who has only experienced crushes. As such, Titanic may be old enough to drink, but just because it can doesn’t mean that it should. I don’t think it’s mature enough for alcohol at this point.