The first time I saw Titanic, I hated it. (But really, what 15-year-old boy didn’t hate Titanic?). I watched it again soon after it came out on video (for whatever reason), and then one final time just last summer. The summer viewing was done on a whim, at random. It was starting on HBO and I figured, What the hell, why not… let’s see if this thing is as bad as I remembered. (Hint: it was.)
Fast forward to two days ago where I sat through all 194 minutes of James Cameron’s epic disaster film. Two hours of forced love, hammed up “villainy,” lavish set designs, and flush cinematography. One hour of disaster. And 14 minutes of worthless epilogue. I sat and watched and paid attention. And when it was done, I was struck with two profound things: 1.) Titanic wasn’t as bad as I remembered, and 2.) Because of 3D technology, Titanic was worse than I remembered.
You all know the plot so let’s just skip right to the good stuff: What’s really wrong with Titanic? First is the acting. Aside from Kathy Bates’ “Those are your men out there,” pleas for desperate guilt, the acting in Titanic is universally dismal. Frankly, I don’t see how someone can argue against this point.
Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet sound like two elementary school kids awkwardly approaching how to conduct their first kiss, while 20 other kids stand around eagerly waiting for some action. They enunciate all the wrong words in all the wrong ways, their accents shift back and forth more times than one can count (Rose’s Philadelphia accent sounds rather British, and is that a country twang in Jack’s voice?). In short, every action exercised and every emotion evoked feels ungodly forced. Same goes for Bill Paxton, Frances Fisher, and especially Billy Zane. (Gloria Stewart gets a pass, simply because her character does nothing.) So, how is it that two kids who had already been nominated for Oscars (him for What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, her for Sense and Sensibility) managed to put in such lousy work? Simple: lack of a script.
Since The Terminator was released in 1984, James Cameron has asserted himself as the most important figure of cinematic special effects since George Lucas. But with that in mind, Cameron simply has no earthly idea how to pen an effective screenplay, especially as it relates to dialogue. While the situational scene scenarios in his films may produce epic results, that is the action talking. His characters, on the other hand, say so much without saying anything. There’s a reason Titanic won 11 Oscars but wasn’t even nominated for Best Screenplay. (Cameron's films have garnered 41 total Oscar nominations. Best Screenplay has never been among them.)
How is it, for instance, that a movie told from the perspective of just one person has the ability to be privy to conversations in which the storyteller was not present? When did Jack explain to Rose all of those side conversations Jack had with Rose’s fiancé and his bodyguard? Granted, this is an all-too-common narrative flaw committed by many American films, but the hypocrisy of that storytelling device irks me to no end.
Another problem I have with this Titanic is no real fault of the film, and that is its new 3D conversion. Yes, 95 percent of the 3D movies we have seen have been converted to 3D in post-production, which makes Titanic by far the best post-production 3D conversion ever displayed on a movie screen. In fact, the 3D itself isn’t bad at all. There are no lame tricks of objects (or people) flying at the screen; like Hugo, Cameron made the 3D in his film completely atmospheric, and it works. The problem, and this can be said for every single 3D movie that has been made in the past 10 years, are the glasses.
Putting on those 3D glasses casts a notably dark hue over the screen, which isn’t good for a movie that takes place largely at night. I equate it to turning the brightness on your TV to 50 percent – it just doesn’t work. And in addition to the darkness, the glasses cast a puke green shade over everything. So when Rose is telling Jack she’ll never let go, that gorgeous, deep blue that they are bathed in is absent, instead replaced with a color that makes the characters look like they have gangrene, which I don’t believe is the purpose.
|Left is what Titanic looks like on DVD, right is what in currently looks like in theaters.|
Now, fair is fair so let’s be fair. Is Titanic a horrible film? No, it is not. The hour and four minute boat sinking sequence was revelatory in 1997, and it’s revelatory today. For better or worse, that sequence will be remembered and adored for the rest of our lifetimes, so fair enough. But if I’m giving the film its due credit, then lovers of Titanic have to meet me halfway and admit that the film is long for the sake of being long. It’s as if Cameron said, “Yeah, but if we break three hours, people will be forced to take us seriously.” No, Jim, they won't.
The main reason I have been so hard on Titanic for the past few weeks is because I’m sick and tired of filmmakers of wildly successful films rereleasing their movies to make more money. You want to do this generation some good, digitally restore and colorize every single frame of Taxi Driver and release it in 3,000 theaters. But, given Titanic 3D’s rather embarrassing box office take this weekend (just $17.4 million), maybe people are just as sick of this gimmick as I am. It seems as though it’s time to let go. C-