Despite popular belief, director James Cameron's first film was not
'The Terminator' (1984) but was in fact a lousy and ultimately
forgettable effort in 1981 entitled 'Piranha II: The Spawning'.
Although 'The Terminator' did put Cameron on the map as a major player
in the motion picture industry, his progress was swift and captivating
and his vision was clearly that of a perfectionist attempting to better
himself with each project. His heart pounding sequel to 1979's 'Alien'
had the same title but was cleverly billed in plural fashion entitled
'Aliens'. A subtle little message that struck the public as sounding
better than the original and it was. His films that followed included
'The Abyss' (1989) which was technically efficient but now has dated
special effects with a pretentious ending and 'Terminator 2: Judgment
Day' which had superior technology compared with 'The Terminator' but
had less edge. 'True Lies' (1994) was a ridiculously smug film with a
midsection that dragged in a manner unsuitable for a Cameron film.
James Cameron is no longer measured only as a director caught up in the
advancements of movie technology but has struck a nerve with his ability
to measure and balance academic creativity, emotion and tremendously
chilling special effects in 'Titanic'.
A landmark film in every sense of the word, 'Titanic' will do
several things to revolutionize film after having done things that have
already made history. To date, it is the most expensive film ever
produced at a cost of 200 million dollars. It was criticized heavily by
the mainstream media as being too much for its own good to be successful
but Cameron insisted on nurturing the film drastically and avoided the
planned release for the summer of 1997 and has instead held off until
the Christmas season. The computerized visual effects are brilliant and
are the best to date in any film using them. I saw 'Titanic' in a brand
new movie theatre built in my area recently and witnessed it on a 65
foot screen and I couldn't spot one crop mark in the computer
enhancements of major scenes. To its advantage, much of the movie takes
place at night so spotting the crop marks is hard but it does things new
in blending computers, reality and good old fashioned elbow grease on
the part of the film's crew. It will also make superstars out of its
two leading characters played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet and
it will put Cameron on the map as a serious director of stamina and
sheer talent who has the potential of holding his own with Steven
Spielberg, Oliver Stone, Martin Scorsese and other important directors
and creative artists of his generation.
Also written by Cameron, 'Titanic' is a film that is so attractive
and mesmerizing simply because it thrives to visualize detail in every
capacity of the famous historic tragedy. It is a true story. Dubbed as
an unsinkable vessel by its creators and promoted through the corporate
arrogance that built it and eventually destroyed it through sheer
excess, on April 15, 1912, the luxury liner 'Titanic' on its maiden
voyage hit an iceberg in the North Atlantic Ocean, cracked in two pieces
down the middle and sank, killing 1,500 people while 700 survived. The
breakdown of law and order, the display of cruelty sheltering the
wealthy to safety first while middle class and lower class passengers
die in larger numbers and the reigning chaos of the overall climax make
'Titanic' a classic film destined for a special place in film history.
It looks and feels like nothing Hollywood has ever produced before.
It's historical accuracy and significance are mixed with a fictional
story taking place in the mix of things.
It begins in the present day with a salvage team attempting to
recover some of the ship's preserved treasure. Among their find is a
drawing of a beautiful woman posing nude on a sofa. Parts of the
picture suitable for television broadcast are made public and a 100 year
old survivor of that fateful night (Gloria Stuart) comes forward
claiming to be the woman in the picture. She meets with the salvage
team and its leader (Bill Paxton) and tells them her story of the events
leading up to her encounter with history. The film then flashes back in
time as she is shown as a young woman (Kate Winslet), getting on the
ship as a lady of high society with the man she is planning to marry
(Billy Zane, the film's villain and rich snob you want to see die). She
meets a peasant with a heart of dignity and splendidly down to Earth
qualities (Leonardo DiCaprio) with whom she falls in love.
And that's the key to the film's success. A love story with real
impact and credible shades of passion, it is the most important blend of
movie making since the love story in 1965's 'Doctor Zhivago' set against
another historical event, the Russian revolution of 1917. At a running
time of 194 minutes (3 hours and 14 minutes) 'Titanic' does something
uncanny and something I've never seen before. It begins its climax at
exactly the 100 minute (1 hour and 40 minute) mark which is
approximately only halfway through as the ship hits the iceberg with the
results that follow. It is impossible for an audience to be put to
sleep at anytime as the film spends every minute of its running time
telling the tale that needs to be told and leaving nothing out and
including nothing irrelevant. It is all set to an incredible and moody
music score that is deeply moving courtesy of James Horner who has done
some of his best work that ranks with his classic scores of 'Field of
Dreams', 'Apollo 13' and 'Braveheart'. Momentum is built slowly and in
an eerie manner that plays out like a nightmare with moral choices being
made every step of the way by the film's characters.
'Titanic' has an emotionally crushing and yet strangely
satisfactory conclusion which is memorable and avoids the status quo.
It is an early and very serious contender for the Best Picture Academy
Award and its recognition in that category would be significant as it
will find a positive place with historians, film critics and both
general and rabid movie patrons and that appeal is hard to ignore.
Copyright © 1997 Walter Frith