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movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Titanic

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet
Director: James Cameron
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 194 Minutes
Release Date: December 1997
Genres: Action, Romance, Drama

*Also starring: Billy Zane, Kathy Bates, Frances Fisher, Gloria Stuart, Bill Paxton, Bernard Hill, Jonathan Hyde, Victor Garber

Review by Walter Frith
4 stars out of 4

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

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