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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 Jerry Saravia
No Rating Supplied

"Titanic" represents both the best and the worst of current Hollywood filmmaking. At its best, "Titanic" is a lavish, thrilling account of one of the biggest disasters of the 20th century. At its worst, the movie is flawed in the screenwriting department, and presents numerous cliches and particularly bad acting. Nevertheless, this is one hell of a movie and it should not be missed.

"Titanic" tells its tragic tale via the only survivor of the actual sinking of the ship - a 102-year-old woman (Gloria Stuart) who recounts the vivid tale to a group of research scientists led by a marine scavenger (Bill Paxton). This scavenger is looking for a jewel aboard the Titanic's ruins, but instead he finds a sketch of a nude girl wearing the long-lost jewel. The nude girl is, of course, the elder woman, Rose Dewitt Bukater, who is played as a 17-year-old girl by the stellar actress Kate Winslet.

In luminous photography and sweeping visuals, "Titanic" quickly takes us back to that fateful day in April, 1912 when the first of the Titanic's 2,207 passengers began boarding the ship in Southampton, England. Here we are introduced to the major characters such as the itinerant-artist Jack Dawson (Leonard DiCaprio) who wins a steerage-class ticket in a poker game, the aforementioned Rose, along with her assertive mother (Frances Fisher), and Rose's snobbish fiancee, Cal Hockley (Billy Zane). We also meet the shrewd, unsinkable Molly Brown (Kathy Bates).

Director James Cameron spares us no expense in showing us the elaborate decks of the ship, the ballrooms, the pretentious bedrooms, the tiny steerage compartments and the hot and heavy boiler room. We also see the differences in the lifestyles and treatment of the haves and the have-nots. These differences are further exemplified by the forbidden teenage romance between the near-suicidal, potentially wealthy Rose and the clever, destitute Jack who awakens a new sensibility in her by teaching her how to spit, and sketching her in the nude. This causes problems between Rose and the violent, spiteful Cal who orders his thuggish partner (David Warner) to keep an eye on Jack. Before you can say romantic soap opera, the ship hits a big iceberg. According to the ship's builder Thomas Andrews (Victor Garber), this will cause the ship to sink within an hour. The lower levels of the ship gradually start to sink, including the boiler room, forcing the stewards at to shut off the boilers and begin evacuation. Unfortunately, there are only a limited number of lifeboats available for the thousands of panicked passengers.

"Titanic" is at its best during the last hour and a half where we see the destructive nature of the sinking of this massive ship. At this point, Cameron's main theme comes forth - man's technological advancement (and arrogance) spells death for humanity itself. Thousands of lives are lost, and we see how the stewards lead the first-class passengers into safety first. There's also a terrifying scene where one of the stewards threatens and kills a couple of eager passengers. We also see Rose trying to rescue Jack who's locked away in one of the lower levels by Cal's partner. This whole section is so stirring and emotional that you're not likely to leave the theater with dry eyes.

Cameron's weakness is in his writing. The romance between Rose and Jack certainly evokes a passion and sense of love that is unlike most other tragic love stories. Cameron's main fault, however, lies with some of the supporting characters. Billy Zane as the cocky, snobbish Cal is laughably oafish emitting numerous cliches - he seems to have drifted in from a bad Harlequin romance novel. The same can be said for the predictably cold character of Rose's mother who does not approve of Jack because she wants her daughter to marry Cal for the security he can provide. There's also too little of the boisterous Kathy Bates as Molly Brown who brightens the screen whenever she shows up, and too much of Cal's gun-toting partner who seems to have drifted in from an Indiana Jones adventure.

Other bland characters include Titanic luminaries such as the worrisome Captain Smith (Bernard Hill); the Whites Star Lines executive (Jonathan Hyde) who insists that the ship travel at full speed so they can arrive in New York a day early; and a couple of other forgettable wealthy passengers.

Another lesser weakness is the movie's obligatory framing device of having the elder Rose tell us her story of that fateful night - it's interesting yet unnecessary in its own way because the power of the film is the compelling story itself that we need no guidance in following.

Still, this is among Cameron's best technical work by far, and it is a tribute to him that we don't actually notice any of the special-effects. In a sense, he makes us feel we are aboard the ship, before and after it sinks. "Titanic" is an awesome spectacle and perversely entertaining, but its narrative style and characters are less than stimulating.

Copyright 1997 Jerry Saravia

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