Modern day naval explorer Brock Lovett (Bill Paxton) is at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean controlling a deep-sea probe that is searching inside the wreckage of the infamous Titanic steamship for a diamond necklace called the Heart of the Ocean. All he could find however is a safe containing a sketch of a nude woman who happens to be wearing the necklace the night the ship sank. When defending his motives on the news that he wasn’t a treasure hunter but an excavator of artifacts, an elderly woman called Rose Dawson Calvert (Gloria Stuart) calls Lovett to say that the woman in the sketch is in fact her. Calvert is invited on Lovett’s research vessel to tell a first person perspective of the voyage, how she survived the incident and where might the necklace be now.
Rose begins her tale in Southampton dockyard. The year is 1912 and there’s five minutes left before Titanic sets sail on her maiden journey when Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio) wins a pair of third-class admission tickets while playing poker. On his first night aboard he sees the young Rose (Kate Winslet) running to the stern of the ship and hangs from the railings ready to jump but Jack convinces Rose otherwise. Deemed a hero by first-class passengers and crewmen, Rose’s fiancé Cal Hockley (Billy Zane) dubiously invites Jack to dinner the following evening. Wanting him to make a good impression ‘new money’ Molly Brown (Kathy Bates) dresses Jack in a suit to ensure he does just that however Rose’s mother – Ruth Bukater (Frances Fisher) reminds everyone at the table Jack is a third-class passenger and doesn’t really belong among the elite. Nonetheless, Jack’s infectious charm and philosophy of not knowing who he’ll meet and making each day count wins over the other passengers. The excitement and wonder appeals greatly to Rose, to the displeasure of Cal and Ruth, who finally realises her future as Mrs Hockley and her destiny to live a stringent, upper class lifestyle is not firmly set. Cal is perturbed by their growing relationship and contemplates a plan to get rid of Jack.
Meanwhile, Bruce Ismay (Jonathan Hyde), chairman of the White Star Line, is requesting Captain Edward Smith (Bernard Hill) to ignite the last four boilers in order to reach New York faster than anticipated by the press. Ismay not only wants to promote his beloved Titanic as his marquee ocean liner but also the fastest in comparison to his competitors. Captain Smith reluctantly agrees and pushes the ship to great speed ignoring all iceberg warnings until one of them damages the first five watertight compartments on the starboard side. Thomas Andrews (Victor Garber), the naval architect, confirms the ship would’ve remained afloat had only four compartments been damaged but the fifth will inevitably sink the ship. It is a mathematical certainty. And with only 16 lifeboats on board it’s imminent more than half of the passengers on board will not survive.
To mark the centennial anniversary of the sinking of RMS Titanic, James Cameron returns to his most critical acclaimed movie and spent over $18 million converting the original 1997 release into 3D. Up until the release of Avatar, Titanic was the highest grossing movie of all time break records across the globe and launched the careers of then relatively unknown actors Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. Much like Star Wars, the film will be seen by a new generation of cinema-goers who will have a different approach to the movie after seeing it on television a number of times. But what should be clear from the start is that this movie is about scale and it’s a scale that can truly and only be appreciated on the big screen. Having the surround sound ingulf you and feasting your eyes on the ship stretching the entire screen is simply mesmerising but is it, as the producers claim, a whole new experience in 3D? In short – no. Cameron has already set the bench mark of what can be achieved with 3D in Avatar. The technology is meant to surround and draw you into the world the film unravels in. This doesn’t happen at all in Titanic. The conversion process is subtle and focuses on specific moments such as the iconic ‘flying’ scene between Jack and Rose at the bow, the sweeping aerial shot of the Titanic and the passengers falling from the bridge into the icy waters. There clearly weren’t enough dramatic or action scenes to justify the conversion except that the colours are cleaner and the contours sharper than before. What it lacks in the conversion process however it makes up for in cinematic experience reminding us once again that this is an epic movie. Comparing this to other selections that have been adapted from novels/comic books or big budget projects that go heavy on special effects and light on plot – Titanic is a refreshing alternative.
There has been much criticism about it’s storyline, acting credentials and historical authenticity. But it’s also arguable that many of these ‘critics’ contributed to making Transformers: Dark of the Moon the fourth highest grossing movie of all time proving they clearly don’t know what cinema is for. Titanic wasn’t made to appeal to a certain audience nor developed to become a masterpiece and studied at film school. Cameron made this film because of the hundreds of stories attached to the tragic ship and the curiosity that surrounds it even today. By incorporating an unequivocal love story that is universal, it struck a chord with the audience back in 1997 and remains strongly connected today. It commands respect when you realise Cameron built a full scale model using the original blueprints, made numerous underwater expeditions for two years collecting on-site footage of the wreckage, faithfully reconstructed entire sections of the ship including the first class staircase, imprinted the White Star Line crest on every piece of furniture, cutlery and decorative set pieces while the costumes were designed true to the original Edwardian style. Most of these however were ruined or destroyed so Cameron could reenact the haunting, suffocating experience the original passengers faced.
What hasn’t aged well is Winslet’s questionable American accent, the distressing dialogue, Celine Dion’s vocal soundtrack (although the instrumental piece remains enchanting) and the odd CGI effect – which is perfectly acceptable considering it pays homage to a time when epic movies were rare. It would’ve been even more disastrous had Cameron echoed George Lucas who destructively manhandled this Star Wars saga. There are many messages in the movie that explore human pride, most notably from Cal who said the ship “is unsinkable. God himself could not sink this ship”. Arrogance of human endeavours and miscalculations existed back then as they do today; disasters are, at times, inevitable and often the poor or the weak pay the biggest price.
Titanic shouldn’t be seen because of its epic scale, box office figures or it’s leading stars – it should instead be appreciate as a majestic piece of cinema. There might be bigger, bolder, better films than Titanic but, much like the real ship, there has never been, nor perhaps ever will be, a film that will carve history quite like this one.
by Vaskar S. Kayastha