Per request, I am writing about a film that, until the release of Avatar (a blockbuster film by the same director no less), was the highest grossing film of all time. For many girls born in the 80s and 90s who had their first viewing when they were in their teens, this film is the epitome of romance and a long-standing testament to what true love can accomplish, even in times of great tragedy and despair. There are many different things to consider when looking at this film because it encompasses so much melodrama in its slightly excessive three hour plus run time. It blends historical context with forbidden love, ultimate tragedy, promises of hope, glimpses of pure joy, testaments to the benefits of a simplistic lifestyle, criticisms of the overzealous aristocracy gifted to the select few during that time period, dazzling visuals, and quite frankly, one of the best musical scores ever composed. It manages to accomplish and touch upon more cinematic elements than most writers can even dream of, but does that make it a good film? In my mind, I much rather prefer a movie similar in style to “Fruitavle Station” or “Beasts of the Southern Wild;” short films that only focus on one or two themes, but explore those themes with such rigorous intensity that it manages to feel like it has accomplished a similar amount to “Titanic,” but in half of the time. Still, trying to compare those aforementioned movies to “Titanic” is like comparing apples and oranges, so let’s just stick with “Titanic.”
Let’s look at what it does well. Like I said before, I simply cannot get enough of the musical score in this film. Even if you aren’t innately aware while watching the film, if you hear those classic notes playing somewhere, your mind automatically jumps to this movie. The effects, even to this day, are still spectacular and it is brilliantly accurate in depicting the way that the boat would sink. Many historical melodramas suffer from historical inaccuracy, so it is nice to see Cameron portray some amounts of realism, even if it may be only to counteract the functionality of the romance between the two lead characters. It is filled with loads of passion, scenes of immense excitement, and manages to tug at heartstrings in a way that almost reaches the same level as Pixar.
There are some areas, however, where it starts to drift off course. As dazzling as it is, it is equal parts overdramatic and obnoxious. The script feels like it was taken right out of pre-teen girl’s diary. When I was in high school I thought the love story of Romeo and Juliet was insufferable, but this film takes it to an entire new level. The lack of pragmatism in the relationship between the two main characters provides more annoyance than it does romantic fortitude, causing the film to lose a portion of its audience before anything else is considered. Sure, the romance will make some people become all weepy, just like your classic Nicholas Sparks book, but when you actually remove yourself from the emotion of the moment and look at the situation objectively, you start to realize just how ridiculous all of this is. The only thing that is more ridiculous than the romance is the run time; I’m sorry James Cameron but this film does not need to be 194 minutes. Run times of that length always pose a threat of making any film feel worn out or stretched to its limits unless it has real narrative depth to it. Films like the Godfather and Apocalypse Now explore every angle of the themes presented during the film. Titanic, on the other hand, decides to substitute a depth in theme exploration for quantity of themes. There is too much going on in this movie.
Yes, it is impressive that it packs so much into the movie and it makes it somewhat bearable to watch for the entire run time, but at the end, I feel like I have gotten no purpose from the movie. Watching this film feels like talking to that one friend we all have that is terrible at telling stories because they make every story more drawn out than it should be. This movie could have been told in half the time and still have the same emotional and intellectual impact. There are many times when the film outright angers me, the lack of originality in the storyline bores me, and the pure idiocy of some of the events and decisions made by the main characters makes me want to throw my remote through the middle of my television screen. It is one of the most self-indulgent, pity-inducing pieces of entitled cinema I have ever come across. The film meanders around like it knows it’s one of the greatest gifts to mankind without ever actually proving it. Films like “Schindler’s List” have instances where this is true as well, but at least “Schindler’s List” justifies its pomp and circumstance. “Titanic’s” ultimate flaw is that it feels it can do anything it wants and be in the right, when it couldn’t be farther from the truth. Nothing is handed to you automatically in the world of cinema, just ask Woody Allen, who has had his fair share of duds in his long and illustrious career; however, “Titanic” tries to change that notion with no avail.
At the end of the day, will people still love it? Yes. Will it still remain a blockbuster hit? Yes. Will it be remembered as a defining film from the 90s? Yes. But it will also be one of the most overrated films ever to grace the silver screen in my opinion.
Titanic (1997): 1.5/4 stars