Of course James Cameron has found a way to make more money without making a new movie. Of course. This April, Cameron’s romance-disaster drama “Titanic” returns to the big screen … this time in 3-D. As the acclaimed epic suddenly re-emerges, I’m forced to remember that this movie is still undeservingly heralded as a cinematic masterpiece.
“Titanic” is over three hours of stock characters, swelling music and sudden passion, capped with a tear-jerking ending. Sure, the stunning American socialite with the overpowering fiancé and the poor artist lover-boy are played by the undoubtedly talented Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio, but this duo didn’t become dynamic until starring side-by-side in “Revolutionary Road” in 2008. Their acting in “Titanic” is wooden at best, barely capable of bringing life to their formulaic characters.
Cameron is a wizard of spectacle — he can masterfully sink a ship or take you to a whole new world populated with blue people and rocks of a much-too-obvious moniker, but in his many years as an action-film director, he still hasn’t learned how to write a script. This matters less-so in his more action-packed films, where the explosions are exciting enough to let lines like “I may be synthetic, but I’m not stupid” slide.
But in “Titanic,” things don’t get action-y (i.e. the ship doesn’t hit the iceberg) until about 100 minutes in. Uh-oh, Cameron has to write real-life dialogue. And surprise, he fails! The utterances between Rose and Jack might elicit an emotional response from the audience, but their words are flat and romanticized, solely intended to force out those emotional responses and make you forget these characters are like the unfinished, underdeveloped outlines in Jack Dawson’s sketchbook. It’s OK if you were tricked into thinking the script was substantive — the Academy obviously was too, as evidenced by Cameron’s nomination for Best Screenplay.
I do recognize that “Titanic,” like most of Cameron’s films, is visually incredible, but let’s be real: Give anyone a $200 million budget and they will make a damn aesthetic masterpiece. Disaster films are known for breaking the bank, but a few standout productions within the genre, like the classic “The Towering Inferno,” managed to succeed on more fronts than “Titanic” while operating on a fraction of Cameron’s budget.
“Titanic” is a lazy amalgamation of spectacle and romance. It takes a catastrophic event and reduces it to a love story backed by a poor script. The rich girl breaks class barriers for the free-spirited boy, they pretend they can fly, do it in the backseat of a car and then an iceberg ruins all the fun. And now we get to see it all again in the third dimension? I’ll pass.
When I heard Bob Ballard speak about his discovery of the Titanic, it was with the same manic energy the treasure-hunting character expressed by Brock Lovett when he was discussing the shiny big blue rock he sought within Cal Hockley’s safe, buried beneath the frigid waves for over 50 years.
That diamond had been Lovett’s obsession, and when his carefully laid (and expensive) plans didn’t pan out, Lovett’s disappointment was palpable. That is, until he met Rose DeWitt Bukater and heard her heart-wrenching narrative of her dreamlike-turned-horrific experience on the doomed vessel. Suddenly, Lovett understands the humans behind the treasures he seeks. He admits, “Three years, I’ve thought of nothing except Titanic; but I never got it … I never let it in.”
I understand this is an obscure reason, but Lovett is why I appreciate “Titanic.” I’m a student of anthropological archaeology with a passion for underwater archaeology, so it shouldn’t be shocking that I watched Cameron’s film with a slightly different focus than other movie-goers.
Lovett’s reaction to DeWitt Bukater’s story is what I hope more treasure hunters and archaeologists bring to their searches and research: It’s not enough to find artifacts like the Titanic, it’s perhaps more important to appreciate the human element behind those discoveries.
About 1,500 people sunk with the ship when the Titanic hit that fatal iceberg — let’s not get carried away in the spectacle of high-profile finds and remember that these were real people who died traumatic deaths.
Whether or not James Cameron intended to portray this in “Titanic,” and I assume he did not, as he is callously re-releasing the movie in 3-D to rake in the moolah, that message still resonated with scenes of lower-class passengers being barred from access to the lifeboats and people screaming “Just give us a chance.”
But do I need to see that in 3-D? I don’t think so.