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IN SHORT: The Oscar® race is over.
Enough about how much money James Cameron's Titanic cost, the point is moot. Titanic is one of a handful of movies that, perhaps once every decade, blows away every other movie that has screened in the years before. Titanic is an awesome piece of moviemaking. The sum is truly greater than the story upon which it is wrapped -- a romantic triangle consisting of a rich girl (Kate Winslet), a poor boy (Leonardo DiCaprio) and the vain and nasty fiance in between (Billy Zane), all dead center in the middle of one of the truly legendary disasters of the Twentieth Century.
Titanic kicks off with technically spectacular underwater footage of the ruins of the grand ocean liner. In the first of several jaw droppers, the camera moves inside the ship, down the first class deck and into the remains of one of the state rooms. We are peering over the shoulders of a salvage team led by Brock Lovett (Bill Paxton), looking for a precious diamond necklace that went down with the ship. In the state room is a safe. Inside the safe is a picture of a young woman wearing the necklace, which, when CNN breaks the story, leads to a very old woman (Gloria Stuart) who tells a tale of teenage rebellion, forbidden love and disaster.
Sure, it sounds like something out of a B-picture, but that doesn't impinge upon the gargantuan canvas on which writer/director James Cameron has painted his story. His camera sweeps around the ship and across the decks; there is a constant sense of the motion of this city on the sea. Social classes are differentiated by clothing and by the gates that lock off one section of the ship from another. On the first class deck, the men and women follow their own sets of social and class rules, with "old money" disparaging "new money."
The footage of the wreck dissolves seamlessly into the flashback story: 17 year old Rose DeWitt Bukater (Winslet), her mother (Frances Fisher) and fiance Caledon Hockley (Zane) are returning to Philadelphia for the wedding that she doesn't want, but her mother needs. Hockley is condescending and abusive. Feeling overwhelmed with despair, Rose considers suicide. Overly dramatic, true, but it does put her into the arms of itinerant artist Jack Dawson (DiCaprio) who won his passage in a dockside poker game. Dawson is overwhelmed by Rose. Hockley is overcome by jealousy and, in best soap opera manner, life and death situations occur above and beyond the very real danger posed by the foundering of the "unsinkable" ship.
Winslet, DiCaprio and Zane all deliver good performances but, as in the Legend, the real story is the ship. You will see nearly every part of it, from the bridge to the boiler rooms, first class decks and dining rooms to third class common areas. While the upper class does the waltz, the steerage passengers kick out the jams to a rockin' Gaelic band (all fellow passengers). The story that plays out is a tour guide to the luxury and elegance now laying two and a half miles down.
Which brings us to the final hour of this three plus hour epic, the Collision and Sinking. You will not be disappointed. In the first hour, a computer simulation sets up what 1990s technology has gleaned from analysis of the wreck as to what "really" happened that night in 1912. Even knowing what is to come in the final hour, your eyes will be transfixed. It's that good.
There are dozens of details written into the script, either about the characters or about the ship. All of them point to something down the line. Cameron's script is filled with the most subtle foreshadowing and his camera movements, especially the swooping motions around the moving ship, are breathtaking. Come next March, Cameron will go home with a briefcase full of statues, not only for making the film, but for designing and building (with his brother, Mike) the technology needed to film the wreck.
Titanic is worth every penny that was spent on it.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price for Titanic, he would have paid . . .
There is nothing I've seen in years that comes close to the power and glory of Titanic.
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