Friday, 2 May 2014

Titanic (1997)

"I intend to write a strongly worded letter to the White Star."

This is, well, the biggest, most epic film I've yet blogged. It's long, expensive and big in every sense of the world. Is it any good? Well, yes. It has deep flaws in its pacing but it is a technical triumph of cinema, and the interminable first half eventually gives way to a second half (in real time from the moment the iceberg is hit until the final sinking in a significant chunk of the film that does not feel to long) which can stand among the finest disaster movies ever made.

That first half, though... yes, it looks amazing in its recreation of Belle Époque opulence, but it is bloated and unwieldy. Yes, the modern day sequences are nice and, yes, Gloria Stuart is a legend of cinema, but given the sheer amount of footage these sequences are disposable. And the long setting up of the relationship between Rose and Jack takes up a normal length film by itself- and, if that were the whole film, this would be fine.

Yes, it's nice to see the the amusing Hollywood romantic comedy trope whereby a woman starts out by being intensely annoyed by the man she will ultimately fall in love with. Yes, Rose and Jack are star cross'd lovers, divided by the gulf of social class. Yes, it's funny to see Cal's unthinking snobbery ("That's amazing. You could almost pass for a gentleman."). But the effect of all this is somewhat undermined for the audience by the fact that the characters are all on the Titanic and, bloodthirsty as we are, we're all impatiently waiting for that iceberg.

And the constant use of that bloody Celine Dion tune doesn't improve matters either.

There are some nice touches; we get to see such Titanic perennials as the unsinkable Molly Brown and J. Bruce Ismay. The Captain is played by Bernard "Yosser Hughes" Hill. There's a very nice sweeping camera movement from the Bridge to the hot, stifling environment with the machinery below. The class gulf between first and third class, and between old money and new, is made very clear. Jack seems to be a fan of Picasso's Cubist period. Rose gets naked and there ensues what can only be described as a sketching montage.

It's still a relief, though, when we're saved by the iceberg. It's an instant change of tone, and urgency; levels of panic will slowly rise and rise throughout the second half of the film. Jack finds himself handcuffed to a pillar as the ship starts sinking, and this leads to a magnificent sequence whereby Rose rescues him; this is truly superb, perhaps the highlight of the film.

Order soon collapses into chaos, with the brave, the selfish, the rich and the lucky finding themselves on lifeboats more often than not. The film becomes more and more gripping as desperation takes hold, with scene after scene providing top entertainment. Perhaps my favourites are the band- truly noble- the Captain going down with his ship and the gentlemen in first class who remain behind to die "But we would like a brandy."

The final moments of the ship are superb,  and we get to see the tragic deaths of people bobbing in the water while people watch in lifeboats which are nowhere near full, and (spoiler alert!) Jack's death is such a powerful moment. 

Titanic is a mixed bag of a movie: overlong, and a mix of bad melodrama and great disaster movie. But the latter, and it's awesome technical accomplishments which won it all those Oscars, makes it a film that has to be seen.

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