In perfect timing with the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the actual Titanic on April 15th, 1912, the successful film from 1997 hits theatres all over again in newly reformatted 3D. It’s a movie that pretty much everyone has seen during its original run, breaking box office records and spending about half a year in theatres and the subsequent successful VHS/DVD releases since. Despite being one of the most popular movies of all time, Titanic also seems to have a distinction as being one of the most hated films in recent years. Like anything that reaches such immense levels of popularity, the backlash that comes with it grows from the perception that it is highly overrated. Despite all of the negativity, the movie itself is still able to engross audiences. But what is it about Titanic that makes it so captivating?
First thing’s first, Titanic is essentially a cheesy love story with scenes that have been parodied endlessly ever since its release. Jack (Leonardo DeCaprio) and Rose (Kate Winslet) meet, Jack takes a liking to Rose, Rose seems put off at first before quickly falling in love and within days, it’s all over. Underneath that vary basic synopsis is a movie that I did personally grew fond of, even when I saw it in its initial run early in 1998. I’m not typically a fan of so-called “chick flicks” or the classic love story so Titanic in itself is an anomaly for me.
One of the things I noticed while rewatching it in 3D is the focus that James Cameron puts on the character development. You instantly get a feel for the type of people Jack and Rose are, as well as their relationships with the people they interact with. Jack being the underdog that is slightly cocky and wreckless but still the type of person you want to root for because he’s genuinely a good guy. Rose, on the other hand, grew up in the upper classes but is pretty well coerced by her mother to marry a man (Billy Zane) she can barely stand, in part due to his arrogance. You feel bad for her because underneath her pampered upbringing is a girl who wants to live beyond the proper table manners and gossipy conversations. Once she experiences life with the help of Jack’s experience, you can’t help but be thrilled that she’s discovering the joys she missed out on.
In addition to focusing on the characters and their emotions, there’s also the striking presence of the actual ship, which in itself a major character. Being the ship of dreams, much time is spent admiring the features of the Titanic, its many decks, how it operates and the hundreds of crew members that work in keeping it together. As it slowly comes apart following the collision with the iceberg, you can’t help but realize the connection you’ve felt to it and the people that put their lives into its hands. It’s the level of vulnerability of the people mixed with knowing the inevitable that is going to happen that makes you feel for them because of their helplessness and defeat. You’re not only seeing the situation from their perspective, you’re feeling it yourself. Going beyond Rose and Jack’s relationship, there are other scenes that focus on other much more minor characters on the ship. The musicians that continue to play into the final moments before the ship finally goes down. The third class travellers that have to physically force their way to the top of the ship. Even the captain (Bernard Hill) and the ship builder (Victor Garber) help to push the focus of helpless dispair as they admit to their failure and go down with the ship.
The 3D aspect of the film doesn’t add much to the overall story and there are few scenes in which the 3D is really effective but it does add a nice subtle touch overall. Once again reminding us that despite the negativity surrounding the film’s success and hype, and the fact that My Heart Will Go On plays well over a dozen times throughout the movie, Titanic is one of the best tragic love stories in recent decades.