‘TITANIC’ (1997) Classic Movie Review – An Unforgettable Masterpiece 20 Years On
James Cameron’s Titanic is a masterpiece like no other, it took the movie world by storm when it released this week 20 years ago and is still just as incredible today. For me, it’s the closest a film will ever come to being perfect, from a technical standpoint to a storytelling perspective every detail is undeniably flawless. There’s a reason it shares the records for both most Oscar nominations (14) and most wins (11) and it isn’t luck. I guess Titanic made its own luck, as Cal Hockley (Billy Zane) would say. The film also holds the record for most consecutive weeks at #1 in the North American box office at 15 weeks….. an unprecedented feat that will almost certainly never be broken. The film is an amalgamation of fact and fiction with the story focusing on the sinking of the presumably unsinkable ship 105 years ago and the enthralling love story between fictional characters Rose DeWitt Bukater (Kate Winslet) and Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio). The performances are riveting, cinematography is stunning, music is phenomenal, visual effects are astounding, and it is all magnificently pulled together by Cameron to create this monumental in scale, magnificent work of art. Some spoilers for the film will follow but at 20 years old it’s all common knowledge.
I will begin with the plot and how it is paced, structured, and why even after watching this movie an uncountable amount of times it is still just as thrilling, heartwarming, and emotional as the first time I witnessed it. Cameron does an incredible job at balancing the focus of the story between the Jack and Rose romance and the actual ship itself which I’d say is a character on its own. The romance is at the forefront throughout the entire film and it never once falters, from the moment you first see Jack and Rose individually you fall in love with these characters and so every scene from then on you are wholeheartedly invested. Their story has its ups and it most certainly has its downs and these strong emotional sequences only work due to how well the characters are introduced and how authentic they appear to be. You wouldn’t be criticised for thinking these were real people due to how fleshed out they are…. even I still can’t (or don’t want to) believe the fact that they never existed.
The pacing of the entire story is immaculate and essentially driven and determined by the ship itself and its status. For the first half the pace remains relatively steady as the only real focus is the development of the romance. And then once the sinking of the ship comes into play at around the half way point, the pace is suddenly accelerated and you are thrown into the situation in the same way everyone on that ship was. And with each passing minute the pace builds and the tension is heightened, due to how much you are invested in the characters, and not just Jack and Rose. Something I find astounding about what Cameron has done is that he gets you not only to care about Jack and Rose but also the Irish mother and her two kids, Benjamin Guggenheim (Michael Ensign) and Victor Giglio, and the musicians, all of these ancillary characters amongst others have barely a few minutes of screen-time yet you instantly care about them in this moment of peril. These ancillary characters of various ages, social class’, and nationalities are just as important as the main roles as they expertly depict the range of emotional reactions to the terror unfolding.
The performances across the board are all incredible, every action and every line of dialogue from every performer in here is delivered to perfection. Winslet and DiCaprio are phenomenal together and their chemistry leaps off the screen in every scene. If they don’t work then this entire movie goes to shit so thankfully they are as good as they could have been. Their conversations feel very natural and human and not exaggerated whatsoever and they sell their relationship in a very believable manner. Billy Zane is excellent here and plays the evil asshole so damn well it’s hilariously hard to imagine he isn’t an evil asshole in real life. His character’s selfish agenda is backed up very well by Spicer Lovejoy played very convincingly by David Warner. He’s got a natural evil guy look to him so as far as casting goes that role is spot on. Even the supporting performances are very strong from Victor Garber who played Thomas Andrews, and from Gloria Stuart and Bill Paxton who played Rose Calvert and Brock Lovett respectively in the modern scenes. Winslet won the Best Actress Oscar for her role in the film and Gloria Stuart was nominated for her supporting role but did not win, although the nomination crowned her the oldest Oscar nominee in any category at 87 years old.
The technical achievements of this masterpiece are through the roof, I will start with the late James Horner’s score which is absolutely mesmerising and brings a tonne of emotion to every scene without fail. Every piece of music is so synonymous with the scene it is featured in that listening to the score on its own is almost as emotionally impactful as the movie itself. The score accompanied by Celine Dion’s iconic song “My Heart Will Go On” is one of the most memorable film scores and that is due to the effect it leaves on the viewer from the moment the credits roll. Then you have the visual effects which give the film this epic, grand, and monumental sense of scale accurately depicting the monstrous size of the ship (at the time) and the tragicness of the sinking itself. The attention to detail in the construction of the life-size Titanic sets gives it all a more authentic feel and it’s filmed in a way to where you can’t tell whether it’s being filmed in a set or out in the North Atlantic. The cinematography helmed by Russell Carpenter is astounding. The exterior shots are stunning and bright and full of life and character, then when the intensity builds and we move into the corridors the way the cinematography brings about a dreaded sense of claustrophobia is expertly orchestrated.
Titanic is a movie that will live on and be loved and remembered for decades to come as one of the greatest of all time. It’s 3 hours and 14 minutes in length yet it draws you in to the experience so damn well you won’t even feel the time go by. Everything that went into this movie from the technical side of things to the storytelling and the performances is handled and executed flawlessly. And then it is all compiled and strung together by James Cameron in such a magnificent way that he created a timeless masterpiece that is and will probably forever be my favourite movie of all time. I don’t think it is possible to create a perfect film, the idea of a perfect movie is in my eyes absolutely impossible for a number of reasons, but as I mentioned earlier Titanic is to me the closest thing to perfect that I have ever witnessed. So I think it’s pretty obvious that this movie, being my favourite of all time would get a 10/10 and it’s very clearly well deserved.