James Cameron’s melodramatic retelling of the infamous RMS Titanic voyage gets a 3D uplift for the modern age. It seems a bit dated to be doing a review of a film first released 15 years ago, but the themes and morals conveyed by the story are timeless. What’s more, the re-release coincides with the centenary of the ill-fated journey, making it perhaps even more poignant than back in ’97.
If anyone has been living in a cultural vacuum for the past decade and a half and hasn’t seen the film, now is the perfect opportunity to do so. And you must. For this is a story that needs to be told and demands to be heard.
In a nutshell – and I say this because the 3-hour-plus epic could consume a 500-word synopsis alone – begins with 101-year-old Rose DeWitt retelling her personal experience of the Titanic passage to a team of divers attempting to salvage artefacts from its wreck. We are transported back to April 10th 1912 where a fortunate encounter occurs between unwilling bride-to-be Rose and Jack Dawson, a free spirit with no stable career and who won his ticket on a whim in a “very, very lucky hand of poker”. A friendship blossoms between the unlikely couple after Jack stops Rose’s attempts to jump off the ship into the icy waters to escape her overpowering fiancé. When the liner hits an iceberg in the middle of the night – and only several days into her maiden voyage – Jack and Rose fight for their lives on a ship that carries far fewer lifeboats than passengers; against an ill-informed crew, and against society’s own prejudices against those of the lower social classes, who end up being locked into the lower realms of the ship whilst everyone else is seen to. The tragic ending is no less emotional in 2012 (after countless viewings over the years on VHS and DVD) than it was when I first watched it.
Set against a backdrop of gender inequality and a profoundly hierarchical society, Titanic seems a world away from 21st century values of egalitarianism and social parity. But it can teach us so much. Never to return to a society where these values are accepted. To appreciate the need for better safety standards on passenger liners. And as Cameron himself said: “Above all the lesson that life is uncertain, the future unknowable…the unthinkable possible.”
Titanic is a spectacular blend of period drama, romance and thrill. But it’s not without its share of comedy and ironic cultural references. My favourites being Rose’s swipe at the gentlemen whose company built the Titanic when he attempts to show off about the majesty of the ship: “Do you know of Dr. Freud, Mr. Ismay? His ideas of the male preoccupation with size might be of particular interest to you”, and Rose’s fiancé’s dismissal of Pablo Picasso as an artist who “won’t amount to a thing”.
It’s worth mentioning the 3D itself. I was surprised to see that for once in a 3D movie, the visuals weren’t darkened or shady. The subtlety of the effects was perfectly balanced so that you are always aware you’re watching a 3D film without the clichéd “let’s show things flying towards your face to show off what we can do with 3D” effect. Particular note should go to the scene where people are stranded in the water – it looks alive and heightens the fear and panic. The same goes for the original production itself: despite being the most expensive film ever made at the time (costing $200million), Cameron manages to keep a distance between the inevitable grandeur of his creation and the story he is trying to tell.
Nominated for 14 Oscars (and winner of 11 – quite rightly!) this fictional story of star-crossed lovers is an outstanding piece of entertainment on its own, but where Titanic impresses most is in its sensitive portrayal of a real tragedy. Although Rose is not real, when she said to Jack “I’ll never let go”, we know she spoke for hundreds of survivors who, faced with the imminent tragedy of losing loved ones, promised they would never be forgotten. And with Cameron’s masterpiece, I hope they never will be.