Titanic is doomed from the beginning. Outrageously
extravagant and poorly constructed, she is the monster-child of
ambition and technology. The three-and-a-half-hour travesty is
unpreventable. Weighted with Hollywood formulas and historical
inaccuracies, nothing can save writer/director James Cameron's
Unlike her legendary namesake, Cameron's Titanic is hollow:
He gives us two films, recklessly thrown together. The first is
a period romance, unsuccessfully emulating Anthony Minghella's
The English Patient, set on the desolate waters of the
Atlantic instead of the barren deserts of Africa. The second is
a new-and-improved rendition of the sinking of the Titanic.
For most of the movie, Cameron leaves Titanic's grandeur
and history docked in Southampton and focuses on the forced love
story between first-class passenger Rose DeWitt Bukater (Kate
Winslet) and third-class artist Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio).
Unhappily engaged to the rich and overbearing Caledon Hockley
(Billy Zane), Rose is the typical damsel in distress whose ambitions
are squashed by societal prescriptions. Desperate to escape the
imminent marriage, Rose mounts the rail of Titanic and
Jack swoops in for the rescue. It is a rescue, we are told, both
literal and metaphoric. Jack's worry-free ways and unconventional
love promise to free Rose from a life she hasn't chosen.
Despite blockbuster successes like Terminator 2 and True
Lies, Cameron falters with the epic love story. Even though
he follows Minghella's award-winning recipe, the love between
Jack and Rose remains half-baked. Jack never even woos Rose--he
need not pursue what is easily caught. And Cameron knows better
than to waste footage creating their forbidden love when there's
a ship waiting to sink.
Thus, we never really care about Cameron's characters. Far from
The English Patient's exotic and difficult Count Almásy,
Jack is too good to be true. His poverty liberates him, his artistic
talents rival Picasso's, and he cleans up too easily. He is both
a worldly ruffian and an all-American boy-next-door. His perfection
Jack's character is as flat as his rival suitor's, who hauntingly
resembles the evil magician from Frosty the Snowman. Both
leading men overpower Rose--one with affection, the other with
affluence--and she's helpless and meek whenever they're around.
When she's alone, detached from Jack's ever-present embrace, she
somehow musters an ambition and courage unbecoming a lady of the
Edwardian era. Ax-wielding, beer-swilling, and right-hooking those
in her way, we've seen this Rose once before: helping Arnold Schwarzenegger
save the world from apocalyptic disaster.
The love triangle is unconvincing and duller than watching ice
melt. Would a woman in the early 1900s, as bound by social limitations
as by her corset, risk all for a man of a lower class? Plausibility
aside, the passion necessary to fuel such a tale doesn't exist.
Instead, Rose and Jack merely hinder Cameron's true purpose--raising
the grand Titanic from her frigid depths.
This he does beautifully. Using actual footage of the 80-year-old
wreck and computer-enhanced, life-sized models, Cameron's Titanic
surpasses imagination. The spectacle is breathtaking. But Cameron
makes the audience wade through two hours of Jack-and-Rose tripe
before unveiling this feat of technology. And Cameron needs the
collision to propel his story: The indistinct iceberg is barely
spotted, the colossal boat turns too late, the imperfect hull
cracks on impact. And the water rushes in.
As the vessel evocatively splits in two, we can't help but be
Unfortunately, Cameron again strays from history as panic sweeps
the decks. Instead of creating an historically and visually accurate
Titanic triumph, he offers a monster movie pocked with
shallow, fictional characters. Real heroes are pushed aside for
flashier, less complicated ones, and fact folds into fiction.
Captain E.J. Smith (Bernard Hill), who never so much as scraped
paint in his 27 years of service, comes across as incompetent
and uncaring, and his officers seem equally culpable.
In Cameron's version, lookout Frederick Fleet is distracted from
his post because he's watching Rose and Jack make out on deck
just before the collision occurs, and White Star Line director
Bruce Ismay (Jonathan Hyde) mercilessly sneaks aboard a lifeboat
as Cal Hockley bribes First Officer Murdoch for a seat in another.
Ismay has long been acquitted, and nothing in history suggests
such an offer between Murdoch and a passenger. By telling such
fictions, Cameron unnecessarily robs graves.
Other errors are as egregious: To suit his intense visuals, the
band in Cameron's tale plays the somber "Nearer My God to
Thee" as the watertight compartments flood and the boat dips
into the ocean. In actuality, Titanic's band played light,
cheerful music such as "Alexander's Ragtime Band" and
"Autumn"--a fact discussed in nearly every book written
about the disaster.
While Cameron never promises a documentary, his tale of diamond
hunters and spurned lovers toting guns does disservice to Titanic's
victims and survivors. With a budget twice that of Waterworld,
he could have afforded an historian. Or even a $6 copy of Walter
Lord's A Night to Remember.
But Cameron is caught in his own love story--between himself
and his camera--and the $190-million Titanic is inaccurate
and disappointing. It's mere costume jewelry: dazzling to look
at, but a forgery just the same.