The Best Movie Critic + review

Notes on Camp: Titanic

Ryan here - Ben’s doing his whole “Overlooked (by him) Oscar Nominees” thing this week, which is totally noble, so I thought I’d try to participate by watching perhaps the most looked-at Oscar-winner of all time – the massively dumb 1997 Best Picture winner Titanic.

It’s sort of hard to be down a movie that is the second-highest grossing in history, won more Academy Awards (11) than all but three other movies, and was directed by King of the World and noted feminist scholar James Cameron. It’s as though the entire human race came together and said in unison, “WE APPROVE”. Titanic was the number one movie at America’s box office for an astonishing 15 weeks – an unheard of achievement in today’s waning movie marketplace where if a movie drops off 40% in its second week of release it’s considered a success. For comparison, Cameron’s follow up, 2009’s technicolor clusterfuck Avatar, spent about half that time at number one – a piddling seven weeks (it still managed to edge out Titanic for the highest grossing movie of all time though – probably because of those pesky 3D surcharges. Luckily Cameron’s plans to re-release Titanic in 3D next year should keep them neck and neck through the next century).Break it down to its bones, though, and Titanic is a collision of clichĂ©s dressed up with the fanciest special effects and sets $200 million can buy. The “they don’t make ’em like this anymore” vibe is cute for about the first 40 minutes, and then Cameron’s notorious tin ear for dialogue kicks in, giving us monologues like this one:

I got everything I need right here with me. I got air in my lungs, a few blank sheets of paper. I mean, I love waking up in the morning not knowing what's gonna happen or, who I'm gonna meet, where I'm gonna wind up. Just the other night I was sleepin’ under a bridge and now here I am on the grandest ship in the world having champagne with you fine people. I figure life's a gift and I don't intend on wasting it. You don't know what hand you're gonna get dealt next. You learn to take life as it comes at you... to make each day count.
Ugh. He sounds like one of Oprah's life coaches by way of a John Steinbeck novel.

I won’t accuse the two leads of lacking chemistry, as they genuinely seem to fight against the cheeseball plot machinations and script to find some modicum of Teen Dream romanticism, but they are surrounded by a supporting cast of scene stealers that are constantly shifting the focus with their broad strokes. Billy Zane, as Rose’s scheming fiancĂ© might as well be stroking a white cat and plotting to take over the world. He’s so over-the-top eeeevil that the threat he poses becomes laughable. After giving Rose the tackiest necklace in the history of the world, he spends the rest of the movie trying to get it back from her by any means necessary, while completely overlooking the fact that the Titanic is fucking sinking. He leers, he threatens, he says kind of rude things in a rich-person accent.

Also competing for screen time is Kathy Bates as The Unsinkable Molly Brown, who shows up for about 10 minutes of Palin-y anachronisms about “pulllin’ yerself up by yer bootstraps!” I assume the character was written in just to appease me and my fifth-grade field class that suffered an interminable day-long field trip to the Molly Brown House in Denver.

Is it hearsay to state that the special effects in the latter half look a bit cheap? The ship set was built to 1/3 the original size, so the problem may lie right there. It looks... little. The rooms inside the ship look too big once we get on the deck; a scale problem that is perhaps unnoticeable on the big screen, but hard to ignore in your living room. I was in London on a high-school band trip when Titanic opened in 1997, and I remember at least half of the class skipped out on sightseeing that day to go to the movies. They all came back with tear-stained faces and breathless, trembling voices. In the same way that my mother had Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet, or their older sisters had Dirty Dancing, the teen girls of 1997 now had their great romantic ode to the hypnotic allure of young love. Ask any woman about it who was a teenager when Titanic came out and I bet you’ll get an initial coo of excitement, followed by a sigh of embarrassment. It’s the way of the world. Titanic started as the greatest tragedy of the twentieth century, and became the most expensive Slumber Party Movie ever. Happy Oscars.

-RyanPS : On the subject of this years Academy Awards, I firmly believe that there is no better movie nominated in any category than Winter's Bone, and if you disagree with me you have no feelings.

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Notes on Camp: Titanic + review