Rated PG-13 - Running time: 3:14 - Released 12/19/97

The luxury liner Titanic cast off on her maiden voyage in the spring of 1912 from Southampton England, bound for New York with 2,200 people aboard. There were only half as many lifeboats aboard as needed, but the designers felt that lifeboats were unnecesary because of the ship's "unsinkable" design. On the night of April 15, she struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic and sank within two hours, killing 1,500 people.

James Cameron's epic version of the Titanic story is certainly a spectacle, sure to fill all those who watch with awe and horror. But it is not perfect by any means.

The special effects in this 3¼-hour saga are absolutely incredible, and worth the admission price by themselves. The combination of model photography, life-size ship sections, and computer animation truly makes the sheer size and mass of the foundering behemoth come to life, and it is definitely worth seeing on the big screen. One would have to be made of stone not to feel the thrill and terror of the situation, especially when one remembers that it actually happened. This is why it perplexes me that writer/director Cameron felt the need to embellish the already awesome story with such a trite plotline. Perhaps he felt that the true story of the Titanic did not have enough action, terror, or drama?

This love story theme is perhaps the most common of all time: the charming, street-wise scamp teaches the prissy debutante the meaning of true love, and she leaves behind her luxury life and horrified family to go with him. It's in about 75% of Disney cartoons, for one thing. The fact that it would not happen aside, it's just not necessary for this purpose. The two romantic leads could just as easily have been two poor people, watching the "haves" board the lifeboats while they and the rest of the "have nots" prepare to kiss the waves. Thank goodness, thank goodness the two lead actors, Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, are talented enough to pull it off. The chemistry between their two characters, Jack and Rose, is unmistakeable from the start, and their relationship grows so beautifully from a casual class-crossing friendship to a matter of life and death that we really do care about them despite the hackneyed story line.

This movie does not have to be 3¼ hours long. The entire portion set in the present, starring Bill Paxton as the leader of an explorative mission and Gloria Stuart as the 100-year-old version of Rose, could and should have been done away with. Paxton and Stuart are both terrible — they deliver their lines as if they are reading them off cue cards for the first time, and the ridiculous plotline of the long-lost humongo blue diamond is needless; it cheapens the rest of the story, and feels added almost as an afterthought. Likewise, much of the pre-collision plot on board the Titanic is unnecessary, kind of reminiscent of The Love Boat and frought with 1990s behavior and slang. (Would a wealthy, well-bred girl in 1912 have really given someone "the finger"?) Billy Zane and Frances Fisher, who play Rose's fiance and mother, are really stereotypical "rich snob" characters, and real people from the story, like Molly Brown (Kathy Bates) and Captain E.J. Smith (Bernard Hill) are barely included in the script. Bates is a good actress, and I would have liked to have seen more of her.

Titanic is a paradox. The plot before the collision is almost dispensable, but from that moment on, it is absolutely riveting. Russell Carpenter's cinematography is sure to win him one of the film's many inevitable Oscar nominations, and James Horner's music is rich and sweeping. But if you show up an hour late, don't worry: you haven't missed anything important. ****½

Copyright 1997 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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