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Thursday, April 12, 2012

Titanic 3D!

I do also want to review the fairly excellent Take Shelter but I will leave that for the near future, probably to be covered with next week's releases. For now, I simply have to throw my two cents in about a film that virtually everyone in the world saw before me and about the mind-bogglingly stupid idea to "retrofit" it into 3D. 

Now, before getting to my thoughts of the film itself, which, as I have mentioned previously, I had never seen before the screening for this 3D re-release, we need to deal with the whole 3D thing. James Cameron apparently spent millions of dollars and two years converting Titanic into 3D and, would you know it, he really needn't have bothered. Say what you want about films designed and shot in 3D, post-converted, "retrofitted" 3D films always look terrible and, even if the millions of dollars and thousands of working-hours thrown at the film prevent Titanic 3D from looking entirely naff, it's still an entirely pointless gimmick that becomes really annoying as you're stuck with those stupid bloody glasses for 195 minutes.

I am, in fact, all for re-releasing "classic", "older" films on the big screen and, without spoiling what I actually think of the film, there's no doubt that Titanic really should be seen on the big screen to get the full effect. So, yes, money grab or not, I'm all for re-releasing Titanic into cinemas for its 15th anniversary - in the same way I would be all for being given the chance to see Apocalypse Now, Casablanca, Gone With The Wind or Annie Hall projected as they were originally meant to be - but the pointless and expensive 3D gimmick detracts from rather than adds to the experience.

As for the film itself, I have to say I;m glad that I waited so long to see it. Fifteen years has proven to be more than enough time for both the hype and inevitable backlash that the film initially received to die down and I was able to watch the film as free of baggage as I can possibly be. I still went in with lowered expectations based on my underwhelmed reaction to Avatar and the fact that the film clocks in at over 3 hours, which is always something to treat with a fair amount of caution. Lowered expectations or not, I have to admit, I was rather pleasantly surprised by Titanic.

Lets not kid, of course, Titanic is undoubtedly massively flawed. Cameron is a fine, if at times indulgent director, but as a screenwriter, he's certainly no Aaron Sorkin. Frankly, he's barely any better than Prequel-era George Lucas. The dialogue throughout the film is fairly atrocious, though oddly enough, it's not actually the romance scenes that truly offend, nor even when it is at its most heavy-handed in its clumsy attempt at class-warfare "social commentary". The place where the film falters most is an entire section of the film whose removal would have tightened up the film's running time without losing anything at all in terms of story. That's right, with all due respect to Bill Paxton and Oscar winner Gloria Stuart, the entire modern-day framing sequence is absolute rubbish that adds almost nothing to the film except for an extra 45-minutes or so and a seriously dreary opening to the film. I understand why it was included - epics seem all the more epic when told in flashback for some reason - but every time the film flashes forward to the present the entire production grinds to a screeching and rather embarrassing halt with its terrible dialogue and more-terrible-still torrents of exposition.

Remove this irritating device, and what we're left with is a film that is clearly a loving homage to both epic disaster movies and epic romances. And, you know what, for all that the film gets wrong, it actually succeeds quite admirably at both tasks.

 The former takes up the second half of the film as the Titanic proves that dubbing any ship  "unsinkable" is clearly too much for the gods of irony to pass up as it proceeds to sink in truly spectacular fashion in a sequence that may last well over an hour, but is never less than entirely enrapturing. That it delivers the spectacle without ever cheapening the tragedy of the Titanic's sinking by presenting the action as genuinely tragic, is nothing short of extraordinary. It's spectacle at its most spectacular and it absolutely needs to be seen on the big screen to truly appreciate it. And, yes, it absolutely annihilates Avatar at its own game as Titanic shows its CG-laden followup to be the over-inflated cartoon that is so clearly is.

This is the part of the film about which just about no one has a bad word to say. Only the most deluded of contrarians would doubt Cameron's technical mastery and directorial assuredness on display throughout the final acts of the film. Would that the same could be said about the hour or two (time apparently moves weirdly in the Titanic) that precedes it.

The love story really is kind of iffy. The dialogue is pretty damn shoddy, the characterization fairly shallow and, though Winslet and Dicaprio would go on to become two of the finest actors of their generation, the acting leaves a lot to be desired. Indeed, if it weren't for the likes of the never less than brilliant Kathy Bates and the hilariously over-the-top Billy Zane, most of the acting in the film ranges between merely adequate and utterly awful. As far as great romantic dramas go, Titanic ain't exactly Casablanca.  

Here's the thing though, perhaps judging the film's central romance according to such exacting standards is to miss the point completely. This is pure, unapologetic melodrama, sweeping romance to match the almost apocalyptic disaster that follows it. And in this respect Titanic actually more than delivers the goods - especially when you compare it to similarly hyper-angsty dreck of the Twilight saga. Were Winslet and DiCaprio great actors back then? Clearly not. Are their characters fairly two-dimensional? Demonstrably, yes. And yet there is something to be said for simple, unfussy characterization serving melodrama, rather than pure drama, far better than intricately drawn, fully-realized personalities. The same can, in a way, be said about the performances of the film's two stars. They may not yet be great thespians but they have more than enough natural charisma and undeniable chemistry that they make you believe in and like these characters, regardless of how questionable the writing is.      

And that was Titanic for me in a nutshell. Sure its flawed to pieces but once you cut out those troublesome framing scenes and what may well be one of the worst songs ever recorded (thanks Celine Dion!), it's a film whose visceral, emotional and technical triumphs are impressive enough that they can, to a degree at least, overpower the more critical parts of the brain that want to ooze out of your head in a desperate attempt to escape the horrors of Cameron's inane dialogue and questionable storytelling decisions. Or, to put it another way, I totally understand why Titanic was such a huge hit and is so beloved by so many, but there's really no excuse at all for crowning it Best Picture at that year's Academy Awards.

Holy crap, I think I kinda liked Titanic...


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