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“There's one thing everyone's conveniently forgotten...”

Written on: 14/03/2004 by sean lawston (1 review written)

Good Points
Some good performances.

Bad Points
Poorly structured with horrendous dialogue.

General Comments
There's one thing everyone's conveniently forgotten about Titanic. A while before its release, it was looking like becoming the next Waterworld. With stories of spiralling production costs, tortuous special effects work to reverse all the shadows on deck (or something) and rough edits running at over five hours, this film seemed to have sunk before ever leaving in dock. Several things reversed this run of bad luck.

1) Leonardo DiCaprio. Suddenly catapulted from quality alternative cinema into the glittering Hollywood mainstream. Much to his unconvincing apparent irritation, DiCaprio's ambitions to be a serious actor were torpedoed by his role as the new teenage hearthrob and gay icon. Although the downside to all this is that his earlier films have had much of their credibility destroyed. 'Total Eclipse', which describes the turbulent relationship between French poets Rimbaud and Verlaine, suddenly became reduced to THE FILM WHERE DICAPRIO BARES ALL!

2) Kate Winslett. Likewise promoted from the second division of worthy costume dramas, Kate provided some classic good acting, to draw the arthouse audiences.

3) Special effects. To be fair, the shot of the ship leaving port is mind-blowing. Even if I was less convinced by some of the later shots of the ship in motion, especially on video.

4) That horrible song. Just as 'Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves' became linked totally with a certain Bryan Adams tune, so Titanic was assured massive publicity by the omnipresence of Celine Dion's never-ending ballad.

So, Kate and Leo's story dominated the late 1990s zeitgeist to a horrifying extent. But was all this hype justified? I think it's pretty clear, a couple of years down the road, that all those pundits who suddenly declared it to be the greatest film ever made should be blushing into their Halliwell's Film Guides, and disembowelling themselves honourably with the VCR remote.

The main problem is that Titanic can not decide what it wants to be. Is it a true depiction of the sinking of one of the most ambitious ships ever built? Or is it a touching story of love conquering class divisions and scruffy porn artists?

Cameron, clearly, is obsessed with the sinking. He wants to show us every single detail of the slow sinking of the iron behemoth, from the iceberg scraping the hull, through every single deck flooding, to the final submersion. But, if this was his goal, why did he present us with such a limited group through whom to relate the process? It all makes for a very confusing second half to the film, as Leo and Kate find ever more contrived reasons to dash around the boat just so they can observe each detail.

So they concentrate on this love story, big mistake. Whoever wrote that dialogue should have been served with a limitation order to prevent him from ever again approaching a word processor. 'You have a gift, Jack.' Pity poor Kate, used to adaptations of Shakespeare and Austen. Many, many people have laughed at the lines about Picasso and Monet. It's too easy a target.

At least the poor dialogue is rendered watchable by the excellent cast of character actors. David Warner and Michael Maloney put their all into a script which they must be sneering at from behind their moustaches. Although even here, I am staggered to learn that Cameron cut to shreds the part played by Martin Jarvis. The original 5-hour edit needed cutting, clearly, but surely an actor of Jarvis's calibre should have been retained to balance out all the unremitting naffness of Irish stereotypes who know how to have a real party.

So, a poorly-structured script filmed with special effects that aren't quite up to the standard of their reputation. Is anything going right for this film?

Billy Zane pulls out a hand cannon and blasts several deafening rounds at the fleeing lovers as they wade through a flooded ballroom. That's more like it! A bit of drama and genuine excitement in a film which up to now has been curiously unengaging given the scope of the Titanic tragedy.

It doesn't last too long, however. After the excitement of this, and the ship's officer commiting suicide, it reverts to the dispassionate. Towards the end, as the teenage chums are hanging on for the last few moments of the Titanic's career afloat, passengers tumble past them doing comedy cartwheels with barely a comment. This highlights the stupidity inherent in letting a gun-fixated action movie maniac ply his craft with a film about a real-life tragedy. It's so evident that he's more interested in the boat than the people on it. The Cameron figure within the film, the marine archaeologist, undergoes a patently unconvincing conversion along these lines (to the point where he even forgets to cut short the old woman to ask where the diamond's actually got to).

It says a lot that the expert's two minute account of the sinking ('that's one huge "rear"') betrays more emotion, wit and flair than the actual filmed version of the events.

Add all the associations of the film that have been created since its release. Cameron's Oscar night antics. Celine Dion's bid for world domination. It all adds up to yuk.

Unfortunately, a potentially interesting film has been scuppered by a lousy script and a director for whom compassion and empathy are alien. The most moving sections don't include the stars at all - the vignettes we see as the ship goes down provide a far more emotional glimpse of human nature. The mother telling her children about Tir Na Nog; the old couple curled up in bed as the water laps around the floor; the band reforming on deck to play a final song together; even the old gentleman who refuses to wear a life-jacket, realising the futility of the gesture. This is what the film should have been all about.

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