Thursday, 1 December 2011

No Need for a Bigger Boat.

After putting Avatar to shame with my words of scorn in my previous post, I thought it only fair, for the sake of balance, that I should donate some words of praise for James Cameron. After all I wouldn’t care so much about how bad Avatar was if I didn’t think Cameron was capable of a lot better.

Although I am a great fan of the first two Terminator films, the others are not worth mentioning, and Aliens, I chose to write of the less obvious Cameron film, and less popular amongst fans of the other films; Titanic. I think Titanic has a lot more in common with the "funkier" films than their "cool" fans would probably like to admit, but at the same time I think it is a different kind of film within the Cameron repertoire, which is why I love it that little bit more.

Like Terminator 2: Judgement Day before it and Avatar after, the making of Titanic involved groundbreaking technology, built especially for the film. The most exciting technical accomplishment of Titanic, for me, was the special camera, built by, behind the scene brother, Davy Cameron and the special lighting equipment that allowed the incredible underwater filming of the real remains of the Titanic at the beginning of the film, and the above and under water filming for the scenes in which Rose saves Jack.

Of course Titanic was also a celebration of CGI and special effects galore, but my knowledge of it, as I mentioned previously, is limited and I have no idea if the use of CGI in Titanic was in any way novel or innovative. I do, however, think that the use of the CGI and SFX in the film was effective and more importantly didn’t steal focus form the film. Whether you love or hate Titanic, the discourse around the film, at the time it was shown, didn't focus on the shiny effects quite as much as it was with a certain other box office record breaker by the same filmmaker.

Not that the technological side of Titanic went unnoticed. The ship sure took its time with its magnificent sinking, but perhaps Titanic most remarkable technological triumph is the use of the most advanced technology of the time without actually showing it off. Well, maybe a little bit by giving a sneak preview of what's to come with the digital simulation of the drowning at the beginning of the film. Still, it is quite different to how it is used in Cameron's other films. While Terminator 2 displays the melting abilities of a new and improved terminator and Avatar parades the creation of Pandora out of nothing, Titanic uses its technology to proudly exhibit a past, and make it bigger and arguably better.

Despite its astonishing technological achievements and its visual tour de force, I think what probably puts the fans of the “cooler” films, off Titanic is the same thing that attracted so many weepy teenage girls to watch it over and over again, for it was famously a film that people, girls mainly, returned to watch more than once at the cinema; the over the top, larger than life love story.

Indeed when it comes to kitsch Titanic is up there with the sunsets and the sunrises, the beaches and the wind in the hair. I admit, I am a lover of the kitsch and the over the top drama and can easily get carried away with it into a random horizon. However, more than kitsch itself I love to watch when someone like James Cameron changes its rules without loosing its power and impact. 

Sorry Leo, not my type, but we can still be friends.
It may seem a bit silly today, but when Titanic came out things were different: the twin towers were still going strong, the president of the most powerful country in the world was getting sexual favours under his desk and Leonardo DiCaprio was Hollywood's flavour of the month. You may not remember, but, at the beginning of his career, DiCaprio was very much a poster boy, and not the kind of poster I would decorate my wall with, far too blond. He was most famous for What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, in which he did some acting, but for me no one other than Johnny Depp existed in that film, and Leo did not make a good impression on me by trying to steal Depp’s thunder and Oscar nomination; The Basketball Diaries, which was a film tailored for Hollywood’s up and coming pretty boy; and Romeo + Juliet, which felt to me like a lame attempt to make Shakespeare sexy for youth, and not even one of his great plays I thought. 

Leonardo DiCaprio seemed very much like a natural choice to star in the next big romantic love story, but while the fragile Clair Danse seemed like a perfect match for Leo, in 1997 I could never imagine Kate Winslet, then famous mainly for Sense and Sensibility, anywhere within spitting distance from DiCaprio. Even less as the star of what would become Hollywood’s biggest block buster until Avatar came and ruined everything. 

Little did I know just how much I would come to love DiCaprio and Winslet, together and apart. Leonardo DiCaprio, though still too blond for my liking, is one of the finest actors to come out of Hollywood in my opinion, and that Kate Winslet didn’t make it to my list of gorgeous women in films is a testimony of my own stupidity and neglect. She is by far one of my favourite actresses today, and I hang my head in shame for forgetting her.  

Considering Cameron’s fondness of cool, strong women, who save the day, Kate Winslet, in hindsight, is not a surprising choice for the role. Nevertheless Kate Winslet and Rose the character she plays in Titanic are quite different to the other Cameron women. While Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) in the Terminator films and Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) in Aliens lived in times where women could be cool, strong and wear combat trousers and sexy vests, they were athletic, trained and had some day saving experience, Rose was a cool woman at a time when the idea of independent women still scared many women as well as most men. 

Rose was intelligent and opinionated, yet dignified within her social class. She was curvy, feminine and unlikely to have had any kind of combat training, yet she is resourceful, brave and surprisingly strong, physically as well as anything else. First she grabs Jack with one hand and pull him from the front to the back seat of the car they were sitting in, and then, later in the film, she goes back to save him, while wearing a most unpractical gown for rescuing people. It gets even less practical as she walks in deep water and the gown gets heavier and harder to move in, yet she does this while carrying an axe! Now that’s what I call a badass woman. I would like to see Ripley fighting aliens wearing a layered dressed. 

Karen Gillan think running around in a mini skirt is hard! Ha!
In most of Cameron’s film the woman is usually the one who saves the day and the men, but to do that they become tough and aggressive. The nature of Titanic as a love story and a period drama, amongst other thing, together with Winslet's natural look, makes Rose softer than Cameron’s other women, but that doesn't make her less tough or capable. Rose is certainly a woman of valour.

So there you have it, I love Titanic. I love the spectacle of it, it blew my mind at the time, and still does today. I love the over the top drama and love story, it makes me cry every time. I loved all the actors in it, the rhythm and fluidity of the story, the attention to details and the amazing visuallity. I even love the theme song a little bit, but most of all I love Rose.


  1. As a lover of history i loved Titanic just as i did Apollo 13. As a wonderful and reasonably accurate telling of a historical event. Above that though i did love the opulence and sheer grandeur of the world Cameron was able to recreate and give us a fleeting glimpse of days gone by. I think Cameron had this little ability that every now and again he had the talent and brilliance to make a film that brings us all into the cinema in droves. He might not make a lot of films but when he does.....

    1. Hummmm... Though I love Titanic, I think, if you read this:
      You'll find that my feelings towards Cameron are mixed at the best of times. His decision to re-release Titanic in 3D pushes my feeling towards negativity...