Saturday, April 14, 2012

Movie Milestones: 15 Years of Titanic

Last week, I decided it was worth 3 hours of my very valuable time to go to the theatre to see the newly released Titanic in 3D. When I left the theatre, I realized how much of a milestone in film this movie was. So I thought with its latest theatrical release and this year being its 15th anniversary of its original release, on top of the fact that this weekend marks the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, this would be the perfect time to look back on the lasting impact of this monumental movie.
Titanic tells the story of the maiden voyage of the greatest ship of the time through the eyes of Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Rose (Kate Winslet). Jack Dawson is a care-free nomadic boy who wins a 3rd class ticket on Titanic in a poker game. Rose DeWitt Bukater is an unhappy upper-class girl engaged to be married to the wealthy and egotistical Cal Hockley (Billy Zane) and can't stand it. These two meet when Rose thinks she reached her limit. When she sees no way out, Jack walks into her life and away with her heart. Halfway through the story of their love affair, they are rudely interrupted by an iceberg that sends the thousands on board in the freezing ocean.
Best Scene: Finding one scene in this epic movie to pick as the best is hard to do. There are really two stories in this movie: the story of the ship with its amazing special effects that haven't become dated in any way over the last 15 years, and then the story of the two lovers that could completely hold up on its own if needed. I could simply cheat and say the 45 minute sinking scene with is simply breathtaking. I could also pick a scene like the sketching scene which is just breathtaking in its own way (Kate Winslet . . . just . . . wow) and perfectly captures the story Jack and Rose. However, the scene I will go with is one that captures both stories in one shot. As the relationship between Jack and Rose builds, they meet in the front of the ship showing that Rose is willing to risk everything to be with Jack. He takes her to the front of the ship and lifts her up on the railing to overlook the vast ocean in front of them. She puts her full trust in Jack as she lets go and leans on him. She leans back, and they kiss. As this happens, the camera pans out so you can see entire ship in all its glory in the orange backdrop of the sunset with these two star-crossed lovers still in sight. While all this happens, the melody of the iconic "My Heart Will Go On" swells in a beautiful orchestration. It is a beautiful moment in film, let alone this movie.
Best Line: There are several lines that come quickly to mind that went from iconic to corny before Titanic ended its original theatrical run. "I'm the king of the world!" "Jack, I'm flying!" "I'll never let go Jack." Upon viewing again last week, these lines along with many other aspects of this film are so unfairly criticized and scrutinized. I don't like going with the obvious quotes though. So I am going with a monologue by Jack where he basically explains his life's philosophy to his upper class friends while he visits Rose and company for dinner. It not only makes Rose appreciate him as a person, but also makes the Jack's character extremely relatable to everyone watching. After this, you find yourself rooting for Jack. Rose's mother is trying to give Jack a back-handed insult by asking him if he enjoys living such a worthless and meaningless life. Jack responds with this:
"Well, yes, ma'am, I do... I mean, 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 sleeping 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."
Most Iconic Moment: I probably used up my most iconic moment from Titanic as my best scene, but there are so many great moments I really can't go wrong when picking another. I'm going to go with the last shot of the film. Rose finishes telling her story to the Bill Paxton and the treasure hunters, she drops the priceless jewel over the side of the boat, and from what we can tell, finally rests in peace. We know this because the next shot we see is Rose back on the Titanic surrounded by everyone she sailed with. Then she sees Jack at the top of the stairs with the clock behind him still frozen at the time the ship went down. As Jack and the once again young Rose embrace, the crowd of faces we got to know so well and then mourn over the past 3 hours cheer them on as the screen fades to black. What a perfect way to end it and bring the film back full circle.
The Time Tester: So what has stood the test of time in the last 15 years? The answer to this is easy. James Cameron's brilliant eye and special effects are always far ahead of their time which he proved in the Terminator movies, proved in Titanic, and proved once again a few years ago in Avatar. Watching this movie just last week proved to me that this film's visual effects would be exactly the same if it were made this year instead of 15 years ago. It makes the world seem larger than life yet still realistic. Sometimes the visuals from the 90's don't come across as that clear. On the other hand, some visuals from today's movies are almost so crisp and clear they don't look real. Titanic is right in between. The effects are clear and beautifully realistic. James Cameron is a master visionary.
The Lasting Impact: Looking at the 2nd highest grossing movie of all time (passed only by Cameron's Avatar), it is easy to see lasting impact of this movie around Hollywood today. First, it launched 3 brilliant careers into legendary status. James Cameron was already a Hollywood heavyweight after the Terminator franchise in the 80's, but this put him in another class of filmmaker. Who else could wait 12 years to put out their next movie and it still be an event like Avatar was? The only thing now that can be bigger than a James Cameron movie is the next James Cameron movie. The second star it launched was Kate Winslet. The absolutely gorgeous Winslet, only 22 years old when this released, already had one Oscar nomination under her belt for Sense and Sensibility in 1995. However, this film made her a star. Since her nomination for Titanic she has received 4 more nominations with one win, and outside of Meryl Streep, is arguably known as the greatest actress alive. The last career Titanic launched is of course Billy Zane (kidding...). It's . . . LEO!!! DiCaprio, who was 23 but looked 15 when this film was released, also already had an Oscar nomination for What's Eating Gilbert Grape, however he seemed to be the one star of this film that was cursed by it for awhile. He gave what I believe to be an outstanding performance here, but he unfortunately became the source of criticism for all those looking for something to hate in the film everyone loved. He also was the one that took the longest to shake the iconic image created in Jack so his career could advance. Everyone knew who he was but no one cared about his movies for 5 years after Titanic released. It wasn't until Catch Me If You Can that he was able to be taken seriously as an actor again. Since then, his career has yet to slow down. In fact, his image and fame has grown since his most iconic performance 15 years ago. However, now he is known as one of the greatest male actors of his generation.
Just to show the iconic status of this film, it was an event in 2008 when a little independent drama was released called Revolutionary Road. Why? It was the first on-screen reunion of Jack and Rose . . . I mean Leo and Kate. The film was pretty good, but that was completely lost on many (including me to an extent) who saw it just to see the Titanic reunion and what it would've looked like if Jack and Rose were able to end up together at the end of the day.
I hope in 15 years they re-release Titanic in theatres again because I would be first in line to get another chance to see this timeless epic that will be just as relevant then as it now and as it was when it was first released.


  1. For me, the best scene is Andrews observing the wreckage by staring at the clock in the lobby, watching second by second his Ship of Dreams being destroyed. He apologizes to Rose for not building a better ship, and then there is the key moment where he saves her life by handing her a vest (which also begs the question of how stupid Jack is for never grabbing one, which almost kills him). It is such an unusual and beautiful scene, not the most iconic, but I think one of the most sincere and lasting scenes in the film.

  2. The lesson, as always, at the core of "Titanic": Don't get distracted by people making out on deck, otherwise your ship may hit an iceberg.

  3. By the way, my favorite moment in the movie (and there are many to choose from) is when Jack tells Rose about riding horses on the Santa Monica pier, and then, at the very end of the film, we see a faded B+W picture of Rose on a horse with the roller coaster in the background. A perfect, subtle, unexpected, wonderful payoff. In fact, the entire final 10 minutes of the movie is perfection, and my favorite line in the movie (even though it's not iconic at all) is when the elderly Rose says: "But now you know there was a man named Jack Dawson, and that he saved me in every way a person can be saved." Comes right after my favorite shot in the movie, when Kate Winslet stands beneath the Statue of Liberty. Has little to do directly with the movie, I guess, but I've always loved that moment.

    Seeing it on IMAX was one of the best theater experiences I've had. Seeing it in 1997 was life-changing.

  4. the titanic is very sad