"You can be blasé about some things, Rose," Cal Hockley (Billy Zane) pretentiously sniffs about the big, doomed ship, "but not about Titanic."
And so it is with the movie about that famous ship. Love it or hate it, there's little to be blasé about regarding the biggest screen hit of all time.
Fifteen years later, the film isn't any shorter. The dialogue is peppered with groaners like Zane's "blasé" line.
But Titanic, back on the big screen 100 years after the famous ocean liner went down, on April 15, 1912, and back in theaters in 3D, wears its blockbuster weight with ease. Thanks to the 3D conversion — which might be a tad darker than when first released — it is aging surprisingly well, a meticulous re-creation of a great ship and a great tragedy built around a good old- fashioned popcorn picture.
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Writer-director James Cameron's conceit, framing this within the memories of an aged survivor (Gloria Stuart) and the search of a modern deep-sea explorer (Bill Paxton), slows the movie's opening scenes to a crawl. But start to finish, Titanic works.
Cameron told a story of "the 1 percent" and "the 99 percent" long before we were calling them that, in a tale of class, of love that crosses class boundaries, of the rich who plan to keep the rest of us in our place, of the nouveau riche who remember where they came from and won't stand for it.
Leonardo DiCaprio is roving, young, Jack Londonish steerage passenger Jack Dawson. Kate Winslet is Rose, a child of privilege who needs to marry the rich creep Hockley to preserve her family's standing. Of course Jack and Rose find a way to meet. Of course they fall in love.
Fifteen years after the movie was released, we can appreciate DiCaprio's callow, annoying and showy turn for what it is: boyishness. Winslet now has an Oscar as confirmation of what has been obvious from the start: She's one of our great actresses. Cameron peppers the cast with winners: sassy Kathy Bates as "The Unsinkable" Molly Brown; David Warner as a murderous valet; Victor Garber as shaken, guilt-ridden ship designer Thomas Andrews; and Bernard Hill as Capt. Edward Smith, who slips into shock in his moment of crisis. And Cameron's glimpses of Titanic lore — the locked gates preventing steerage passengers from reaching the deck, the elderly couple famously dressing up and waiting to drown in their cabin — seem just right.
The 3D doesn't really impress until you get to that fateful moment when they hit the iceberg, the helmsman making the same mistake any boat owner will recognize — throwing it into reverse and turning away from the berg at the same time. The calamity of what follows really pops off the screen, the blasts of water thundering through, deck by deck, the vast ship standing upright, on her bow, as she points toward the bottom of the sea.
When Titanic was released in 1997, I found the three-hour-plus length tedious, some of the dialogue eye-rolling and some of the digital effects lacking (the digital ship's digital wake seemed puny). But those quibbles fade with time. Raised to 3D for its return to the big screen, Titanic plays the way its "king of the world" creator meant it to — as history and sociology lessons wrapped in a corny, but fun and entertaining, yarn.