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Triumph in Tragedy

I've been watching all the movies that won the Oscar for Best Picture. Next on my list was the 1997 winner, Titanic, directed by James Cameron and starring Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio.

Titanic is a romance set on the doomed luxury ship, which sank on its maiden voyage in 1912. A rich girl and poor boy find each other for a star-crossed romance in what was. at the time, the most expensive film ever made.

The other nominees for Best Picture that year were As Good As It Gets, The Full Monty, Good Will Hunting and L.A. Confidential. In addition to Best Picture, Titanic also won best Art Direction - Set Decoration; Best Cinematography; Best Costume Design; Best Director; Best Effects - Sound Effects Editing; Best Effects - Visual Effects; Best Film Editing; Best Music - Original Dramatic Score; Best Music - Original Song ("My Heart Will Go On" by Celine Dion); and Best Sound.

The English Patient poster

Unless the film is a comedy, viewers know to expect a romance to end with heartache. In this case, however, viewers also knew that more than a thousand people would die. The only character guaranteed to survive was Rose DeWitt Bukaker (Winslet), who is recounting the story. Rose is played as an old woman by Gloria Stuart, who would be the oldest person ever nominated for an Oscar (Best Actress in a Supporting Role).

It's natural for film buffs to be suspicious of blockbusters, as it's often true that popular films achieve success by appealing to the lowest common denominator. Titanic, however, blows expectations out of the water (sorry). At times poetic and at times exhilarating, the movie tells the tale of the doomed ship through the eyes of Rose and her shipboard lover, Jack Dawson (DiCaprio). Engaged to marry another man, Billy Zane's Cal Hockley, a conceited rich man, Rose meets Jack and finds, for the first time, someone who allows her to be herself. So captivating is their story that, as my husband says, you're more than halfway through the film when you remember that the ship is going to sink.

Winslet received a Best Actress nomination for her work, but DiCaprio was skipped, despite inspiring countless teen girls inspired by his performance to go searching for the "real" Jack Dawson's grave. Of course, Jack, like Rose and Cal, was a fictional creation.

It is a testament to Cameron's script (yes, he wrote it in addition to directing) that these characters come alive to the audience. Through their eyes, we glimpse the real tragedy of this epic journey, as Cameron incorporates factual details, such as the fact that the poor passengers of the ship were largely overlooked when it came to filling the life boats.

While he was questioned at the time for his budget, Cameron spent the money well: combining CGI, traditional special effects, settings, costumes and more (including footage of the wreck of the real Titanic) to create a realistic film that would set a new standard for filmmaking.

The film also deserves credit for sparking interest in the historic events, leading to countless museum exhibits, documentaries, and educational books. It is rare for a blockbuster to have such an impact.

On any other year, one of the other acclaimed films nominated might have had a chance. But Titanic was more than just a movie; it was a cultural phenomenon.

Rating: ***** (5 out of 5 stars)

For more on the making of the film, read the film's trivia section on IMDb.

Big films are best when they focus on small stories.

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( 16 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 2nd, 2010 05:33 pm (UTC)
I hate disagreeing, but, um...
I didn't think DiCaprio was at all right for the part,
and I had serious doubts about several scenes,
particularly the back seat scene...

even so, there were moments...
This boat's for mums and kids. There's another boat for daddies.
Sep. 2nd, 2010 07:50 pm (UTC)
I didn't see why all the little girls went so gaga over Leo at the time, either. He's since come into his own as an actor.

The story about the rowboats actually came from one of the girls who survived the Titanic, which makes it all the more heartbeaking.
Sep. 2nd, 2010 05:42 pm (UTC)
I really liked this movie. It has been a couple of years since I last saw it but it makes me cry every time.
Sep. 2nd, 2010 07:51 pm (UTC)
I definitely had my teary moments, too, even though I knew what happened.
Sep. 2nd, 2010 05:43 pm (UTC)
I actually saw this movie more than once in the theater, a big distinction for me. I went back for the directorial touches - Cameron made a big deal about hands in this movie. The close up on Jack and Rose's clasped hands when he helps her over the bow, Jack's hands as they draw, drawings of hands, Cal's hands as he puts the necklace (a collar??) around Rose's neck, Jack's hands as he draws Rose, their clasped hands as they try to stay alive in the water - and of course, the last thing we see of Jack...his hand. Those are only some of the instances. If you look for them, it gets crazy how many there are.

Like you, I thought it was more than just a movie.
Sep. 2nd, 2010 07:52 pm (UTC)
Good observation! IMDb says that Cameron often uses feet in a significant way, too. Did you know that it's Cameron's hands sketching Rose? They had to reverse it in post-production, because he's left-handed and Leo is right-handed.
Sep. 2nd, 2010 06:07 pm (UTC)
I really do love Titanic. The first time I saw it was in the cinema when I was fifteen... the scene where Jack draws Rose was quite an eye-opener to me ;) Suddenly, pretty Kate Winslet was a lot more than just pretty and all I could do was hope that the glow off my cheeks was not visible to my mother beside me. LOL.

I also love the historical detail - the costumes and sets are just gorgeous! And I generally enjoy the story, and am interested in the Titanic's story as well as the film's. It's not an Oscar winner, but if you ever get the chance, check out Titanic the 1953 film with Barbara Stanwyck and Clifton Webb, it's also very well done.
Sep. 2nd, 2010 07:54 pm (UTC)
Kate really is beautiful in this film; you're right. The historical was phenomenal and part of why I love this movie. I wrote a poem about the Titanic called "The Shoes," about the fact that, when they discovered the shipwreck, they saw no sign of the bodies except for objects like shoes.

I'll put the 1953 movie on my Blockbuster queue.
Sep. 2nd, 2010 06:24 pm (UTC)
Cameron is a deft hand and has very good storytelling skills. They were on display here.

Have you every seen "The Abyss"? I think it's one of his best. Watch it when you can.
Sep. 2nd, 2010 07:57 pm (UTC)
I've seen "The Abyss" and loved it. It contains one of the most daring (and hard to watch) ideas for how to survive a crisis situation, ever!
Sep. 2nd, 2010 06:37 pm (UTC)
Ok I'll be the naysayer. I loved the costumes in the film, the scenery and the special effects, but always felt as though the storyline was written by a 14 year old girl.

What bothered me most was Rose chucking the diamond into the ocean at the end. She couldn't give the diamond to the granddaughter who was taking care of her??? So overdramatic, over the top and not my cup of tea. However, based on all the awards it won and even moreso by it's box office draw I realize I'm in the minority here!
Sep. 2nd, 2010 07:15 pm (UTC)
Well, I suppose I'm in the minority with you. The costumes and the special effects were fantastic. I even thought the performances of Kate Winslet and Billy Zane were great. But overall, the movie just didn't do anything for me. I agree with you that the storyline seemed written by an angsty 14-year old girl and it most definitely was a bit over-the-top and overdramatic in some spots. I saw it but it's not one of those flicks I'd really ever choose to see again.
Sep. 2nd, 2010 08:00 pm (UTC)
I actually liked it better upon viewing it a second time. I think it worked in this movie's favor that I watched it after reviewing "The English Patient," a peculiarly passionless film.
Sep. 2nd, 2010 07:58 pm (UTC)
Maybe that's why 14-year-old girls loved it. :)

I, too, found chucking the diamond to be unwarranted, but I was willing to forgive it because so much of the rest of the film, I felt, worked.
Sep. 2nd, 2010 09:24 pm (UTC)
I have never seen this movie.

I have, however, long been a fan of Gaelic Storm, who are the "fun" band in the cheap section. They tour regularly and Patrick Murphy now has a home in Annapolis -- one of their favorite tour stops. They've unfortunately become so popular that it's very hard to get tickets to their usual venues, so I look for them when I can.
Sep. 2nd, 2010 09:42 pm (UTC)
Their music in the movie is beyond awesome. It's worth watching the film just for that scene, if you're a fan.
( 16 comments — Leave a comment )

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