James Cameron has written, produced and directed the most expensive movie ever made. Nothing is worth $240 million, surely? Michael Cimino brought down a studio by spending a fraction of that (Heaven's Gate). What seems even more eccentric is that instead of a computer generated futuristic war game he chose to remake Rank's stiff-upper-lippy from the Fifties, A Night To Remember. Courage can be rewarded. Titanic has the epic scale, exquisite look and romantic heart of an Oscar winner.

It is essentially a love story and yet who is going to take the poor-kid-from-steerage-meets-rich-girl-from-A-Deck seriously? It is such a pop up cliche, especially when the toffs are twits and the ordinary folk so nice.

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Cameron's rep has been built on the big ones (Terminator, The Abyss, True Lies). He's a control-freaked perfectionist, with a penchant to overspend. He is also a consumate filmmaker of the populist kind, who would never have bothered with low budget art-house experimentation like Paul (Total Recall) Verhoeven. What gives Titanic the Cameron stamp is the visual grandeur and scope of its detail. The sinking of an unsinkable ship on its maiden voyage, with the loss of over 1500 lives, is a monumental disaster however you play it. Cameron takes you into the eye of the catastrophe, where you swallow fear with a few tons of freezing salt water.

Rose DeWitt Bukater (Kate Winslet) is an upper-class American teenager, with an English accent and a coltish spirit, who has been talked by her mother into marriage to a US business shark, Cal Hockley (Billy Zane). They are travelling back from Europe to the States to arrange the wedding. Cal is an arrogant racist bully who expects his wife to behave like a tame parakeet. Rose won't do that and is wild with the injustice of her destiny, ready to fling herself over the rail in depair when Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio) stops her with a sensible line of chat on the subject of life's grand adventure.

Jack is a young man Hemingway might have emulated in his formative years, penniless and optimistic, from a small town where the principles of common decency are ingested with mother's milk and adversity considered as challenging as luck. He's a budding artist of the sidewalk portrait variety, who is only on The Titanic because he won a ticket in a poker game. He's a country boy who has learnt self-reliance and gained confidence by stretching ambition beyond the horizon. He doesn't know what he wants to be. He knows where he wants to go. Onward.

The film is dressed for a ball. The supporting actors tend toward stereotype and cannot compete with Jack and Rose's genuine passion for each other. The post iceburg death throes are long drawn out, like the worst best nightmares. What raises Cameron's creation above costumed action spectacle is the quality of the writing and the chemistry of its juve leads. Winslet has an ability to perform with emotional white heat. She has an intelligence and sex appeal that makes no demands on sentimentality. DiCaprio brings to Jack a captivating attractiveness that is neither faked, nor forced. Together, they are worth half the cost of the movie, not in fees, but in commitment.

Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001
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An epic disaster movie, with added passion and icebergs. Re-released in 3D.
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Scott Macdonald *****

Director: James Cameron

Writer: James Cameron

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Billy Zane, Kathy Bates, Frances Fisher, Gloria Stuart, Bill Paxton, Bernard Hill, David Warner, Victor Garber, Jonathan Hyde

Year: 1997

Runtime: 195 minutes

BBFC: 12 - Age Restricted

Country: US

Festivals:

Bradford 2007

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If you like this, try:

A Night To Remember