VOD film review: Titanic
James R | On 12, Jun 2021
Director: James Cameron
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Billy Zane
“Titanic was called the ship of dreams. And it was. It really was.” Those are the words of Rose (Kate Winslet) looking back at the HMS Titanic, which sank in 1912. More than a century later, the word “Titanic” is perhaps less associated with the tragic incident and more with James Cameron’s 1997 epic about it, starring Winslet and Leonard DiCaprio as star-crossed lovers whose romance plays out on board the sinking ship. Even now, it’s a film whose legacy as formerly the most expensive movie ever made is what drives discussion, an extravagant spectacle and ambitious feat to echo the ship of dreams itself.
There’s no denying the wizardry on display from director James Cameron, who pulled every string imaginable on screen and off to bring the boat’s fateful collision with an iceberg to life. A scale replica, painstakingly crafted miniatures and a smattering of CGI all combine to show us the ship inside and out – and the whole thing is bookended by poignant underwater footage of the actual shipwreck, which is a marvellous technical achievement in itself. But while the lavishly recreated sets and gorgeously colourful costumes certainly offer much to admire, what’s really impressive about Titanic is that the film’s real power lies in its sheer romantic clout.
That’s partly thanks to the script, which Cameron pitches just right. Balancing the personal and the public is the only way to approach the project, and so he gives us a tale of doomed romance framed against a crumbling world of opulence. Leonardo DiCaprio is instantly charismatic as Jack, a hard-on-his-luck young Irish lad who bags a ticket to the Titanic in a game of cards, hoping it’ll change his fortunes – and he has wonderful chemistry with Winslet’s socialite Rose, who is being ferried away to a future that she doesn’t want by her stern mother (Frances Fisher) with her cruel fiancé Cal Hockley (Billy Zane). When their paths inevitably cross, they fall hard, each one intoxicated by the possibilities of the other’s unfamiliar world.
Even with its three-hour-plus runtime, the film whips us up in their fling, capturing the humour and hope that sparks between them – their youthful faces offering a winning contrast to the older, strait-laced people around them. Zane’s wonderfully toxic and petulant Cal is a model of entitlement, while his butler (played with menace by David Warner) carries a gun inside his suit. Throughout, people say ominous things like: “God himself could not sink this ship!” And that dramatic irony, underpinned by a supporting cast that includes everyone from Ioan Gruffudd to Bernard Hill, fills the air with anticipation and dread as much as excitement.
That’s where the budget and effects pay off, delivering all the blockbuster peril of a Roland Emmerich disaster movie. But by wrapping it up in a love story first, the result is the kind of unabashedly sincere Hollywood filmmaking that appeals to everyone – and that, ship or no ship, that really is the stuff of dreams.