Whenever the movie shifts from history to romance, it snatches away the genuine emotion of the scenes on the bottom of the sea.


A Illusion review by Joan Ellis.

James Cameron's "Titanic" is a $200 million paradox. He creates a compelling abstraction of the calamity with camera work that is both dignified and surreal. His reverence for the tragedy is clear. The problem that undermines the movie is that no fiction can approach the reality of the Titanic, and the gut of this movie is its fictional love story. Whenever the movie shifts from history to romance, it snatches away the genuine emotion of the scenes on the bottom of the sea. In this case, melodrama is a reprieve.

Cameron has devised a clever structure for his story by bringing a survivor to the dive site, where she tells her story. Rose (Gloria Stuart), at 101, becomes the narrator of the love story of the young girl she was (played by Kate Winslet) in April 1912, when she boarded the ship with her nasty fiance, aristocrat Cal Hockley (Billy Zane), and her insufferable mother (Frances Fisher). In defiance of her mother's carefully laid plans, the spirited Rose quickly falls in love with an aspiring artist from steerage, Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio).

Together they navigate the class struggle that unfolds in varying degrees of excess: above deck, the stifling life of the aristocrats; below, the laughter and dancing of the immigrants. Life, we are told, is grand if you are poor, grim if you are rich. The movie trips over its stereotypes.

It trips again over jarring lapses into contemporary slang and gesture-as in "music to drown by, now I know I'm in first class." And it falters badly when Cal sprays bullets from his pistol as he chases his rival through the doomed ship in a scene typical of a James Bond movie. Let's not even talk about Jack being handcuffed to a pipe with water rising around his ankles while his lover hacks through the door with a fire axe.

Kathy Bates is effective as Denver's Molly Brown, and Victor Garber is inspired in his restraint as the defeated designer of the ship, who knows earlier than anyone else that the iceberg wound is fatal. On a clear, quiet night the captain is going too fast in a ship with a rudder too small to turn its bulk quickly enough. The sight is heartbreaking.

Leonardo DiCaprio is a sensitive young actor, but he's not yet credible as a bohemian. He and Kate Winslet are full of smiles and spirit, with Winslet especially convincing as a rebel against the hypocrisy of her world. The nicest touch is that Gloria Stuart, playing the 101-year-old Rose, manages to convey the same rebellious spirit that the younger actress delivers so well.

James Cameron gave his soul to this movie, but he is stuck with that paradox: the love story diminishes the power of his remarkable re-creation of the ship and the sea. No fiction can ever be as powerful as the legend of the unsinkable ship that represented the optimism of an era.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 493
Studio : Paramount & 20th Century Fox
Rating : PG-13
Running Time: 3h17m

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