“You can be blase about some things, Rose,” Billy Zane pretentiously sniffs, “but not about Titanic!’”
And so it is with the movie about that famous, doomed ship. Love it or hate it, there’s little to be blase about regarding the biggest screen hit of all time.
Fifteen years later, and the film isn’t any shorter. The dialogue is still peppered with groaners like Zane’s “blase” line.
But “Titanic,” back on the big screen 100 years after the ocean liner went down, and back in theaters in 3-D, wears its blockbuster weight with ease. Thanks to the 3-D conversion — which may make it a tad darker than when first released — it is aging surprisingly well, a meticulous re-creation of a great ship and a tragedy built around a good, old-fashioned popcorn picture.
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), still 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, a tale of class, 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 the roving, Jack Londonish steerage passenger Jack Dawson. Kate Winslet is Rose, a child of privilege who needs to marry a rich creep (Zane’s Cal Hockley) to preserve her family’s standing. Of course they find a way to meet. Of course they fall in love.
Fifteen years later, we can appreciate DiCaprio’s callow, annoying and showy turn for what it is — boyishness. Winslet now has an Oscar as final confirmation of what has been obvious from the start, that she’s one of our great actresses.
Cameron litters the cast with winners: sassy Kathy Bates as “The Unsinkable” Molly Brown; David Warner as a murderous valet; Victor Garber as the shaken, guilt-ridden ship designer Thomas Andrews; 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 3-D doesn’t really impress until you get to that fateful moment when they hit the iceberg, the helmsman making the 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.
I found the length tedious, some of the dialogue eye-rolling and some of the digital effects lacking (the digital ship’s digital wake seemed puny) when “Titanic” first came out. But those quibbles fade with time. Raised to 3-D for its return to the big screen, “Titanic” plays the way its “King of the World” creator meant it to — as a history and sociology lesson wrapped in a corny, but fun and entertaining, yarn.