Titanic is James Cameron’s 1997 tribute to aquatic destruction, with added culture clash romance so it didn’t just seem like an excuse to destroy a big boat. And I love it. Despite being the second highest grossing movie of all time, amongst the film-blogging community it’s not a very popular pastime to out-and-out rave about Titanic on a semi-regular basis, yet despite having seen it countless times already, I’ll still happily sit down and watch all three-and-a-quarter hours of it, and here’s why:
5. This guy: Do you like Twister? Of course you do, Twister is awesome. What’s the best part of Twister? Philip Seymour goddamn Hoffman, that’s what. So when Bill “The Extreme” Paxton heads up another team of tech nerds going to extreme depths (geddit?) in the name of science and/or history, he needs another guy like Hoffman’s Dusty, and that guy is Lewis, played by Lewis Abernathy. He’s part of the team that somehow extracts the safe from the wreck of the Titanic, within which they find the miraculously preserved drawing of young Rose (Kate Winslet) wearing the giant-ass diamond and very little else. It’s what kicks the story off. Many argue that we don’t need an introduction into the story of the Titanic, probably the most infamous real life boating story even before this film got made (then again I’m biased, I’m originally from Southampton, the town Titanic set sail from) but I like that there’s some kind of B-story plot running across the whole thing. Also, it allows Lewis here to provide a presumably traumatising re-enactment of the ship sinking, complete with rudimentary mid-90s computer graphics – to the surviving elderly Rose (Gloria Stuart), someone who I’m assuming had hoped never to re-live those life-changing and often horrific events. Either way, Lewis is great. Often inappropriate, but great.
4. How often I quote it: When I say I’ve seen Titanic a lot, I mean A LOT. It’s one of my most quoted films, often down to some of the least recognisable dialogue. There’s the obvious quotes everyone knows, stuff like “Don’t let go, Jack!”, “I’m the king of the world!” and “I want you to draw me like one of your French girls” (don’t ask how I bring these into conversation), but I’ll somehow crowbar into other gems like “You’ll have to pay for that you know, that’s White Star Line property,” “She’s made of iron, Sir, I assure you she can,” and “Smell ice can you? Bleeding Christ.” Watching Titanic with me is not often a pleasant experience, because I recite most of the dialogue as we go, which tends to annoy some people, but it’s all part of the viewing experience for me. I think the quote I use the most often has gained that place because it works as a typical insult, when Molly Brown (Kathy Bates) insists on turning their lifeboat around but is shouted down by their lifeboat officer, and told there’ll be one less person in their boat if she doesn’t “Shut that hole in your face!” Love it.
3. Destruction: I’m a sucker for disaster movies. If you want me to enjoy something, make sure there’s a small number of people trapped in a confined environment that gradually starts killing them all. Stuff like Deep Blue Sea, The Poseidon Adventure, Daylight, that sort of thing. Granted, Titanic is on a much larger scale than pretty much anything else, but the rules still apply. I’ve never been able to pin down exactly what it is about seeing people struggling against all odds to survive, and usually failing, but I get some kind of sick pleasure from it. I’m the guy who laughs at the man who slides all the way down the ship as it starts to sink, or has the massive grin on his face when another fellow falls off the upended stern and dings off the propeller on his way down. I’m sick, I know that. Titanic impresses on it’s sheer scale of destruction though, and how much work went into creating it. Bearing in mind they built half the damn boat just to film it all, and broke an awful lot of CGI ground developing new techniques for optimum realistic destruction. Yes there’s panning shots where you can tell some of the “people” on deck aren’t the least bit real, but stop looking at the people and look at the damn ship. Do you see me saying I love Titanic because of Jack and Rose? No? That’s because the main character of this film is the giant-ass ship they’re riding on, so stop paying attention to anything else. Oh, and for the longest time my absolute favourite part was when [SPOILER ALERT] Fabrizio (Danny Nucci) gets crushed by the falling funnel. Again, no idea why. Maybe because he’s such a one-note cartoon caricature of a character. “I go to Americ-a!” If you went in thinking he was going to survive this film, well you need to watch more movies my friends. Some characters are there just to get killed off.
2. Culture Clash: Speaking of all the work that went into making this film, so much of that went into the contrast between the two main classes we see on board. There’s no surprise that we see a lot of differences, given that the central human drama is between Rose (Winslet), a first class passenger being shipped to America to marry her fiancé against her will, and who is bullied to do as she is told by her mother (Frances Fisher), and Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio), an American steerage passenger who won his ticket through a game of poker mere minutes before the ship set sail. There’s obviously plenty of scenes between these two, showing the various opinions and lifestyles of the two classes and the manner in which they are treated. Take, for example, how they are informed of the ship being in distress. The first class passengers are individually personally informed, handed there life jackets and told not to worry, everything will probably be fine, it’s all just a precaution. The third class passengers consider themselves lucky if an armload of life jackets are thrown into their room, with the officer involved then walking to the next room with the next batch. This contrast is most keenly felt at the differing parties Jack and Rose attend. First they go to the fine-dining and veiled insult-laden upper class dinner, which must be frightfully dull if you’re not part of the my-bank-account-is-bigger-than-your-bank-account discussion. Then it’s on to the far less civilised but far more entertaining third class piss-up below decks, with Irish dancing, beer theft and Kate Winslet standing on the ends of her toes. Then there’s the little moments, like the first class dogs being taken down to the third class deck to vacate their bowels, or the four-to-a-room set-up of steerage compared to the lavish suites of Rose and her family, with multiple huge rooms per person, let alone family. Rose even brings her paintings with her (by Something Picasso, he won’t amount to a thing) to decorate her living quarters for the few days they are aboard.
1. Billy Zane: OK, so I said it wasn’t really about the characters, but Billy Zane as Cal Hockley is so much more (or less?) than a character in this movie. He’s the most boo-hiss villain you’ll find outside of a Disney cartoon, with no redeeming qualities and even his own bowler-hatted henchman, Lovejoy (David Warner). Cal is such a joy to behold. He’s such a despicable shit, there’s never been a more enjoyable character to hate. He’s a bully to his fiancée, has no qualms about condemning Jack to death for something Cal knows he didn’t do, and will gladly use a lost child as an excuse to get on a lifeboat. I’m surprised he didn’t push said child overboard to give himself more legroom. Cal’s shining moment? Realising his foolish error: “I put the diamond in the coat…. AND I PUT THE COAT ON HER!” Billy Zane has never been accused of being a great actor, but he is a tremendous cartoon villain, and never more so than in Titanic.