When I first saw Titanic in December of 1997, I had already been anticipating its arrival for over a year. Even right up to the week of its release, the movie’s troubled production and skyrocketing costs (a then record-setting $200 million) led many to suspect it could be a financial disaster to rival its namesake.
But it wasn’t. Oh boy, it wasn’t.
It broke box-office records, won 11 Oscars and, against all odds, earned mostly rapturous reviews. It was all anyone could talk about for months and months afterwards. The crossover success of Celine Dion’s battleship anthem “My Heart Will Go On” made it virtually impossible to escape the saga of Jack and Rose.
And then people started to hate it. Oh boy, did they ever start to hate it.
They attacked its dopey love story. They sneered at Leonardo DiCaprio’s boyish, feline good looks and Kate Winslet’s robust, curvy frame (the same physique hipsters everywhere are now praising Mad Men‘s Christina Hendricks for rocking). They groaned at each play of that Irish lute introduction to Dion’s ballad like hounds baying at the moon. The fanboys bemoaned the derailment of what had been, up until Titanic, Cameron’s unimpeachably tech-macho filmography. The film snobs jeered Titanic‘s Oscar wins over L.A. Confidential and Good Will Hunting.
And I don’t care. Oh boy, do I not care.
As the disaster epic sails back into theaters on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the original ship’s 1912 sinking (this time in IMAX 3-D), I reiterate what I’ve spent the last 15 years admitting: “I really love Titanic.”
It’s not an easy position to take. Though its IMDB user rating has rebounded to a generous 7 out of 10 stars, Titanic remains one of the few movies capable of inducing immediate eye-rolls, head-shakes and expostulations of “Pssssh!”
The skepticism over Titanic continues to endure. Its brief moment of mass universal love is thus bookended by a perception of failure — on one end the out-of-control production that pushed its debut back half a year and, on the other end, the will of the (mostly male) guardians of pop culture to keep its reputation tarnished.
Though I no longer consider Titanic my favorite movie of the year as I did back in ’97 (I’ve since come around on Quentin Tarantino’s underrated follow up to Pulp Fiction — Jackie Brown — and also consider that year’s Palme d’Or winner Taste of Cherry to be probably the best movie that year had to offer), the movie still amazes me for its relentless, ruthless pop efficiency.
Cameron’s movie is over three hours long, fabricates a love story between two people that were never on the ill-fated® ship, insists upon framing the entire film with a clumsy modern-day jewel hunt subplot, and features (in Billy Zane) one of the most cartoonishly ineffective villains in movie history. (Why, exactly, did a movie about the Titanic need a fictitious villain, anyway?)
And even after multiple viewings, it remains a thrilling ride that captures the essence of the Titanic’s sociological function in history, as posited by writer Walter Lord (whose book A Night to Remember was the standard-bearer for historical perspective on the sinking). It glides from Victorian-era idyll toward the gigantic, industrial terrors of the modern era with effective elegance.
Maybe that’s what bugs the haters in this Transformers age. Titanic is a blockbuster action movie that regards technology gone awry with fear, rather than the promise of empty excitement.