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There should be a support group, a weekly gathering of men brave enough to admit in public that they are fans of James Cameron’s masterpiece. “Hi. My name is Sean, and I love Titanic.”
Seven times. That’s how many times I saw Titanic during its initial theatrical run in 1997. As the film lingered at the top of the box office charts, I just kept running into friends and family members who’d yet to see it, and was excited to share in the experience again and again. That’s 1,358 minutes (or nearly a full day) of my life spent watching Titanic.
I’m not alone. I can’t be. Movies don’t set all-time box-office records without appealing to both sexes. And yet, Cameron’s Oscar-winning Titanic has earned a reputation of being a “chick flick,” a sappy romance between star-crossed lovers that happened to take place aboard history’s most famous ship wreck.
That’s because, for half of its run time, it is. Cameron spends nearly 90 of those 194 minutes allowing his fairy tale love story to unfold between a from-money princess and a dirt-poor vagabond. And the powerful connection forged between Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet carries Cameron’s invested audience through the next 90 minutes … which just happens to be offer of the most eye-popping action visuals we’ve ever seen (or might ever see again).
That’s one of the main things Titanic reminded me during my revisit screening this week. As you know by know, Paramount Pictures has re-released Cameron’s 11-time Oscar winner in theaters with a 3D upgrade. Our very own Kristy wrote up a fantastic analysis on whether the 3D works. Be sure you read it before snagging a ticket. I’m coming at Titanic from another angle as it reaches theaters, standing up and claiming that it’s OK for guys to admit that they love this film after 15 years of silence.
Again, I’m not alone. My colleagues Drew McWeeny (at HitFix) and Mike Ryan (at Huffington Post) beat me to the punch, taking time this week to write columns defending Titanic as the triumph of filmmaking that it really is.
“The actual sinking of the ship is one of the all time great action movie set pieces, one long sustained crescendo of remarkably orchestrated near-death that Cameron stages with a skill that is just plain staggering,” McWeeny writes.
I couldn’t agree more. Watching Titanic again, I’m reminded of how – for so many reasons – this movie shouldn’t happen. The sets are too authentic. The stunts are too elaborate. Water is the world’s least-cooperative co-star … and it is everywhere! I never understood any sort of backlash that could have existed against Titanic, because each and every possible negative – from Billy Zane’s deliciously cartoonish villain (“Make way! I have a child over here!”) to Cameron’s admittedly soapy dialogue – paled in comparison to the visual wizardry that Titanic gets so right.
This week’s screening reminded me how heart-pounding the last hour of the film is … and I’m not even talking about the eventual sinking of the massive ocean liner, though that is hold-your-breath stunning. I’m talking about the dropped keys on the opposite side of the gates, the rising water levels in Jack’s makeshift prison, the way the lights flicker in and out as Rose braves icy waters, and that memorable pull back shot as a flare explodes overhead, demonstrating how alone Titanic was on the vast ocean as it gradually pulled beneath the sea. Any film would kill to have one of those memorable shots. Cameron has at least a dozen.
But I’m also reminded of the brilliant performances that sustain the spectacle. Victor Garber as ship designer Thomas Andrews, who truly feels like he disappoints young Rose as his creation plummets to the ocean’s floor. Jason Barry as the steadfast Irishman Tommy Ryan. Jonathan Hyde as Bruce Ismay, whose desire for a headline might have doomed the ship. And, of course, Gloria Stuart, who’s soulful narration earned her a well-deserved Oscar nomination.
It’s hard to believe that after 11 Oscar wins and more than $1 billion in global box office receipts, Titanic needs to be defended. Hopefully this re-release convinces naysayers to give it another shot. They’ll likely leave whistling James Horner’s winning score, and marveling at Cameron’s astonishing accomplishment, which still shatters expectations 15 years after the fact.