James Cameron’s Titanic has been re-released in 3D. I was going to use this as an opportunity to write a snarcky review of the film, but Lindy West at Jezebel.com has beaten me to the punch. So, instead I will make a few observations about this movie and what it tells us about Hollywood.
I well remember the year that Titanic first came out. At the risk of sounding melodramatic, I must say that this was a dark period of my life. Everywhere I turned, it seemed, people were talking about how Titanic was the greatest movie ever made. Those of us who found this film vapid and pretentious began to feel like a beleaguered minority. I will never forget the vitriol that was heaped upon Kenneth Turan, the film critic for Los Angeles Times, when he admitted that he hated Titanic. (Turan’s comments provoked a public tantrum from Cameron.) I felt a bit like that character in Ionesco’s Rhinoceros, who watches while other people turn into irrational beasts. Fortunately, this time the response to the film has been more muted. Perhaps this is because America is a different place from what it was in the 1990’s. Titanic 3D has been overshadowed by The Hunger Games, a darker and more disturbing film. After the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it seems, people are less inclined to go all to pieces over a sappy romance.
Titanic won the 1997 Academy Award of Best Picture. It beat out L.A. Confidential, which was a better film. The Academy tends to give the Best Picture Award to movies that are considered “uplifting”. This year they gave the award to The Artist, which is a saccharine fairy tale depiction of Hollywood. Last year, they gave it to The King’s Speech, which romanticizes the British royal family. Titanic fits into this pattern. True, 1,500 people freeze to death in the North Atlantic, but Kate Winslet is saved from an unhappy marriage, so everything turns out all right after all. One can see why the Academy preferred this film to L.A. Confidential, which is about corrupt, racist cops – clearly not a movie that makes you feel good about the world. (Besides, as we all know from watching police dramas on TV, cops are never corrupt and racist, are they?)
I know that some will say that I’m being a grump, that Titanic is just meant to be fun. Titanic, however, is not supposed to be escapist fantasy like John Carter. It purports to be an accurate depiction of a real and tragic historical event. (Cameron reportedly went out of his way to make sure the correct star field was in the night sky.) For that reason, it has to be held to a higher standard. The story of the Titanic deserves better than corny dialogue and melodrama.