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Tirade of the Week


Get Over Titanic, Everybody!

"It's square in ways people seem to have been longing for. I'm not one of those people."
- Retired movie critic Pauline Kael on TITANIC

Enough is enough. Okay? I mean, I loved it. I saw it twice. It's a very good movie and a great piece of filmmaking (one isn't necessarily the same as the other -- more on that later). But still: enough is enough.

I'm sick of hearing about how TITANIC is (everybody say it with me now) A Return To Good Old-Fashioned Epic Filmmaking. (What was SCHINDLER'S LIST, a fuckin' ABC Afterschool Special?) I'm sick of seeing *Leonardo* on the cover of every magazine (however, I wouldn't mind if Kate were on every page of the phone book). I'm sick of the Celine Dion song and I'm sick of reading about how James Horner's score is one of the all-time top-selling movie soundtracks (Danny Elfman hit the nail on the head when he called it pretty much a rip-off of Enya). I'm sick of James Cameron, too -- though I admire his films, he doesn't need another reason to think he has the biggest dick in Hollywood.

Is TITANIC a great movie? No. Not when you have some distance on it. Sure, after you've seen the astonishing hour-long disaster footage and been moved by Kate Winslet's devastated whispers when she realizes her lover is a Popsicle ... sure, when you stumble out into the parking lot, it's easy to say "That was a great fuckin' movie." But "great" (like "brilliant") is one of those adjectives more overworked than a Web-page designer. TITANIC is a huge, impressive piece of filmmaking that holds your rapt attention for three hours and 14 minutes, but since when did we start giving out Nobel prizes for holding our attention?

In retrospect, it's actually easy for TITANIC to keep us riveted. Imagine you're a first-time viewer. You know what's going to happen. You've read, unless you've lived in a cave for the past year, that the special effects in the disaster sequence are incredible. You're looking forward to the destruction. If there were no such carrot of mass destruction being dangled in front of you for the film's first two hours, would you find TITANIC as absorbing? Because everything in those first two hours takes on added weight and poignancy -- you know what those passengers don't: that it's all going to fall apart.

Then you have the dialogue, which rang terribly false to me the first time and even more so the second. The 101-year-old Rose goes into her story as if she'd been rehearsing it for decades: "It was so long ago, and yet I can still remember the..." Whenever Cal Hockley opens his mouth, cheese falls out: "How dare you touch my fiancée? ANSWER ME, YOU FILTH!" Later, Rose disses Cal real good: "You unimaginable bastard!" She should just say "You're a dick and I'm gonna drop your stupid diamond into the ocean in 85 years." Jack Dawson talks with the rhythm and slang of a slacker circa 1997: "You are the most amazingly astounding woman I've ever met" -- faint praise coming from a guy who previously hung out with one-legged French whores. James Cameron has always had a tin ear for dialogue, and his TITANIC script is no different. (Notice it wasn't nominated for a screenwriting Oscar; Best Picture nominees almost always are.)

The performances are also variable. Watching it the second time, I noticed that Kate Winslet, as touching as she is here, can't really do a convincing American accent. What she does is speak in a monotone and suppress her natural bubbly British voice. (Compare this with the flawless Yank accents of Judy Davis, Helena Bonham Carter, Emma Thompson, etc...) It's exuberant work, as usual from Winslet, but not her best. DiCaprio, though he makes a good hero, is wrong for period roles; his voice places him solidly in the 1990s. (He sounds wrong in THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK, too.) Billy Zane nails the huffy mannerisms of an arrogant businessman of the period but is still too much of a Snidely Whiplash (I blame the script, not him). The only actors who seem like credible 1912 people are Kathy Bates, Frances Fisher as Rose's uppity mom, Victor Garber as the Titanic's designer, and David Warner as Hockley's skunky assistant.

Then, oh boy, the romance. Kate and Leo sell it well enough, but my God, what a flatulent New Age chick flick we have here, if we just stand apart from it for a second. Jack the ruffian, Jack the lusty joie-de-vivre dude, waits for Rose to tell him to put his hands on her. Every guy on the planet has groaned at this (while every woman has sighed happily). Jack also has encyclopedic knowledge of what a cruise liner will do when it sinks: "It's gonna suck us down with it. When I say jump, jump, and do not let go of my hand." In short, he's an idealized proto-feminist sensitive guy who only takes charge when he has to -- every woman's wet dream -- and it's a testament to DiCaprio's charm that we don't throw eggs at the screen. Then Jack freezes, preserving the romance in an amber of tragic death -- instead of letting it run its realistic course, wherein Rose would run away with Jack and swiftly tire of his ratty bohemian lifestyle.

A lot of this is just backlash venting on my part. I just really would like to cut through the TITANIC mania and point out that, uh, hello, it's only a fucking movie, and not a perfect one, either. Yes, the totality of the thing is overwhelming; understand, this is not a "TITANIC Sucks" piece. I'm just trying to restore some perspective. For half of December and some of January, I thought TITANIC was the movie of the year (that changed when I saw THE SWEET HEREAFTER, the real best film of 1997). Today, I think it's a very well-crafted spectacle that struck gold against all odds, making it safe for studios to blow $200 million or more on future movies that won't capture the public imagination. The real lesson of TITANIC is that if you spend it, they will come. Hollywood needs that lesson like it needs another POSTMAN.