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97. EMPIRE MAGAZINE GREATEST: Titanic

January 11, 2018

Director: James Cameron
Screenplay: James Cameron
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Billy Zane, Kathy Bates, Frances Fisher, Bernard Hill, Jonathan Hyde, Danny Nucci, David Warner, Bill Paxton
Runtime: 195 Minutes

 

Original UK Release: 1998

 

★★★★☆

 

Titanic is one of the last great Hollywood epics of the 20th century, and quite simply one of its greatest; a timeless and awe-inspiring technological wonder.

 

Although its central narrative is a fairly run-of-the-mill love story concerning the collision of classes and forbidden romance between Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Rose DeWitt Bukate (Kate Winslet), writer/director James Cameron manages to sprawl its pallet across its enormous running time into something of extraordinary intercity and power.

 

While the characters fit their archetypes across the board, they’re cast and performed perfectly to near stunt cast levels of brilliance. DiCaprio and Winslet share the screen with faultless beauty, energy and charisma, keeping the emotional anchor of the story secure with a strong sense of chemistry and understanding of their roles and positions. Jack might lack any distinct flaws of any kind but it’s hard to notice that while he’s captivating the eye in every frame as it swoons over his boyish good looks. Rose is really the central character, and Winslet’s ferocious performance is deeply satisfying and emotional. Her arc is the strongest and most robustly structured, and her transformation into a near action heroine in the vein of Ellen Ripley or Sarah Connor is seamlessly drawn.

 

But supporting roles from the likes of Billy Zane, Kathy Bates and Frances Fisher – to name just a few – have their moments of subtlety that shine through, in particular, a brilliantly on-the-nose metaphor involving a corset with Fisher. It’s the time we spend with them in the first half that makes it all the more devastating when it all goes wrong.

 

From the halfway mark, the stodgy but well executed social commentary gives way to an overwhelming sensory experience unlike any other. Since the early 90s, Cameron has been more of a technical engineer than a filmmaker; crafting incredible technical monoliths within the medium and putting all the money up on screen in the most digestible format possible. It’s a film that seamlessly blends the pioneering efforts of digital effects artists and miniature models the perfectly recreate the RMS Titanic throughout. Match that with the physical stunts and water rushing spectacle later on, and the film transforms from an extravagant period piece into one of the most elaborate and comprehensive disaster movies ever made – moving with a breakneck pace held up by our commitment to its characters.

 

The story is rather trite when it’s boiled down, with an unnecessarily heavy framing device in the present day with Bill Paxton that drops in and out of the narrative, but it works because of the clear amount of passion on screen and its dedication to the modern research into the sinking of the famous ship. The scope is massive, its imagery breathtaking, and its action sequences tense and frighteningly sad to witness – all the while James Horner’s unrelentingly commanding score bellows over every dramatic beat.

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