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Wayback Wednesday: Titanic (1997)

This movie is king of the world!

If there were three movies that my brother and I spent our childhoods obsessing over and wishing to join the worlds of, they were undoubtedly Jurassic Park (1993), The Mummy (1999), and Titanic (1997). Yes. We legitimately wanted to live in these terrifying worlds. We were (and continue to be) captivated by these movies that transport us to vastly different times and places, and it’s hard to say which movie world we spent the most time in. I’m tempted to say Titanic only because it’s a three hour and 15 minute long movie. And guess what? As expected, every single minute more than holds up. God, this movie is stunning.

Credit: / Paramount Pictures / 20th Century Fox

Inspired by the historic tragedy, Titanic tells the story of Jack, a pennyless artist, and Rose, an aristocratic young lady, who meet aboard the ill-fated ship during its maiden voyage. Though they come from different worlds the two instantly fall for each other despite those who wish to keep them apart. When Titanic strikes an iceberg and begins to sink, Jack and Rose must fight for their lives as well as their love.

Let me just start by saying that like a true ‘90s kid, I grew up watching Titanic on a double cassette VHS. I can’t tell you how many arguments I had with my brother in my grandparents’ basement about which tape to put in first. Spoiler, I always won and insisted we watch the movie in proper order, ensuring we didn’t miss the setup of Jack and Rose’s relationship. I like destruction as much as the next person but I always wanted to bask in the happy romance and the pretty costumes before settling in for the carnage.

So, it’s always weird for me when I watch the movie on a single DVD or on Netflix. Thankfully, the quality doesn’t suffer at all. This is without question and without bias one of the greatest movies ever made, correct? Regardless of whether or not you think this movie is overrated (not my opinion at all), there’s no denying that every aspect of filmmaking is operating at the highest level. From a technical standpoint alone, Titanic is a marvel.

There’s isn’t a single frame of Titanic that fails to dazzle and amaze. Like Jurassic Park, Titanic is one of those movies that takes your breathe away each time you watch it. You’re in a constant state of going, “whoa, they BUILT that set? They SEWED that costume? They pulled off THAT stunt?” The attention to detail in everything from the most minuscule prop to the wardrobe of any given extra is spectacular. To think of how much thought and care went into selecting every hat, every place setting, every deck chair, all for the sake of historical accuracy is bonkers to comprehend. But also entirely admirable. Clearly a painstaking amount of research and artistry went into every conceivable aspect of this movie and boy, did it pay off. Like the real Titanic, no expense was spared in the production of this movie and it all helps add a layer of realism that sucks you in as a viewer. You have no trouble feeling like you’re stepping into a time machine, emerging as a real passenger aboard the ship in 1912. The beauty and majesty of Titanic will haunt you. It’s an impressive and awe-inspiring feat of filmmaking through and through.

Titanic is just that in every sense of the term. Especially when it comes to the story at the heart of this epic. I think part of what makes Titanic such a universally appealing movie is how well it balances the tonal difference between the first and second acts. Look, it’s no secret that writer / director James Cameron, the man behind The Terminator (1984), Aliens (1986), and Avatar (2009) is a master of his craft. But what I think he does so exceptionally well in Titanic is establish the sweeping romance and unbridled hope in the first half of the movie, and juxtapose that with the horrifying doom and chaotic mayhem of the second half. Really, Titanic is amazing because it’s a great period romance mashed together with a great disaster adventure that blend together to create a winning movie that will keep anyone on the edge of their seat. Both the star-crossed courtship and the catastrophic sinking are compelling as Hell and Cameron perfectly weaves the two storylines together to create one cohesive movie that delivers on all points. Especially on the jaw-dropping special effects.

The entire sequence of watching Titanic flood and break apart is mesmerizing. The effects in this movie are no joke. The effects are handled so well that the sense of danger and impending doom the passengers feel will stick with you long after the credits roll. The heartbreak, the terror, and the immeasurable tragedy of the sinking is carried out with sobering realism. You can feel the shock and unimaginable horror of watching a ship sink before your eyes, again, as if you were really there. It’s also captured flawlessly on the faces of the fantastic cast. If you don’t think that fleeting glimpse of the elderly couple holding each other while their room fills with sea water is the most heartwrenching part of this whole movie, I fully invite you to fight me.

Thanks to the special effects alone, Titanic is one of those movies that has managed to, and likely always will, stand the test of time. But the other big reason why people love and remember this movie so much are the sensational, iconic performances. Especially by Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. As Jack and Rose respectively, these two are absolute perfection. Seemingly every huge ‘90s star vied for these roles at the time, but it’s no surprise why the coveted parts went to DiCaprio and Winslet. The pair both deliver wonderfully dynamic performances on their own, but it’s when they share the screen that Titanic becomes charged with that palpable spark that has enthralled the hearts of millions for the last 26 years.

Their chemistry is unmatched. Their back and forth is effortless and fluid, their relationship unfolding with all the intensity, passion, and optimism that all young lovers experience a few days into the relationship. Now, I love Jack and Rose, duh, but isn’t it funny that they only knew each other for three days? Time is almost an afterthought in Titanic. How else do you explain an over three hour long movie flying by thanks to nothing but the sheer charisma and talent of its stars? In one of his most recognizable roles, DiCaprio is earnest and bold, creating the type of dashing love interest no one would think twice about giving up a life of boorish aristocracy for. Winslet is just as electric. You see her experience everything from the purity of love to the terror of impending death, all the while nailing every beat of the emotional journey Rose goes through from young heroine to old narrator. By the way, how about a hand for Gloria Stuart as Old Rose? I could listen to her narrate the instructions to microwave popcorn. There are no weak links in this stellar cast, each actor playing their roles with complete conviction – whether they’re utterly loathsome or devastatingly wholesome. Speaking of, shoutout to my favourite character, Victor Garber as Thomas Andrews. Whenever I see Garber in something without fail I immediately say, “hey, it’s Mr. Andrews!”

Everything you’ve ever heard about Titanic is true. It’s as incredible and timeless a movie as everyone says. It’s legacy speaks for itself and it truly stands as one of the most enchanting movies ever made. It fully delivered the staggering 11 Oscars it won. I never get tired of watching this movie. I’ll also never get tired of reiterating this one final, yet extremely crucial argument: There wasn’t room for Jack on the door. It would have capsized both of them if he tried to get on it with Rose. He loved her too much to even think about letting her get into the freezing water, so rather than maybe taking turns, he sacrificed himself to ensure her survival.


Credit: / Paramount Pictures / 20th Century Fox

Are you as big a fan of Titanic as I am?

Let me know in the comments or on social media!

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