Top 100 Movie Review: No. 035 – Titanic (1997)

Ranked 035 on the IMDb Top 100 Movie List (as at May 2017). Watched movie during May 2020.

Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio (Jack Dawson), Kate Winslet (Rose Dewitt Bukater), Billy Zane (Cal Hockley), Kathy Bates (Molly Brown), Frances Fisher (Ruth Dewitt Bukater), Gloria Stuart (Older Rose), Bill Paxton (Brock Lovett), Bernard Hill (Captain Smith), David Warner (Spicer Lovejoy), Victor Garber (Thomas Andrews)
Director:  James Cameron
My rating: 9.0 / 10

In 1996, treasure hunter Brock (Bill Paxton) and his team board a research vessel to search the wreck of RMS Titanic for a necklace with a rare diamond, the Heart of the Ocean. They recover a safe containing a drawing of a young woman wearing only the necklace dated April 14, 1912, the day the ship struck the iceberg. Rose Dawson Calvert (Gloria Stuart), the woman in the drawing, is brought aboard Keldysh and tells Brock of her experiences aboard Titanic.

In 1912 Southampton, 17-year-old first-class passenger Rose DeWitt Bukater (Kate Winslet), her fiancé Cal Hockley (Billy Zane), and her mother Ruth (Frances Fisher) board the luxurious Titanic. Ruth emphasizes that Rose’s marriage will resolve their family’s financial problems and allow them to retain their upper-class status which is what is most important in life.

Distraught over the engagement, Rose climbs over the stern and contemplates suicide; Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio), a poor artist who won his ticket in a card game, intervenes and discourages her. Discovered with Jack after he saves her when she almost falls into the ocean, Rose tells a concerned Cal that she was peering over the edge and Jack saved her. Cal becomes indifferent, and it is suggested to him that Jack be rewarded he first offers $20 which makes Rose indignant that her life is worth so little; Cal then invites Jack to dine with them in first-class.

Jack and Rose develop a tentative friendship, despite Cal, his valet Spicer Lovejoy, and Ruth, being wary of him. Following dinner, Rose secretly joins Jack at a party in third-class.  However aware of Cal and her mother’s disapproval, Rose rebuffs Jack’s advances, but later realises she prefers him over Cal.

After rendezvousing on the bow at sunset, Rose takes Jack to her state room; at her request, Jack sketches Rose posing nude wearing Cal’s engagement present, the Heart of the Ocean. They evade Lovejoy, and have sex in an automobile inside the cargo hold. On the forward deck, they witness the ship’s collision with an iceberg and overhear its officers and builder discussing its seriousness.

Cal discovers Jack’s sketch of Rose and an insulting note from her in his safe along with the necklace. When Jack and Rose attempt to inform Cal of the collision, Cal retaliates by having Lovejoy slip the necklace into Jack’s pocket, accusing him of theft. Jack is arrested and restrained in the master-at-arms’ office. Cal puts the necklace in his own coat pocket.

With the ship sinking, Rose flees Cal while her mother who has boarded a lifeboat is saved.  Rose then frees Jack. On the boat deck, Cal and Jack encourage her to board a lifeboat. While intending only to save himself, Cal claims he can ensure he and Jack get off safely. As her lifeboat lowers, Rose realises she cannot leave Jack, and jumps back on board.

Cal takes Lovejoy’s pistol and chases Rose and Jack into the flooding first-class dining saloon. After using up his ammunition, he relents. Cal realises he gave his coat, and consequently the necklace, to Rose. He later boards a lifeboat by carrying a lost child.

After braving several obstacles, Jack and Rose return to the boat deck. The lifeboats have departed and passengers are falling to their deaths as the stern rises out of the water. The ship breaks in half, dropping the stern into the water. Jack and Rose climb onto the back of it, and ride it into the ocean. He helps her onto a wooden panel buoyant enough for only one person. He makes her promise that she will die an old woman, warm in her bed. Jack dies of hypothermia, but Rose is saved by a returning lifeboat.

The RMS Carpathia later rescues the survivors; on board, Rose hides from Cal enroute to New York City, where she gives her name as Rose Dawson which means everybody believes that she died including her mother and Cal. Rose says she later read that Cal committed suicide due to financial hardship as a result of the Wall Street Crash of 1929.

Back in the present, Lovett decides to abandon his search after hearing Rose’s story now finally understanding the human tragedy of the Titanic. Alone on the stern of the ship, Rose takes out the Heart of the Ocean, which was in her possession all along, and drops it into the sea over the wreck site. While she is seemingly asleep or has died in her bed, photos on her dresser depict a life of freedom and adventure. A young Rose reunites with Jack at Titanic’s Grand Staircase, applauded by those who died on the ship.

What’s to Like
The grand scale, the sound and music, the cinematography, the great tragedy bought to life, the strong acting.

What’s not to Like

One of the most expensive movies ever made was a gigantic as the RMS Titanic itself and many expected it to fail but instead it become one of the giants of movie history.  The romantic story and conflict of the movie are fictional and designed to make the real tragic story of the sinking of the Titanic more accessible.  While some have criticised using fictional character against a real world event it would be very hard to only based this on real people as even these people’s dialogue would have to be mostly made up given how many of the key figures in this disaster died.

The romantic and class struggle draw people into the first half of the movie.  You get a glimpse of the segregate life of the different classes but also how some, if not all, of the women in the higher class are living in their own kind of glided jail, never taken seriously in any discussions of consequence or able to make any substantial decisions of their own.  The awaking of Rose to life’s possibilities and her short lived intense romance with Jack hooked a lot of females into the story (and a few men), and the action packed last hour gets the majority of men (and a lot of women) intensely involved.  The practical and detailed models and the costumes make you feel life you are on the gigantic boat and back in 1910s.  

We know the RMS Titanic is going to sink, we don’t know the fate of all the fictional characters which leaves some mystery in the story right until the end when the older Rose is revealed to have ended up with the ‘Heart of the Ocean’ which the modern day treasurer hunters had been looking for at the start of the movie.  There are some scenes that come off as very cheesy (‘I’m the King of the World’) but the movie does have a lot of heart; the musicians playing until the ship sinks, the desperate mothers saying goodbye to their children, the shame some of the survivors are experiencing while waiting in life rafts to be rescued.

While all the actors were either good to very good Kate Winslet was outstanding and most years would have won Academy Award.  The movie furthered Leonardo DiCaprio career to even greater heights.  The two of them made you believe they actually cared greatly for each other.   Billy Zane (Cal Hockley) was excellent as the ‘villian’ of the piece.  The movie having him live was also a bold but right choice.  The sinking of the Titanic didn’t distinguish between the good or the bad, in fact the male passengers who survived had to put themselves first so having Cal Hockley fit in well with the movie, and having Jack Dawson’s friends and Jack himself die tells the tragedy overall better than having some or any of this third class passengers survive. 

This is epic filmmaking at it’s finest.  A modern masterpiece. 

Academy Awards

  • Best Picture – winner
  • Best Director (James Cameron) – winner
  • Best Cinematography – winner
  • Best Art Direction-Set Decoration – winner
  • Best Costume Design – winner
  • Best Sound – winner
  • Best Film Editing – winner
  • Best Effects, Sound Effects Editing – winner
  • Best Effects, Visual Effects – winner
  • Best Music, Original Song – winner
  • Best Music, Original Dramatic Score – winner
  • Best Actress in a Leading Role (Kate Winslet) – nominee
  • Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Gloria Stuart) – nominee
  • Best Makeup – nominee

About Nathan

A World traveller who has so far experienced 71 countries (76 by June 2023) in this amazing world.
This entry was posted in Movie Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s