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Titanic (1997)

He was a boy, and she was a girl.
Can it be any more obvious?
He’s lower class, she’s upper crust–
What more can I say?
He wanted her, she’d never tell
Coz she was betrothed to somebody else
And all of her friends stuck up their nose;
They had a problem with his ratty clothes.

Titanic is sweeping, epic romantic disaster movie written, co-produced, and co-edited by the god of epic movies, James Cameron. It features a soundtrack by James Horner and stars Leonardo “Inception” DiCaprio, Kate “Quills” Winslet, Billy “The Phantom” Zane, Kathy “Misery” Bates, Frances “Unforgiven” Fisher, Gloria “The Invisible Man” Stuart, Bernard “True Crime” Hill, Victor “Legally Blonde” Garber, Danny “Crimson Tide” Nucci, and Bill “Twister” Paxton.

In 1996, a treasure hunter named Brock Lovett (Paxton) and his team search the wreckage of the RMS Titanic for a necklace set with a large blue diamond called The Heart of the Ocean, last known to be in the possession of one Cal Hockley (Zane). Instead of the necklace, in Hockley’s safe they find a nude sketch of a young woman wearing the necklace, dated the night of the Titanic‘s sinking. An elderly woman named Rose Dawson Calvert (Stuart) learns of the drawing and contacts Lovett, telling him that she is the young woman in the drawing. She and her granddaughter visit Lovett’s team on their salvage vessel, revealing that she is actually Rose Dewitt Bukater, a passenger believed to have perished, and tells them the story of her experience aboard the Titanic.

In 1912, Rose (Winslet) boards the Titanic with her abusive boyfriend fiance Cal, the son of a wealthy steel tycoon, and her mother Ruth (Fisher), who plans to use Rose’s marriage to solve their family’s financial problems. Too bad Cal is a dick – so Rose plans to commit suicide by jumping off the stern of the ship, only to be rescued and dissuaded by Jack Dawson, a drifter and artist who won tickets for his voyage on the Titanic in a card game. Ruth and Cal forbid her to see Jack, considering him a bad influence, but she vastly prefers Jack to Cal, and the two enter into a whirlwind romance, two star-crossed lovers fated never to be together, while they evade the violently jealous Cal, with whom Rose wordlessly breaks her engagement by leaving in Cal’s safe Jack’s nude sketch of her wearing the Heart of the Ocean, intended as Cal’s engagement gift to her.

And somewhere along the way a ship sinks or something. I wasn’t paying attention.

I found Cameron’s recreation of the ill-fated Titanic to be absolutely breathtaking, rendered down to the tiniest detail like the patterns on the china. Something like this simply couldn’t be done believeably with models alone, and the CGI blends almost seamlessly with the live action shots in most scenes. Admittedly, in a few shots (like the iceberg strike) you could tell that certain things were fake, but they are quickly swept over by how completely amazing everything looked. I read that he’d researched the hell out of the Titanic for this movie, and it definitely shows. The costumes are beautiful, and the scenery shots are made even more beautiful for the fact that you know they’re all going to be trashed and flooded by the end.

To my surprise, the love story between Jack and Rose doesn’t seem shoehorned in; rather, the Titanic is a symbolic backdrop for the ultimate fate of their relationship. Both events carried the hope of a long and happy future, and both were doomed to utter failure. I did find the car sex to be a bit awkward, though; I mean, it’s only 1912, and people are already having sex in cars? I was very tastefully done, though, and more a factor of Rose trying to break away from her accepted role in society than Cameron going, “We need a sex scene here, viewers love boobs!” In fact, the only nudity was during the sketch scene, and elderly Rose was cheeky enough to point out that the salvagers were all thinking that OMG ROMANTIC ART SCENE would naturally turn to OMG SEX SCENE.

Even considering the retelling of a famous historical event, this movie had me engaged the whole way, to the point that I was genuinely in tears at the sight of all the floating bodies of those who had drowned or frozen to death in the wake of the sinking. I was expecting a straight-up disaster movie, but Cameron had taken it and made it into so much more. If you want a heartbreaking love story and/or a disaster movie that genuinely feels tragic, try Titanic.

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