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Retroactive Reelz – Titantic (1997)

'Titantic' (1997)


I wanted to start off this new entry to my column with a film that incorporates everything you would want in a Hollywood classic. Yes, we all know how it ended, but the journey to that point is what made this film the first to reach the billion-dollar mark at the box office and one of the most decorated films of all time. “Titantic” won nearly 90 awards across the globe and 11 out of 14 Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director. It picked up an additional 47 nominations, three Grammy Awards and ranks among AFI’s best in the past century on several unique lists. And considering this very week marks the 102nd anniversary of the tragic sinking of the luxurious ocean liner, there is no better film to feature and look back on.

Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet in "Titantic"
Paramount Pictures

It’s 1996, aboard a research vessel in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean and Brock Lovett (Bill Paxton) is running out of time. You see for the past three years he has been searching the wreck of the RMS Titantic for a necklace with a rare blue diamond, dubbed ‘the Heart of the Ocean.’ After retrieving a safe from a first-class states room, Lovett and his crew were thinking this had to be it. But, when they cracked open the safe, the only diamond they found was within a drawing of a woman dated April 14, 1912. Turns out that woman was Rose Dawson Calvert (Kate Winslet), a passenger on her way to the U.S. with her mother and fiancé Cal Hockley (Billy Zane). A short time later, one Rose Dawson Calvert (Gloria Stuart), now 100 years old, was in transit to the vessel with her daughter. Upon arrival, she asks to see her drawing which instantly brought back memories she hadn’t visited in quite some time. Soon after that, she began to tell Lovett and his crew her amazing story aboard Titantic before and after its ultimate demise.

Looking back, it’s easy to say both Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio were destined for stardom, but at the time it wasn’t as clear. Sure, Leo had wowed us in a couple films like “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape” and “The Basketball Diaries,” but as good as he was in each of those films, it was this role that allowed him to break through. And really, the same can be said for Kate Winslet, who while starring in films like “Heavenly Creatures,” “Jude” and “Sense and Sensibility,” it was this role as Rose that put her on the map. So, it’s impressive to think director James Cameron was able to get these two in the same film given how natural it felt to watch them together. And yet, we have not seen them together in the same film since, which after 17 years is a bit surprising. But, I guess that’s another reason to pop in the DVD to watch this story, as their chemistry together, given all that was going on around them, was incredible. That said, there were a couple notable supporting acts to look back on and remember. One was Kathy Bates, who in limited time made her impact as only Kathy Bates can. And then there was Billy Zane, who played the most hated man in the film, Cal Hockley. I’ve always said, if you make whoever is watching your film hate you, you have done one heck of a job as the bad guy, so props to Zane for making that happen here. Too bad he wasn’t ever able to follow it up, as the 47 on-screen performance’s since that time are in films you either never heard of or never saw.

For those that don’t know James Cameron for anything but “Avatar” and this film, shame on you. Then again, outside those two films, the guy really hasn’t done much else the past two decades. A few documentaries here and there, but outside of that, is really known for everything leading up to and through “Titantic.” Films like “The Terminator,” “Aliens” and “The Abyss” helped shape what we see now and “Avatar” clearly is what the future will hold. Cameron is a visionary in a lot of the same ways that Steven Spielberg has been for so many years. And with “Titantic,” showed the world a new kind of film; romantic disaster. That almost doesn’t make sense, but after watching this film again recently, it’s exactly that, plus some drama you just can’t fake. Cameron made this film because of his fascination of shipwreck’s, so to then add in the emotional message and deliver it the way he did within its tragic story is truly unheard of. Some see this film differently, though, due to the unprecedented hype and the $200 million budget, which was a record back then. That’s too bad, because when I think back, people were going to see this 194-minute film two or three times. I mean this film was number one at the domestic box office for 15 straight weeks and stayed in theaters a total of 10 months. That speaks volumes to the overall entertainment value it held and still holds to this day, proving Cameron’s own trust in what he created.


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