By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — It was the best film of its year, 1997, this towering epic, a romantic tragedy featuring an enthralling, fictitious love story told against the backdrop of the mythical real-life luxury liner disaster.
The record-setting performance at the box office of what was then the most expensive production ever made it, at the time, the highest-grossing juggernaut in movie history, which was amazing but understandable and well-deserved.
And its 14 Oscar nominations and 11 Oscars, including one for best picture and one for best director winner James Cameron, were more than merited.
Now, fifteen years later, it’s back in re-release, in all its three-hour-and-fifteen-minute splendor, on the 100th anniversary of the real-life sinking, in a conversion to the 3-D format that beckons viewers to theatres to see it on the big screen once again.
And it’s well worth the trip.
This is the tale, as if you didn’t know, of the ill-fated maiden voyage of the colossal ocean liner that struck an iceberg in April of 1912, taking with it the lives of 1,500 of its passengers.
Cameron’s tribute to them is both intimate and epic, a sweeping drama that stunningly recreates the doomed vessel and the unthinkable disaster in astonishingly vivid detail, its three-hours-plus running time seeming like a lot less. Despite the film’s length, there’s no slack whatsoever.
Virtually every moment of this unsinkable movie about a sinkable ship is either historically fascinating or emotionally enveloping.
Leonardo DiCaprio is Jack, a penniless artist returning to America from England on the Titanic‘s maiden voyage. Oscar nominee Kate Winslet is Rose, returning home to Philadelphia for her impending marriage to a wealthy fiancé.
When Rose meets Jack in steerage and invites him to dine at her first-class table, Jack borrows a tux but remains a novelty for his well-heeled new companions, as the ship continues toward the iceberg that we know is in its path.
As far as the 3-D conversion goes, although it undoubtedly would have been preferable to shoot the movie in 3-D in the first place, this dynamic offering joins Cameron’s Avatar and Martin Scorsese’s Hugo as the triumvirate that stand above their 3-D brethren and vividly make the case for the superiority of 3-D over 2-D viewing.
Or maybe they’re just the exceptions that prove the rule that 3-D is nearly always a letdown, an unnecessary add-on for the gullible viewer.
So don’t go just for the 3-D element. It enhances the experience ever so slightly, even though it also slightly dims the film’s brightness. But it’s hardly a necessity. Just see it on the big screen, especially if you have not before done so, because that’s the way larger-than-life movies — especially any great movie, which this magnificent achievement most certainly is — are meant to be seen.
Two things you may be more aware of this time than you were in the past: first, that this is no big, impersonal Hollywood project, but the unique, obsessive vision of a moviemaker whose stamp is on every last frame.
And, second, that the class conflict that is such a prominent theme throughout the narrative registers at this point in time not so much as rich versus poor but as 1 percent versus 99 percent.
Anyway, pardon us while we go overboard for all 4 stars out of 4. If any great movie deserves to be seen in a form as titanic as possible, it’s Titanic.