Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: two people from different social classes fall in love and then an event of some sort threatens to pull them apart. Now, stop me if you’ve heard this story told in under three hours. Under two and a half hours? Under two hours? Good. By now you can probably sense the primary issue I have with James Cameron‘s Titanic, which takes its time navigating through scene after scene of a relationship that’s fine but nothing special, all while we await a disaster we know is coming.
After all, most movies about the Titanic would probably be primarily about the ship and its inevitable fate. Cameron’s film focuses on this class disparity relationship for most of the time before disaster strikes, which grounds it and gives us more of an emotional attachment to people on board the ship, the film is perhaps a little excessive in this department. Or maybe it’s the overlong story framing device, which is set in 1996 and follows a bunch of people looking for a long-lost necklace as they interview a centenarian who was aboard the ship when it sank. The “real” movie is all told in flashbacks.
That story is about Rose (Kate Winslet) and Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio), the two lovers I mentioned earlier. She’s a rich upper-class passenger, while he just barely scraped together enough coinage at the last second. After a chance encounter and some playful fighting, they fall in love. Then the ship decides it no longer wants to be a part of this world, and you can guess what happens from there. Will they survive? Will one have to go on without the other? Will they both succumb to the icy water? Who cares?
Okay, I’m making fun. I cared. I was invested in their story. I would have appreciated it being an hour shorter, but you get what you get. The relationship feels real, it certainly gets enough time to develop, the rich vs. poor class stuff is handled well and serves as a way to get us to root for them even more, and you will probably cry at the way it all turns out. It’s powerful stuff.
The entire disaster is really thrilling, too. A lot of Titanic is just perfect, honestly. The cinematography is great, the score is tremendous, the acting from Winslet and DiCaprio is phenomenal, and their chemistry together is so easy, effortless, and effective. It really is just the length and pacing that bothers me. And the latter could have helped the former not feel like such a bother. It takes a while to get going and the occasional cut back to the 1996 storyline takes us out of the experience.
Titanic is a visual marvel that tells a really solid love story and also puts us right in the heart of a pretty incredible (and terrifying) disaster. It starts out slow and undercuts its immersion by cutting out of the story it tells in an attempt to frame it with a modern-day search for a necklace, but it’s still very effective at telling its primary story. It’s got fantastic filmmaking, great acting, and has the potential to make you shed more than a few tears over the course of its too-long time on the screen.
Conclusion: Titanic is a wonderful movie that would be about as close to perfect as you can get if it were either shorter or had better pacing to make it not feel as long as it is.
Recommendation: You really do need to see Titanic. Just make sure you block off an entire afternoon for it.