Friday, June 23, 2006

The 13-Year Old Girls Got It Right

Tom the Dog posts about some "classics" that he hates. Fair enough. But in the process, he slogs fairly heavily, as many, many have before him, against the mega-successful Titanic. And in some senses, I think he's being a little unfair.

See, like many film critics at the time (Titanic has a reputation for being slammed by critics, but a lot of the sniping came after it proved so mega-successful--a large majority of the initial reviews were fairly glowing) I think Titanic is brilliant, and very much deserved its Oscar. The film uses its epic length very well, is very well-acted (when has Kate Winslet NOT BEEN good?), and the structure is ingenious. As Ebert pointed out, they show us the mechanics and timing of the ship's sinking early on, so that when it actually happens, we know what is happening logistically and can focus on the people.

And it's the people's reactions that make the film - the disorientation, panic, horror, and numb fatality that the passengers go through as the ship slowly sinks was all executed with perfect pitch. I felt the tragedy, and was really moved by what was happening. Sure, the central romance is a little hokey, but when did that become a crime? When did classic, "love at first sight," star-crossed, big and bold romantic devotion become too cool for school? I don't know, but it ain't too cool for me.

And the famously derided dialogue? There seems to be this notion out there that a good film has to have "clever" or "witty" or "well-written" dialogue. Not true. Listen around you - you'll hear plenty of bad dialogue. Film as a medium has dozens of elements it can use to its advantage, and what we can easily forget (or willfully ignore) is that great films can achieve greatness by focusing on only some of them. Some films are "about" language. Some are "about" spectacle. One approach is not inherently better than another. Titanic is not about language; it's about visuals and structure. And it executes those elements with aplomb.

I should frame all of this by admitting that I haven't seen the film in its entirety since its release. But I'd like to revisit it again; I certainly remember the last hour and a half or so, the slow and inexorable sinking of the ship, as just masterfully executed. It's easy to bash the super-popular (see Forrest Gump for another example of a well-reviewed, popular film that started to get bashed once it became evident that it was going to be a huge hit), but the fact remains that sometime--sometimes--the public gets it right.

Until Whenever


Jaquandor said...

Oh, thank God -- I'd despaired of ever agreeing with you again! :)

I've watched the film many times since its initial release, and it's still an amazing work. The backlash against it just might be the most mystifying backlash of all time, in terms of its duration (just try getting anyone to admit to liking that film today) and its viciousness (I've seen the film listed on a lot of "Worst Movies Ever" lists).

I think you nail it with the "too cool for school" bit. Stories that aren't inherently cynical just aren't taken seriously at all anymore, which is a big reason why I think so many people loathe the Star Wars prequels.

I heartily recommend the recent Deluxe DVD package, incidentally. The screenplay's original ending was significantly different from what eventually came out, but those scenes were actually filmed, which I didn't know. You can now see this alternate ending (it's present day stuff -- not "Hey, the boat's supposed to sink!") along with a slew of deleted scenes that are all pretty interesting in themselves.

Tosy And Cosh said...

Cool - it's on the list of "movies I need to rewatch," which unfortunatley usually gets kicked in the teeth by "movies I have to see for the first time" and "TV shows I need to see." I just love that everyone, critics included, seems to forget how rapturous the reviews were. Critics don't mind praising popular movies, but super-crazy popular movies they seem to be averse to praising too much.

Roger Owen Green said...

I didn't lOVE Titanic, but I thought it was damn clever howew it combined the (TERM WIFE HATES) chick flick with the disaster movie.

I think my antipathy for Forrest Gump had more to do with my perception of its politics (and subsequent analysis that confirmed that POV) rather than its craft. That and its fairly mediocre soundtrack, which I own for a half dozen sonngs I don't have otherwise.

Tosy And Cosh said...

I've never thought of Gump as a political film, really, although I know your complaint is common.

tomthedog said...

Nope, still don't like it!