James Cameron’s Titanic (1997) – An Ode to the Ocean / Thoughts & Review (2023)

James Cameron’s Titanic (1997) – An Ode to the Ocean / Thoughts & Review (2023)

In the wake of Oceangate’s catastrophic deep dive to the Titanic’s resting place, we’ve heard James Cameron speak up with great clarity and knowledge on the company’s dubious security practices. That, compounded with everything else the director had already accomplished vis-à-vis the ocean, somehow prompted me to re-watch Titanic (1997), and serve you with a fresh review of the story.

For this review, I won’t be necessarily talking about the outstanding production quality levels, or how beautifully the movie has been put together. That’s been talked about over a million times and James Cameron’s skills as a director I’m assuming need no introduction. The movie’s fantastic, it’s a classic, we’re amazed every single time we return to it, which is why it still pumps out money 25 years after the facts, and we know it.

Love of the ocean

James Cameron’s love for the ocean and its underwater wonders is getting close to legendary. Although at the time, Titanic itself being such a massive blockbuster, it could be taken out of that context, especially considering how marketing always promotes its big titles and when the love story is half the screen time, and assumed it to be just yet another Hollywood success, a fantastical catastrophe movie, similarly to Deepwater Horizon, warning viewers about the consequences of human stupidity.

You could also assume that James Cameron was just yet another massive Hollywood director, someone who keeps the money flowing, instead of an artist passionate about the ocean. We hadn’t seen him go far down enough the path of that calling, since, for instance, he achieved his new world record of diving to the Mariana Tranch and visiting the Titanic’s final resting place only later on.

But then, Sanctuary (2011) advertised as being from the “creator of Titanic and Avatar” rolled out, and we saw another facet of that love for deep underwater explorations. And again, Avatar: Way of the Water, until, Cameron gained another layer of publicity after he spoke out on prior security concerns regarding OceanGate’s expeditions to the Titanic’s resting place, and showcased his expertise to much acclaim.

it’s become clearer and clearer just how committed to oceanic pursuits Cameron really is. So after I decided to dive back into Titanic, I was able to watch it with yet another layer of newfound appreciation for it. I always enjoyed the epic retelling of the catastrophe aspects (to quote character Mr. Bodine “Pretty cool, huh?”), and the cinematic, dramatized quality of this re-telling, but watching it now in context helped understand better one of the messages that Cameron has been trying to transmit for a while now, to respect and work with nature if you don’t want it to turn against you.

The catastrophe of the sinking

I sincerely appreciated the respect Cameron has towards the ocean and the strength of water, I believe it’s that very respect that made him safely and successfully conduct diving expeditions to the wreckage of the Titanic so many times, unlike in recent events, where, so it seems, once again human hubris caused unnecessary deaths.

Speaking of human hubris, one of the movie’s best part surely is how Cameron never shied away from lavishly showing the atrocities of death, that come as the harsh consequences of messing with the laws of physics. Once again, similarly to Deepwater Horizon, the movie shows how a perfectly fine situation can crescendo to the point of no return, until the only appropriate reaction is to facepalm intensely at the perfectly avoidable catastrophe.

People screeching at the top of their lungs as water engulfs the ship, the water’s pressure breaking the sanctuary of the dining room’s glass dome, passengers being whooshed back inside the ship because of the water’s current, the general complete panic breaking loose when it becomes clear as day (maybe not the best appropriate word here…) that the ship is indeed sinking, all of it playing over the sound of one of the soundtrack’s most dramatized, gorgeously melodious track in the background. Absolutely magnificent.

Titanic is as sympathetic as possible while it mourns the loss of human life blameless in the ship’s fate. There’s a great mix of understanding how powerful the element of water can be, while still admiring it for its more pleasing attributes. A full portrait of the ocean, dangerous but dreamy at the same time.

By far, my favourite scene remains Mr. Andrews slapping some sense into Mr. Ismay. I was quite taken with the way Mr. Ismay so candidly reaffirmed the vainglorious belief him and his peers so self-satisfyingly passed around, before being reminded that man-made delusions don’t hold weight in the face of implacable logic and immovable facts. Brilliant.

Deleted Scenes

For this journey of rewatching Titanic, I also stumbled across the movie’s deleted scenes. While I can see why they were ultimately removed (the film’s length was already close to The Fellowship of the Ring either way), I do think some of them added more context, and the story would have benefited from these scenes like icing on the cake.

For instance, scenes of Rose’s character genesis, especially with fiancé Cal, explains her premises fairly well. In deleted scene #2, where she rips her corset off may, especially at the time, have fitted too much into the idea of women being “hysterical” in the eyes of men who don’t understand the consequences of their actions and freely mislabel emotions they can’t understand or recognize they caused. But the scene where Cal coddles up to Rose, where her maid practically flees from the room, and Rose is visibly uncomfortable, added some more dimension to their relationship, confirming Rose is in arranged marriage she is opposed to, with its implications that she does not feel sexually comfortable with her fiancé one damn bit. While Rose’s character is already pretty sympathetic and easy to side with, these scenes just add a bit more to it.

Could Jack Have Survived?

A telltale sign this movie is getting old, is how much time people have had time to tear it apart and debate it from bow to stern. We’ve had arguments regarding the seemingly most controversial part of the film ranging from frustrated to downright aggressive, and which all express the same thing deep down: that everyone is sad Jack had to die. That his death was needless. The collective frustration coming from his death has had people go down all kinds of wish fulfillment roads, down to reenacting his death scene and see if he, ultimately, could have fitted on that damn plank. People have gone all the way to vilify Rose every which way they could out of that frustration.

I don’t particularly care about this, because, the way that I see it, as much as Jack’s death was a blow, it was obvious it was just a narrative decision to dramatize Rose’s tale of survival, and act as a cataclysm to her decision to stick to the right path for her. As frustrating as it is, it’s not exactly like the ending of Inception, which is more open-ended (irony has it that Leonardo Di Caprio also stars at the lead there…), and thus has more potential for debate. The Titanic ending was final, and had solid narrative reasons for happening, and fighting it is a little bit like going against fate. Dude’s dead, get over it.

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