The name says it all; both budget-wise and movie-wise. The ship was called "Titanic", but the movie could easily have been called "Blockbuster". Director James Cameron has left no block of ice unturned in creating this fantastic and captivating voyage that contains many more than a few thrills along the way. Those involved in various facets of the production, ranging from the writers of historical documents about the ship to the actors and crew to survivors of family from that era, have remarked upon how struck they were either when viewing the life-sized sets or the finished film itself. And therein lies perhaps the greatest magic of the movie: the fact that while watching it, the viewer is transported to another time and place in a way which unexpectedly makes a famous moment in history become a startling and fierce reality. Buying a ticket to this movie is as close as any of us will ever get, or want to get, to buying a ticket to board the real Titanic (even those who could have afforded the real thing).

Copyright (c) Twentieth Century Fox. All rights reserved.
Photo: Merie W. Wallace.

The cleverly constructed script manages early on to destroy any preconceptions the viewer may have. Starting off with a contemporary image of the search for the lost vessel, familiar both in attempt and technique to a modern eye, we are shaken from our historical perspective. The utilization of the Frazier lens system makes this voyage of image transitions and cross fades between present and past glory days an amazing experience to behold. While we get our sea feet and understand what is taking place before our very eyes, we delay any further expectation of what is yet to come. Director Cameron, as a matter of fact, had decided he would not pursue the project unless he could film the actual remains of the Titanic himself and was eventually able to make 12 dives to the wreck site with two submersibles after solving the logistical problems of creating a camera that could withstand pressures and temperatures experienced at a depth that had never been filmed before. The images and overlapping crossfades of the final film call up the ghosts from the past.

In an extremely clever move, is computer simulation reveals exactly what occurred to the ship on that fateful April day in 1912. Once this has been established, the foundation has been laid for an easy comprehension of what happens when we ourselves, as viewers, reach the point when the disaster begins. 1,500 people died in icy North Atlantic waters on that day and this film will show you exactly what that means. As the veritable **** begins hitting the propeller, so to speak, everyone starts getting sucked into the action. Suddenly the Titanic is no longer an event on a written page, but a horrifying moment in real time.

Two binding elements continue to shift us back and forth while managing to keep equal interest sufficiently attached to each. One is the relationship between the past and present of the ship and the second is the relationship between the people on board and their extended effect upon others in the present. Both are historically based, but the second is reinforced by confrontation through the medium of the movie. As we watch, the people on board are able to bring the message home.

One begins to wonder, while watching, if the story unraveling is based upon actual fact, so impressive and convincing are the details. The central love story, however, is a work of fiction, which in no way lessens its charm. A simple story of an engaged couple and a free willed, free-wheeling boy from steerage. Rose DeWitt Bukater (Kate Winslet) is not overjoyed about her approaching marriage to the handsome, but heartless and very rich Cal Hockley (Billy Zane) and is rescued from a fate worse than death (?) by the equally, but differently handsome and, unfortunately, poor Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio). Jack spots her immediately and finally finds an opportunity to meet her when she contemplates jumping ship. Saving the moment, little does he know what lies in store. Nevertheless, love finds a way to make their time together happy and meaningful. (After all, they still have five days.) The passenger list is also sprinkled with real characters from the pages of history such as the notorious Molly Brown (Kathy Bates), Captain E.J. Smith (Bernard Hill), the White Star Line managing director Bruce Ismay (Jonathan Hyde) as well as the unforgettable master shipbuilder and primary architect of the Titanic, Thomas Andrews (Victor Garber). The acting is superb, but the ship remains the star.

Most noticeable, fascinating, and captivating is the actress Gloria Stuart, who plays the modern day Rose, with a silken voice and a magic presence. She ties together the past and present, and it is with a wonderful hint of humor that we see the fortune hunters enraptured by her words. She is that wonderful thing called a "storyteller" that people have long since forgotten. The 87-year-old actress, who would spend two hours each day being aged by make-up artists, actively pursued her career in the 1930's when she appeared in such classics as Busby Berkeley's "Goldiggers of 1935," John Ford's "Air Mail," and that classic horror film "The Old Dark House".

Director Cameron has undoubtedly succeeded in reaching his objective, which he tells us is, "to show not only the dramatic death of this infamous ship, but her brief and glorious life as well. To capture the beauty, exuberance, optimism and hope of Titanic , her passengers and crew and, in the process of baring the dark side of humanity underlying this tragedy, celebrate the limitless potential of the human spirit. For Titanic is not just a cautionary tale - a myth, a parable, a metaphor for the ills of mankind. It is also a story of faith, courage, sacrifice and, above all else, love."

The score by James Horner has the haunting quality of an Irish lullaby or dirge and, although captivating from beginning to end, will probably be most notably remembered by the song "My Heart Will Go On" as performed by Celine Dion. Functioning as a leitmotif throughout the film, the main theme is reflected and accommodated by the film's structure which builds, develops, turns, and grows in a cinematically symphonic form.

A three hour movie can often be too long to fulfill an audience's expectations; this film manages to sustain the audience's attention with panache. Undoubtedly the kind of film Americans especially love, filled with excitement, thrills, and tears, it is bound to find its following around the world. Does this make "Titanic" unsinkable? Looks like it.

Try to see it before it starts picking up all those Oscars.

What a way to go!

© 1994-2006 The Green Hartnett