Bad Movies We Love, Oscar Week Edition: Titanic
Happy Oscar week, you third-class stowaways. Quoth the thespian Bill Paxton, "Are you ready to go back to Titanic?" The point is you're not. It's 2011 and we're still 192 years away from comprehending Titanic's world-paralyzing success, its Best Picture win, and Jack Dawson's hack drawing skills. He's just never going to get into Oberlin at that rate. You won't find explanation for James Cameron's sorcery here, but near, far, wherever you are -- you will remember and recoil at the royal badness of Titanic.
I remember watching news reports about families who took their kids to see Titanic more than 10 times. God. Why do you think they kept going back? My hypothesis: Dad loved the boobs; Mom thought the boobs were beautiful; the children couldn't believe their luck with these boobs. Grandpa leaned back and mused, "I remember boobs." I can't vouch for the other 190 minutes.
You remember all of Titanic's complicated characters, I'm sure. Here's Aladdin, played by Leonardo DiCaprio.
Street rat! Poor wise person infiltrating the upper crust! Sexy ragamuffin in neutral, well-fitted rags! He scores a ticket on the unsinkable ship's maiden voyage in a poker game.
Meet Jasmine (Kate Winslet), who is won over by Aladdin's charms. She is rich and heading to America with her morosely rich family. Her Bengal tiger's chilling in the second-class orchestra pit. Unfortunately, she's going to marry the dastardly vizier for reasons we all forget.
In a strange twist to my Agrabah metaphor, the vizier is not Jafar, but Beauty and the Beast's Gaston (Billy Zane). Mr. Zane's only 1/19 less creepy here than he was in The Roommate, which I just saw yesterday and can't believe exists.
(Pssst: The following man will be playing Jafar.)
Yes, DiCaprio's Jack Dawson, Winslet's Rose DeWitt-Bukater, and Zane's Nathan "Cal" Hockley may as well be animated characters from Disney films. They're that simplistic and expected. In fact, I often crudely refer to Titanic as "Disney on Ice." Except this time, the rescuers head so far down under that their skulls are preserved in a watery grave of patrician debris. Quip your way out of this, Bob Newhart.
Even among all the boring archetypes, the most annoying part of this movie is definitely the storytelling conceit. Bill Paxton plays a modern-day Titanic researcher and salvager who's looking for a lost jewel in the wreckage. He says important dialogue like, "Bob, we're launching. Do you see these submersibles going in the water?" He also seeks out 100-year-old Rose (Gloria Stuart) to relay her story of survival, which will hopefully give him clues to the big blue diamond called the Heart of the Ocean. Louis XVI once wore it, he says. I assume he got rid of it because it looked like a Ring Pop.
Just gorgeous. Turns out the pendant belonged to Cal, who gifted it to Rose like the Material Girl backup dancer he is. All Jack has to offer Rose is his basketball diary and River Phoenix posturing, but Rose thinks that's hotter than jewelry and ditches the rich suitor. They're star-crossed and on a big romantic Hindenburg, so you can imagine their ecstasy pangs here.
One interesting thing about Titanic is that all the memorable scenes occur within the first 90 minutes. Rose's suicide attempt at the bow of the boat, the haughty dinners, the cameos from the unsinkably pointless Molly Brown (Kathy Bates), Jack and Rose's lively jig, and the nude sketches all clock in before the third half-hour ends. It's easy to forget that a huge chunk of the movie is reserved for the disaster, which resembles an expensive water park with a fancy corpse theme.
I want to ride Buffoon Lagoon!
Of course, Titanic was the most expensive film ever made at the time of its release, so sometimes it stumbles upon some startling visuals. The ship looks real. The water looks wet. The Zane looks zany. And thank God: We need that splendor to save us from the movie's legendarily terrible dialogue. Some samples:
"[Rose] is a goddamn liar seeking money or publicity!" says one skeptical Titanic researcher to Bill Paxton's character. "Like that Russian babe Anastasia!"
Excuse me, sir. Anastasia was not Disney.
"Titanic was called the ship of dreams," says 100-year-old Rose at the start of the movie. "And it was. It really was."
I prefer to think of it as the barge of nocturnal emissions, but I'm willing to compromise. The worst lines of all are saved for Winslet, who gets to pedal through this haughty gem when she first resists Jack.
"What is this stupid thing you're carrying around? (Steals Jack's portfolio of drawings.) So what are you, an artist or something? (Glimpses at drawings.) These are rather good. (Glimpses again.) They're very good, actually. (Glimpses again.) Jack, this is exquisite work."
And behold, a romance and a cinematic legacy is born. So realistic, this shift from anger to passion in a matter of moments. Like that other classic, The Room! If Rose's aesthetic judgments weren't impressive enough, her math skills will dazzle you.
"I did the sum in my head," she says to the Titanic's designer as they stroll the deck. "And with the number of lifebaots times the capacity you mentioned, forgive me, but it seems like there aren't enough for everyone aboard."
That's right, Rose conducted some lifeboat arithmetic and the solution was FORESHADOWING. Embarrassing for me, moments like these.
Finally, a spoiler alert for people born after 2005: Jack dies in the ocean at film's end while Rose, who has fled several lifeboats to be with her déclassé beau, is saved. Let's close this out with one final look at why Dad, Mom, the kids, and Grandpa remember this flick so fondly.
Ah, that's right. Even Great-Grandma recalls when backseat schtupping was spacious and sensual. Her heart went on and on and on. In fact, she lost her virginity to René Angélil. I'm positive. Don't click this.