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.


  • dsm says:

    While I was a huge fan of Titanic when it came out, it was more the story of the tragedy, than the story of forbidden love, that affected me. I still remember when the musicians came back together to play as the ship went down--that was when I lost it. The love story was nothing new, but the fact that Cameron made the ship come alive--that was worth the accolades.
    However, I take umbrage with the Disney comparisons. The 2D animated characters in Disney's films of the 1990's were much more realistic than the characters in Cameron's film. I think you owe Aladdin, Jasmine, and even Jafar, an apology. 🙂

  • Heather says:

    Whatever....I absolutely loved this movie!

  • jamie_m says:

    hmmm, yes I quiet agree with you,, so what you're saying is,, you like the bit at the end when the boat sank,, me too!!!!

  • Alex says:

    I don't get the hatred for this film. I still enjoy it, personally and I certainly don't consider it "bad". In my opinion people hate it for a few petty reasons: 1. Buyer's remorse. We're wired to hate things after the fact if they get too popular - Avatar's getting the same treatment and will probably be on a "bad movies we love" list in a decade too. 2. People do not respect James Cameron. What if Martin Scorsese's name had been on it? 3. Celine Dion (even though we only ever hear her over the closing credits; it's not as if her voice comes blaring over the drawing scene. Had Cameron been able to get Enya to do the score has was his original intent (which is why James Horner composed the best album Enya never recorded) and Enya had sung Heart Will Go On, would the same hatred be there? As for performances and dialog - well the original Star Wars, the Titanic of its day, had some of the worst performances and dialog of any film in history, and I don't see people knocking it.

  • Greg says:

    Yeah when people say they hate Cameron or he's not a good director that means either A.) they hate his unparalleled success, or B.) they wouldn't know a good flick if it hit them in the face. And there are even people who dislike Avatar that use that as a basis for disparaging his whole career. This guy made four of the greatest sci-fi movies EVER, two of which are sequels. That's unheard of.
    Titanic is an excellent movie on so many levels. The characters are mostly not very complex but it's not the point. You can call cliche on the whole "poor boy meets rich girl and they fall in love" story, but it's essential in making the film work. A huge part of the tragedy was the segregation of classes and how poor people never stood a chance. The love story allows the film to explore that very well. Also, Leo and Kate bring genuine chemistry to the romance and there love at first site is believable and affecting. Obviously it worked for millions of people who cried at the end.

  • joshalyn says:

    Titanic makes me want to cry its a very said movie.

  • Maya says:

    Yes! I agree completely. I can recognize the cliches you speak of and the fact that the dialogue isn't stellar, but that doesn't take away from the fact that Leo and Kate have amazing chemistry or from the heartbreaking tragedy that was the Titanic.

  • This movie make's me inspired because of their love for each other even though their lives are not the same. Even the time and years past rose is always reminding her love to jack.

  • millie says:

    omg love the film if I was born in 1912 my birthday would have been on the day that the Titanic sunk. the move was on t.v. I recorded it and i watched it over ect in the end i got it on dvd so I could watch it in bed as well lol

  • oh my god this is famous movie ever ilove yu leo and kate

  • netbuffs says:

    This movie is abysmal and hard to watch, but it somehow managed to get an Oscar for best makeup, even though the makeup — even for 1987 — is bad.