Showcase: Ship of dreams

Posted on April 7, 2012


Is it coincidence or shameless promotion (perhaps self-promotion) that James Cameron timed his dive into the ocean’s depths just ahead of the re-release of his film about that large and unfortunate ship that dove into the icy Atlantic? (You might have heard about the movie. Something called Titanic. Made a mere billion-plus dollars around the world.) Had it been True Lies 3-D in our theatres, this week, would we have witnessed Cameron ascend to the heavens instead, on whatever today’s equivalent of a Harrier jet is? A more pertinent question may hinge on whether this publicity circus is necessary. We are, after all, talking about the highest-grossing movie of all time (without adjusting for inflation, and until Avatar, also by Cameron, coolly walked away with that title). Don’t people already know that they want to watch Titanic 3-D? The film could sail into theatres with little more than an announcement of show times and it would still (as the ear-shattering song over the end credits declared) go on and on.

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Cameron endeared himself to no one when he clutched his Oscar (the film won eleven) and crowed, “I’m the king of the world.” But his elation was justified. Ever since the film was announced, it made news for all the wrong reasons. There were budget overruns. Two studios had to share costs. It had become, at the time, the most expensive movie ever made, and box-office prognosticators were near-united in their belief that the film, like the vessel it is named for, would sink like a stone. But there’s a reason Hollywood is home to so many stories of hope in the face of deepest despair. Titanic opened on December 19, 1997, and turned into something of a Christmas miracle, earning over $20 million for twelve straight weekends. A simple success would have made Cameron happy, but a hit of this magnitude could only seem like vindication from the gods for his perseverance, for his efforts, for his vision, for his faith.

All these years later, some of us still wonder what it was about the film that struck such a collective worldwide chord. Was it the unprecedented scale of the production? Was it the doomed love story between a boy and a girl from opposite sides of the tracks, a narrative arc so timeless it would have played equally well in an amphitheatre in ancient Athens? (The song at the end, of course, would have been belted out by a Greek chorus.) Or was it simply Leonardo DiCaprio, who was dying in the name of love for the second consecutive year, after 1996’s Romeo + Juliet? If Hollywood knew the answer, it would have been assimilated, by now, into an assembly line. The sole note of dismay about the film’s staggering success is that it snatched from us one of the greatest pure-action filmmakers of all time. Now that he’s become ambitious and begun to dispense touchy-feely eco-homilies set on distant planets, Titanic 3-D may be the last we get to see of James Cameron, king of the B-movie world.

An edited version of this piece can be found here.

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Posted in: Cinema: English