Arts & Entertainment

‘Titanic’ revisited

Originally released in 1997, “Titanic” has been rereleased for another theatrical run for its 25th anniversary.

For its 25th anniversary, “Titanic,” has returned to theaters. With the film’s famous visuals and classic love story of Rose and Jack, it is sure to be worth seeing in a larger format. The VHS tapes that most may have watched on a tiny boxed television are nothing compared to seeing it on the big screen. Unfortunately, most showtimes are in 3D this time around, which isn’t as comparable to its original release, and the audience’s theater etiquette left much to be desired (perhaps most of them had seen the film before and that was the reason for their chatting and phone use), but the beauty of the film remains intact. 

Painting by Teufelbeutel via Wikimedia Commons | Sea Trials of RMS Titanic, 2nd of April 1912

As a child and throughout my early teens, whenever I wanted a good cry I’d pull out the two set VHS tapes from my mother’s movie cabinet and watch “Titanic.” The film made an impact on me, and every time I watched it, the tragedy of the real event hit me pretty hard. At some point, into young adulthood, I stopped watching “Titanic” as often as the awe had worn off. I still loved the film, but I didn’t need to watch it so frequently. 

The VHS tapes were a charming memory associated with the film, and I only ever watched a digital version of it one time. I had always heard that in 1997 when the film was released, it was hugely popular; people saw it in the theater multiple times. Alissa Wilkinson from Vox described the phenomenon as “not just a formative experience but the formative experience, a movie they watched in the theater two or 12 or 25 times and countless times on cable TV since.” I could relate to this, of course, and it made me very curious about what the theater experience must have been like when the film was released.

Director James Cameron is at his best with special effects, spectacle, and a wonderful sense of scale. This film includes all of these things flawlessly. It was made 25 years ago, and impressively much of it holds up, while the other parts that don’t simply come across as charming nowadays. Some wide shots with little rubbery CGI people drew a chuckle out of me, but they did not distract from the movie. 

The dialogue is a bit stiff and overly flowery at times, particularly when viewing it through an adult lens rather than a wide-eyed child’s gaze. It is admittedly hard not to chuckle at some moments that have since been endlessly joked about, such as the “I’m flying, Jack!” scene at the bow of the ship and “draw me like one of your French girls” moments. The film is often pegged as a “chick-flick” and strictly a romance for these reasons, but it has a good amount of action moments. When it’s seen in a movie theater rather than on a television screen, this is even more apparent. 

Photo by Paramount Pictures | A screengrab from the movie.

The costume and production design in this film are the main standouts. I marveled at Kate Winslet’s glittering gowns as a child, and felt no different watching it now. It never ceases to amaze me how perfect the replica of “Titanic” was, especially in stark contrast to the haunting images of it underwater. 

In a behind the scenes feature, the Art Director Martin Laing said, “We’re actually building this as they built it on the Titanic. We’re not building it as a film set; we’re building it as a real staircase that can actually take quite a bit of damage with water and things like that.” 

It is clear Cameron cared deeply about the subject– the attention to detail is impeccable. 

The duo of Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio are quintessential to the heart of this film, of course, and their chemistry is off the charts, but the real appeal is the recreation of the historical event. The entire sequence of the boat sinking is heart-racing and horrific, and the magnitude of the disaster is truly encompassed. The practical water effects and sets make the whole ordeal feel extremely realistic, and the CGI for the wider shots was breathtaking. Roger Ebert at the time described the effects as “convincing and seamless,” and though one can pick at the seams now, it holds true overall. 

A particular shot that stood out during this viewing, was when the ship was sinking and a flare was shot into the sky. Cameron cuts away from the action to a wide-shot shot of the ship in the far vast emptiness of the ocean. This choice emphasizes the hopelessness and terrifying truth of the situation. It was hard not to have a visceral reaction to this imagery. Throughout this showing, I felt a familiar knot in my stomach, one that grew similar to one I felt as a child. The panic on screen was contagious, and Cameron draws out emotion expertly. Paired with Celine Dion’s iconic song “My Heart Will Go On,” even if it’s perhaps dated, it is difficult not to be affected. This memorable motif that used to bring me to tears as a child still has a similar effect.

If one has not seen it in the theaters, it is absolutely worth doing (if you can manage to sit there for nearly three and a half hours). As someone who grew up with the tapes, it was moving to see it in the theater for the first time – and yes, I still cried at the end.