(1997) ★½

Sky Movies Drama/Romance: Monday 27 July, 20:00pm

The sinking of the Titanic is an enduring story of 20th-century man’s arrogance in an age of speed and comfort. The maiden voyage of the world’s largest, most luxurious ship had a grim date with destiny on the night of April 14th 1912. There have been many more catastrophic disasters since but few with the haunting resonance of the Titanic’s tragic fate. For complex social and political reasons, the story of the Titanic is a shared experience of human folly and heroism. James Cameron’s hyped up extravaganza chooses to ignore the significance of the event, opting simply to tell a trite love story that ends in the water. It is in no way a fitting memorial to the 1537 souls lost at sea in the early hours of April 15th. Worse, it is a travesty. The American ship Californian was less than 10 miles away yet ignored the Titanic’s distress flares. This integral component in the unfolding disaster is not merely skimped by Cameron, it is totally ignored. Why? By focusing solely on the insipid Romeo and Juliet romance between Leonardi DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, Cameron diminishes the tragedy’s devastating scale. “Size matters,” claims Cameron, missing the point – he merely replicates the hubris of Edwardian thinking on the ‘unsinkable’ ship. His sense of size relates only to his huge sets and the amount of screen time allotted to his twittering lovebirds. Cameron has made a Titanic for the MTV generation. His bloated romance lacks the humility and simple grace of the moving British film on the same subject, A Night to Remember. Titanic is more like another 1958 film, An Affair to Remember – soggy, ponderous and clichéd to the core: the steerage passengers are salt-of-the-earth types happily dancing drunkenly to Irish reels; the aristocrats are pompous, stuffed-shirt repressives; the crew is a collection of doughty Brit caricatures. Even so, most of them are more interesting than the limpid lovers sketched by DiCaprio and Winslet. He quotes Bob Dylan lyrics. She flips the finger to David Warner. In 1912. But the film’s failure as drama rests not with them. The director falters from the outset, airlifting an improbably sprightly 102-year-old survivor on to an Atlantic salvage ship. And history isn’t big enough for Cameron – in a laughably melodramatic lapse he has Billy Zane chasing the loving couple through the flooding ship, firing off shots. As for the heralded special effects, they are not always convincing and, in one awful crane shot swooping from bow to stern, clearly the work of computer imagery. James Cameron, the writer-director behind such soulless Hollywood product as Terminator 2 and True Lies, was never going to be the right man to tell the great story of the Titanic. It’s significant that among its 14 Oscar nominations, none was for the screenplay. Eleven Oscar wins, though, at the expense of L.A. Confidential. And yet not a single Bafta. Even in 1912, Heart of Darkness author Joseph Conrad recoiled from the Titanic fixation. “What are they after?” he asked, when the American Senate sought to attribute blame. “What is there for them to find out? We know what had happened. The ship scraped her side against a piece of ice, and sank after floating for two hours and a half, taking a lot of people down with her. A great babble of news and eager comment has arisen around this catastrophe, though it seems to me that a less strident note would have been more becoming in the presence of so many victims left struggling on the sea, of lives miserably thrown away for nothing, or worse than nothing: for false standards of achievement, to satisfy a vulgar demand of a few moneyed people for a banal hotel luxury.” My favourite response to Cameron’s crass blockbuster remains an old Seinfeld episode when Jerry and his pal George briefly discuss the film. “So that old woman – she’s a liar, right?” ponders George. “And a bit of a tramp, if you ask me,” says Jerry.

Certificate: 12
Duration: 195min