"Titanic 3D" is Just Sorta Sad Now (And Not Why You Think)

"Titanic" is as much about 1997 as 1912 as a touchstone of the hubris and optimism of an age; forgive me for saying so, but I believe it is much more difficult to make an earnest, naïve love story like this today.

Apr 6, 2012 at 10:00am | Leave a comment

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Like this, but flying at your face.

Sometimes, you watch a movie now that you realize has nothing left for you but nostalgic value. There are moments of Hey, it was cool when I was young schadenfreude (like the rap from "Teen Witch") or Man, they would never show this movie to kids today wonder (like that cracked out favorite, "Return to Oz").

I saw "Titanic" again last night, and while parts of it hold up better than others, what I felt for it was none of those things.

"Titanic" was the first, huge theatrical phenomenon of our generation, and the first one that I was old enough to appreciate. The fact that its scale -- huge budget, huge stars, huge everything -- had so much to do with the fact that it was released in 1997 makes me little sad for that time in my life, but also for that time, period.

I was 16. It was Christmas time and I remember assembling with group of friends from high school on opening night at the local cinema. We were highly caffeinated and young. I may or may not have been wearing overalls and Chucks. Clinton was president. Jeans were forgiving.
 
Sure, I was old enough to know that a lot of the movie was ridiculous, in that vague way that you know barbed wire bicep-cuff tattoos aren't going to be hot forever. But I wasn't so jaded by then that I couldn't appreciate the romance of it. Actually, I loved it: the sweeping Enya-inflected James Horner score, the guyliner-sporting Billy Zane, lovely young Leo, radiant young Kate, and spectacular special effects.

The sweeping drama did not translate well to the small screen, and, by the time the movie came out on DVD, my friends and I had already started making fun of it. This is around the age when you start appreciating things for their camp value, and "Titanic" is nothing if not full of camp.

That dialogue. Aisde from the inescapable “You jump, I jump, remember?” There were “Rose, you're no picnic, all right? You're a spoiled little brat, even, but under that, you're the most amazingly, astounding, wonderful girl, woman that I've ever known...” and “I’d rather be his whore than your wife!”

Then there were the loads of James Cameron movie silliness: anachronisms like women shouting SHUT UP and SHIT and smoking cigarettes prior to WWI, and regular silliness like Bill Paxton's bad highlights and an earring. And Kate Winslet’s lipstick the whole film is a bit off to me on repeat viewings. (I believe I had the same Bonnie Bell blackberry wine lipstain.)

But this is of course, nitpicking. "Titanic 3-D" is actually pretty fun as an experience. I'd go so far as to compare it to “Gone with the Wind.” Haters are gonna hate, but you can’t deny the similarities: corny love story, historic event, great special effects, box office records, Oscar wins and longevity. Oh, silly dialogue and historical inaccuracies. I'd venture to say that both are modern classics.

I know film lovers who have mixed feelings about the 3-D phenomenon, but seeing "Titanic" in IMAX almost 15  years later actually enhanced it for me. I’m either mellowing with age, or the movie is better than I remember it. The special effects surprisingly hold up. There are a few moments when the sweeping panoramic shots are very obviously little CGI people strolling about the deck; they look a little like Sims.

The fact that we're watching a story about immense wealth and the power of youthful love reminds me how enjoyable it is to watch that in financially-strapped, generally bleak times. (I believe the word you're looking for here is escapism). I suspend my disbelief at the door and watch the fairy tale, horror story, or one egomaniac’s vision and am ultimately entertained.

That’s what “Titanic” is -- and that's what it's here for now. Snicker and laugh at the dumb one liners, marvel at the beautiful young movie stars, stay for the disaster.

1997 feels like a very long time ago, and not just because I was still in short pants. They were just more optimistic times -- you opened yourself just a little more to the idea of a movie like "Titanic." Even the eventual backlash took a much, much longer time, without Twitter or Facebook or, really, reactive blog posts like this one.

"Titanic" is as much about 1997 as 1912 as a touchstone of the hubris and optimism of an age; forgive me for saying so, but I believe it is much more difficult to make an earnest, naïve love story like this today, especially on such an epic scale, for adults. The closest things we make to this today are obviously crafted for teenagers and usually have some kind of clear, "This isn't real" bent: superheroes, werewolves, et cetera.

We haven't created stars on their scale since. Who would play Jack Dawson if “Titanic" was made today? Today's heartthrobs may draw your screaming teenagers (and all right, screaming grown women) but it's hard to picture them with the kind of career longevity and prestige that Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet have managed.

A story like this can’t command our attention in the same way because the world has changed. We have been humbled as a generation and world by misfortunes and tragedies. We have grown cynical as audience members of things that large groups of people like. It didn't necessarily reflect on your age or reading habits to see "Titanic" -- it was, technically, historical romance, but nearly everybody you knew saw it. You can't necessarily say the same for the top box office draws of the past couple of years. "Harry Potter," "Twilight," and "The Hunger Games" share a different kind of DNA.

The main reason to see "Titanic" in theaters now is probably not the 3-D. It may be just to remember the first time you saw it. It surprised me to see that there were a lot of teens in the audience in 2012. They might have been seeing it for the first time, and maybe they only saw the flaws (in between texting during). It was hard to tell by the end of things, and I didn't ask them what they thought.

These weren't the same people I sat next to in the theater in 1997, but there was something comforting about the fact it was the same film I saw when I was 16, for better or worse.