Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Sh!#ting on the Classics: Titanic

Spoiler Alert!  The boat sinks.

"The most dreadful piece of work I've ever seen in my entire life."
--Robert Altman on Titanic

Titanic is proof that H.L. Mencken’s famous quote about “nobody ever [going] broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people” is still true. Titanic is laughably simplistic, grotesquely hypocritical, and endlessly long.

Oh!  I almost forgot! Titanic was also the highest grossing film in history until writer/director James Cameron topped himself with the similarly numb-skulled Avatar. Titanic won eleven Academy Awards. I am assuming the coveted “Mostest Stupidiest Oscar” was not among them.

When this pseudo-historic artifact was first foisted on the filmgoing public, not every critic was fooled... Kenneth Turan, writing in the Los Angeles Times, stated, "What really brings on the tears is Cameron's insistence that writing this kind of movie is within his abilities [...] it is not even close."

Cameron actually responded to Turan’s pan, complaining, "I don't share his view that the best scripts [...] flashily pirouette their witty and cynical dialogue for our admiration." I guess Cameron considers witty dialogue to be nothing more than an affectation. He must be a hoot at the dinner table.

Even the people who love this film subtly make a case against it. What follows is a sampling of user reviews from IMDB. Keep in mind these are from people who LOVE the film:

“Kworb” states, “This is a great movie. It's not boring, and the storyline might be clich√© but it's still beautiful and really sad, and almost got me crying.” Might I suggest that Kworb has embarrassingly low standards? All it takes for a movie to be “great” is to be “NOT boring” and ALMOST make you cry. By Kworb’s standards, the first time I had sex was a GREAT movie.

Boyo-2 boldly states, “I am a thirty-something guy who has seen thousands of movies in my life, and this one stands in its own entity, in my book.” Maybe I am unclear about the meaning of the word “entity” (I am not unclear about the meaning of the word “entity.”)  Is Boyo-2 suggesting that Titanic is great simply because it exists? Great news, Jack and Jill! You’re great too. Even though I wish you did not exist.

Jason Cresanto lays it on the line. “I grew a bit weary of hearing about [the] lame script and shallow characters. I went to see a ship sink.” It is nice to see that our friend Jason sets the bar so goddamn high.

Someone called “Dr. Lenera” suggests, “Titanic is flawed, definitely, sometimes greatly so. However, it's also a tremendous achievement for it's [sic] director James Cameron. Mixing a real disaster with romance is harder to do than some might think.”

Here I have to agree with Dr. Lenera; mixing romance with disaster is hard...
(please select from the following punch lines)   

    ...Just look at Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor!
    ...Just ask my wife (rimshot)!
    ...Especially if the romance IS a disaster!
    ...Loud Farting Sounds.

Here is my all-time favorite IMDB review of Titanic:  “Tommy” gushes, “One of The Best Movies At All The Times [sic]  [There] are great scents [sic] at this movie, and really this is more than a movie. [It] has an excellent score and song. [They] are so deep... also titanic [sic] has won 11 Oscars in 1998... Leo and Kate played very good at this movie. [Also] Kate Winslet is very beautiful actress... the start and end of this film was [sic] very good... the scent of [Jack’s] death was so deep. [In] my idea 14 Oscars nominations [sic] and 11 wining [sic] was worthy for titanic. absolutely it was the best movie of James Cameroons.”

Why on God’s green Earth has no major city newspaper stepped forward and given this young man a job? Life is unfair.  Tommy should be revoowing [sic] movie scents [sic].

Like George Lucas, Jim Cameron’s hubris lies in the fact that he believes he is a writer. Cameron was a helluva production designer, he stages big action scenes magnificently, and he is really, really good at getting married. He is not a writer.

Some examples of his art:

(seeing the boat is about to sink)
This is bad.


I promise.  I’ll never let go.
(She lets go)


(Pausing on their desperate journey away from an icy death)
Jack!  This is where we met!

Speaking of “Jack,” there is one more little problem with the dialogue. I will let no less an authority than Albert Brooks explain. “There are things I can’t stand in movies, that can be so easily fixed. Just to say [character’s names] all the time... it’s sloppy writing. I’ll tell you a fun game when you have nothing to do: watch Titanic and count how many times he says ‘Rose.’ It must be five thousand. I think he even says it underwater.”

Luckily, we don’t have to watch Titanic again (shudder). The Website FilmDrunkDotCom has done it for us!

Various characters (mostly Jack) say “Rose” 75 separate times in Titanic. The name “Jack” is repeated a total of 84 times! Let me grab my handy calculator... the movie is 194 minutes long... so “Jack” is mentioned about every two and a half minutes for more than three hours. It is the Titanic equivalent of Chinese Water Torture.

Unfortunately, Titanic has a far bigger problem than redundant and risible dialogue. What we have here is a fundamental disrespect for the victims of the very real Titanic tragedy. You must remember them -- St. Cameron asked for a moment of silence for the dead when he accepted his Oscar for shitting on their memory.

James Cameron decided to make a film about Titanic after masterminding diving expeditions to film the actual wreckage. Cameron told UK website Eyeforfilm.com that he “wanted to honor the people who died during the sinking, so [I] spent six months researching all of the Titanic's crew and passengers […] I read everything I could. I created an extremely detailed timeline of the ship’s few days and a very detailed timeline of the last night of its life. And I worked within that to write the script, and I got some historical experts to analyze what I’d written and comment on it, and I adjusted it […] I had a library that filled one whole wall of my writing office with ‘Titanic stuff,’ because I wanted it to be right…”

Cameron wanted it to be right, so he willfully tossed aside his “library” to make a jaw dropping, simple-minded film about two people who never existed. This is how Cameron honors the victims: by telling them, in effect, that their real stories are not worth telling, that he is going to replace their genuine tragedy with foolish melodrama.

I keep remembering the first time I saw the film. The only moment that rang emotionally true proved to be something that actually happened. The band did decide to continue playing to calm the passengers. I found it quite moving when the bandleader, realizing their shared decision had sealed their fates, turned to the other musicians and said, “Gentlemen, it has been an honor playing with you.”

The hubris behind turning real-life tragedy into an expensive backdrop for a “Boy Meets Girl, Boy Loses Girl on the Maiden Voyage of the Titanic” tale is staggering. The IMDB lists 41 factual errors, 25 anachronisms, 70 continuity errors, and five errors in geography — there is the proof of just how badly James Cameron “wanted it to be right.” In fact, when asked why the film never references the Californian (the ship that was closest to the Titanic but did not receive the distress call because the crew had turned off the wireless), Cameron responded that footage of the incident had been shot, but was left out because it undercut “the emotional truth of the rest of the film.”

The immense success of the film proves that James Cameron was right. Audiences were not interested in the true story of the Titanic, unless that story was tarted up with fiction, omissions, and lies. True lies.

Although it is hard to ascertain how much money Cameron personally earned from this film, most reliable websites peg his personal fortune at about 650 million dollars. Let us conservatively estimate that one third of his wealth comes from Titanic. That is roughly 210 million dollars.

On the night of April 15 in 1912, more than 1500 people died aboard the Titanic.  For falsifying their memories and exploiting their tragedy, James Cameron was paid roughly $140,000 per victim.

Nice work if you can get it, King of the World.

WAIT, THERE’S MORE!  To celebrate the centenary of the Titanic’s voyage, 20th Century Fox is rereleasing the film next April – in 3-D! I am not making this up.


  1. Gonna have to strongly disagree with you JB. The fact that "Titanic" has every one of the flaws you describe plus many you didn't even cover should have, like the boat accident it recreates, sunk the movie. It should have been a laughing stock, the "MST3K" equivalent of "Pearl Harbor" (a movie that tried to use the "Titanic" playbook right down to the love ballad during the closing credits, and fumbled big time) and a money-loser for everyone involved. But "Titanic" wasn't just popular, it was (and still is) a phenomenon in which the whole of the experience (music, scope of the production, then-cutting edge SFX, rich-vs-poor undercurrent, appeal of the heroes/disdain for the villains, etc.) adds up to something bigger than its parts, some of which are clunky. It’s a Hollywood blockbuster bankrolled by two studios and made by the “Terminator” guy with an obsession on the real-life tragedy. I’ll take them as I can get them and, if the flaws outweigh the positives, reject the bitch or embrace her like I did (and still do) “Titanic.”
    To me "Titanic" is why GOOD epic Hollywood movies are made and why they're enjoyed the world over. To take us to another time/place, watch characters we can relate to/like/despise (poor Billy Zane got typecast but he's so damn good) and experience vicarious thrills the way no TV show or written word could. The price for this experience is putting up with human flaws from imperfect human beings (Cameron's tin-ear for dialogue didn't start with "Titanic"). But, on the 'who gives a shit?' and 'I can live with that' scale, to me "Titanic" easily tilts toward the latter while its clearly way tilted toward the former in your case JB. The fact that it works as a sweeping fictitious love story/drama/thriller set in a historical setting for many of us its proof of just how good James Cameron is at the craft he's perfected all his life.
    There are many people that just wanted to see the boat sink and nothing more. The same way many girls went to the theater to see Leo and Kate fall in love without really caring about the boat. Cameron may have been just as interested in getting to the cool action beats and money shots of the boat going down. But he had the filmmakers' know-how that there had to be a character-related hook to keep audiences not only awake during the first half of the movie but also invested in their fate. If Cameron had kept it realistic and used real-life people for the narrative (like "A Night To Remember" did) he would have been limited by his ability to manufacture the pathos and drama of not only seeing Jack and Rose meet and fall in love, but also interact with real-life figures and settings.
    People came for the spectacle of seeing the big boat sink on the movie screens. Those people got their $8-10 worth. But many, like me, also left teary-eyed and touched at the sight of Jack and Rose meeting in the afterlife many decades after they met. James Horner's score in this and many other scenes of the movie is what pushes them from mere cinema to classic cinema. It's a Godly score.
    I proudly have the Criterion "A Night To Remember" DVD (i.e. "Titanic" for grown-ups) in my shelf. It's sitting right next to the three-disc "Titanic" set from Paramount that is OOP because one side of my brain appreciates one movie's attempts to take the Titanic tragedy seriously and the other one made the compromises necessary to get made (i.e. the appeal to young girls that got repeat business at the box office in '97-98) while still retaining enough heart and soul from the tragedy to make the 200 min. movie seem much shorter. Sorry for the long rant. As cool as it is now to shit on “Titanic” it’s simpler and easier for me to just watch the movie and let it overtake my movie-loving senses.

  2. Thank you JB, for once again (the other time was Top Gun) skewering another one of those movies my wife watches EVERY...DAMN...TIME it's on TV. You hit the nail on the head so many times I'm not going to regurgitate what you said. I will, however comment on the "Well, at least the boat sinking is cool/well done/etc." argument.

    Ok, yes, the effects are decent (for the time). And yes, Cameron is a good action director, but here's the thing. We all know the boat is doomed, so there's no suspense. For me, Cameron's greatest strength as an action director is his ability to show me things I didn't see coming or could have pictured in my head. The truck following John Connor into the spillway in T2. The queen skewering poor Bishop at the end of Aliens (and the subsequent fight scene). Arnold on a horse chasing the bad guy through DC in True Lies (on a side note, I love that movie up until the painful dance scene, then it just falls apart). Hell, at least Avatar was somewhat visually interesting. There's NOTHING unexpected about the sinking of the Titanic. The two most vile characters (Ismay and Cal) get away with their lives, and David Warner doesn't even get a decent comeuppance. I GUESS he was standing right where the boat split, but who cares because it's shot poorly.

    And I'm with you: I found nothing about Jack and Rose emotionally affecting. She's telling the story, so I guess we already know what happened to both of them. Pretty much the only affecting shots in the film for me were the two of the couple in bed and Jenette Goldstein reading the story to her children.

    And while one can argue (as above) to just watch the movie and ignore the criticisms, I can't get over the fact that at least two films (As Good As It Gets and L.A. Confidential, the latter being on my Top 10 list) deserved to be awarded best picture over Titanic -- on certain days I'll even put Good Will Hunting above Titanic, and if I'm in a REALLY good mood, even the stripper movie.

  3. JB: what up what up? You are a beast of a writer

  4. Fantastic and hilarious article. I find this movie positively insufferable. Thank you for putting into words just how atrocious this film is.

  5. James Cameron has written some cringe-y dialogue in his time, I'll admit. But I don't think you picked three good examples of this.

    (seeing the boat is about to sink)
    This is bad.

    This is just after the iceberg has struck and he has arrived on deck. He is talking to himself, asserting that despite the calm attitude of the passengers (kicking ice on the deck etc.), the attitude of the crew and the fact that the ship has stopped seem to suggest that the situation is most likely worse than some may think. This is not bad dialogue. It is merely natural dialogue. You say James Cameron is not a writer. You do realise that the character of Jack Dawson is not a writer, don't you? He is just a person, and sometimes people state the obvious for their own benefit, often when a serious event has just occurred and they're still processing it.

    I promise. I’ll never let go.
    (She lets go)

    She means that metaphorically, supported by the fact that she then literally lets him go. OK, it's an unfortunate correlation, but just think: what is she gonna say? She has to say something. Run the scene in your head if she just lets him sink without a word. Pretty fucking cold. (no pun intended).

    (Pausing on their desperate journey away from an icy death)
    Jack! This is where we met!

    This line is delivered in a state of adrenaline-fueled delirium. I've never really been in such a situation, but I imagine people go to some pretty unique places in their heads when they believe their about to die. What did you want the dialogue to consist of throughout this sequence? Both of them just talking about how scared they are and what they're next plan of action is? Moments like this are necessary reliefs from that monotony and reminders of why we're invested in the characters in the first place.

    Also, why is the fact that their names are spoken so often even an issue? They just met. They haven't had the chance to devise cute nicknames for each other. The film has them separated a lot of the time surrounded by thousands of other screaming, desperate people. What are they gonna shout out? - "Hey!" / "Yo!" / "Jacky D!" ??
    It's so easy to criticise this stuff, until you stop for one second to consider: what is the fucking alternative?

    1. Rose could have said something like "I'll never forget you." "You'll always be with me." "I will always love you." "Goodbye Jack." "I'll never let go" is not only stupid since she immediately let's go, but it's so trite. The dialogue is AWFUL.

    2. Allow me to decide this issue between hansbizarre and Amy.
      Amy is clearly right.

  6. Blogging about James Cameron being wannabe isn't actually that cool. Maybe I'm wrong?