Titanic Revisited (Or Not)

I just finished reading a review of Titanic by Slate Magazine’s Dana Stevens. The review is premised on the fact that when James Cameron’s epic was first released in 1997, Stevens snubbed it for being “a schlocky, sentimental blockbuster that would force [her] to listen to that Celine Dion song again.” She claims, admittedly snobbishly, to have been too busy with her nose in Walter Benjamin to see the movie in theatres, and, before its current 3D re-release last week, only ever half watched it on TV while distractedly folding laundry. Stevens goes on to admit, however, that after finally seeing it on the big screen, she can understand the mass hysteria that surrounded the film 15 years ago. “Titanic isn’t subtle or tasteful or novel,” she writes “but it’s indisputably big and bold and beautiful.”

What I find so interesting about the review is that I am having the exact opposite reaction. At 14, when I saw Titantic for the first time, in a suburban shopping mall outside of Toronto, I was completely transfixed. I loved the way that Cameron obsessively rendered every single glowing, luxurious detail of the ship — the fly through of the grand staircase in particular — and the way he imagined the various tycoons and tag-alongs that would have been on board. I felt like he created a crystal-clear vision of a lost, irretrievable world. A world where people dressed for dinner in tuxedos and hand-beaded gowns—but also one where accents and pedigree were cruel determiners of fate. I was too young to care about cinematic cliches or hammy acting. And unlike Dana Stevens, it didn’t bother me that so many of the conversations about the movie revolved around money. In fact, it’s incredible expense and even more incredible box office success were exciting—proving what a great, ambitious, inspiring feat Titanic was. It was a winner.

A few years later though, I saw a part of the movie again on TV at a friend’s house. I was expecting to re-live some of the same awe. But the shabby acting and stale dialogue seemed glaring. The movie was no less visually stunning (that grand staircase!), but as a whole seemed lacking. It felt long and saggy even though I didn’t sit through the whole thing. And now that it’s own in 3D, I have absolutely no interest in seeing it. It’s not because I’m too busy with Walter Benjamin, or because I’m too much of a snob. I just think that, like the bubble gum pop I would have also devoured in 1997—Hanson, for example—I’ve simply outgrown it, and all the glitzy visual effects—3D included—can’t lure me back.

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