Retro Date Night: Titanic

Titanic

With Valentine’s Day looming, are you looking for an inexpensive, at-home date night? Quite possibly you already have this treasure on your shelf. Why not get it out, dust it off, cozy up to your significant other, and watch it together?

Titanic is one of those rare and wonderful films that remind us of why we like to see movies. Since the sinking of the famous ship over 100 years ago, there have been several films on the subject, including A Night to Remember in the ’50s. However, this 1997 Academy Award Best Picture winner benefits greatly from contemporary moviemaking technology and a fresh, fictional love story, and it is not true that if you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all. It may be helpful to know something of the background of the movie to more fully appreciate what you see.

At a cost of 200 million dollars, it was one of the most expensive movies ever made, but the money was accounted for with a detailed and quite precise re-creation of the ship and its palatial interiors, with stirring actual footage of the ship where it lies today at the bottom of the north Atlantic, and with carefully researched period trappings from the hand-sewn beads adorning women’s gowns to the stamped silverware and china, exact replicas of those used on the ship. Such details may not be individually noticeable to many viewers, but it’s knowing that a filmmaker would take time and care for such things that insures that he will do right by the bigger aspects of his work. The scenes of men working in the steamy boiler room and of the colossal, shiny, new gears and machinery powering the massive ship are pure art.

The story begins as a treasure hunter (Bill Paxton) and his crew are descending in a tiny submarine to search the interior of the wreck of the Titanic on the ocean floor. They are looking, in particular, for a diamond believed to have been part of the crown of Louis XVI. Instead they find a drawing of a nude woman who is wearing the diamond. When the drawing is shown on the evening news, a 100-year-old woman named Rose Calvert (Gloria Stuart, a former star who was acting for the first time in 50 years) comes forward, claiming that she is the woman in the drawing. She and her granddaughter join the treasure hunters on a ship which takes them to the wreckage site. Rose’s emotion at seeing some of her personal effects for the first time in 85 years leaves no doubt that she was Rose DeWitt Bukater (Kate Winslet), the fiancée of rich businessman Cal Hockley (Billy Zane). She then takes her eager listeners back in time for a spellbinding story of love, vengeance, and destinies changed forever during the course of a terrifying two hours during the sinking of the great ship herself.

Rose was being forced into an engagement she didn’t want when she meets the dashing Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio) aboard ship. He is a third-class passenger with only 10 dollars to his name, a carefree drifter who loves life and the uncertainty of it. In four days aboard Titanic, Jack introduces Rose to the real world and real love for the first time.

The film worked with audiences because it possessed all those traits we enjoy most. There is humor as the division between the stuffy upper classes and the immigrant passengers in steerage is shown. Kathy Bates appears as Molly Brown, who, although rich, is down-to-earth and likable. There are amazing action sequences and unbelievable photography of this page of history we could only imagine until now.

But at its heart, Titanic is a passion-filled love story between two people who live the happiest days of their lives aboard a ship no one knew was doomed. At three and a half hours, Titanic is longer than it took the real ship to sink, but the time flies.

And if, like me, you enjoy some occasional movie trivia, knock yourself out with this lengthy list of fascinating facts.

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