Thursday, September 20, 2018

Poop Deck

Titanic (1997) is, in Shakespeare’s phrase, “too much of water.” The movie sinks long before the ship does. If the dewily pubescent love story doesn’t interest you (in other words, if you’re older than sixteen), there’s not much else to do but observe the cold impressiveness of the production. CGI has become unnaturally realistic—you’re not sure what’s actually being filmed and what’s being inserted digitally after filming, although you can sense that certain elements in the mise en scène have unnatural distortions or undulations, like the flags billowing and clanging against the flagpoles in the departure scene. The filmmakers don’t use real flags because they’re not real enough. The gigantism of the movie’s megaproduction works against it; in your CGI-induced stupor, you don’t much care whether the thousands of extras drown or not, and the tragic dimensions of the narrative are largely lost under the onslaught of the “dazzling” production design.

Dewy young love. Leonard DiCaprio and Kate Winslet
But the director (James Cameron) has a plan (he’s thought of everything, it seems). He wraps up all the noise and bar-room brawls and fiery sunsets and Irish rogues and snooty upper-crust travelers with a Hallmark-weepy framing device—the lovely young woman (Kate Winslet) is now a sentimental old woman (Gloria Stuart) telling her story to a science team exploring the wreck off the Newfoundland coast. She throws her keepsake from the young man (Leonardo DiCaprio) into the waves and watches it sink, the way she watched the young man sink beneath the icy surface as she vainly tried to cling to him. This sentimental banality is what moves audiences and convinces them they’re watching a great romantic movie. My dissenting view is that Titanic is three and a quarter hours of humorless portentousness. I was able to collect my thoughts during a few of the scenes, including the awesome moment of impact, when shards and chunks of the iceberg catapulted onto the ship and skidded along the deck.

Despite the technology on display, most of the movie just doesn’t seem real or fresh. The two young lovers make out in an automobile in the cargo area, and my mind flashed back to the same scene in Now, Voyager (1942). It’s Hollywood epic-prestige moviemaking without a pumping heart. The thing about movies like Titanic is that they’re so conventional-minded in their thinking and so calculating that they’re boring. There’s nothing playful or extemporaneous in the entire picture—every element is worked out precisely and mechanically beforehand. It’s an entire universe that exists digitally. How can a story about large-scale human tragedy be so machine-tooled and impersonal? That’s what I mean when I say a movie doesn’t breathe: its pores are clogged with contrivance. What’s wrong with a little surprise, a little idiosyncrasy in the telling, especially in such a long film? The camera work, the dialogue, the acting, the lighting, the directing have all had the life squeezed out of them. When the poor ship sinks, it’s like a symbol of the entire movie sinking under the weight of its own production.

No comments:

Post a Comment