May 21, 1998
By Stephen A.Simon
James Cameron's "Titanic" was huge. The boat, themovie, the box office -- all huge. Titanic even means huge, althoughthe name they chose for the ship sounds better than the "R.M.S.Huge," or the other name they considered: "We're Talking Big."
Now a warning: This article discusses the movie'splot, so, if you haven't seen it, be forewarned. Also, if you haven'tseen it, you might want to check what planet you're on! Helloooo?!Houston to Apollo, come in, Apollo.
Just kidding. Actually, I do know people whohaven't seen "Titanic," and even some who (gasp) gave it a thumbsdown. Like the woman at work who said (and this is a quote): "Ithought they focused too much on the sinking part."
To me, that's like saying "King Kong" concentratedtoo much on the ape part. Let's face it: No iceberg, no movie. Filmbuffs will recall, for instance, the dismal failure of "QE2: The TrueStory of Hundreds Who Had a Great Cruise, but Wished They'd GoneLighter on the Buffet."
Luckily for Cameron, zillions of people loved themovie despite his fixation on sinking. In terms of money made, thefilm shattered records, which is even better than breakingthem.
The question is, what made the picture soamazingly popular?
Spectacular effects, for starters. Cameron built,and sank, a replica that was nearly the size of the actual Titanic.The great cast and soundtrack didn't hurt either. Plus, everyoneknows the history, so producers had no chance to tack on the standardHollywood ending, with helicopters colliding and Leonardo DiCapriooutswimming a fireball.
But the effects, stars and music alone wouldn'thave made "Titanic" such a smash. I think another key ingredient isthat the love story appealed to both men and women.
Other films have offered something for both sexes,but they're often heavy-handed. Take "Top Gun." For men -- F-14's;for women -- shirtless men's volleyball. Not very subtle. Volleyballwasn't exactly central to the plot.
But Cameron didn't just sprinkle in some shotsfrom the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition to keep the men folkhappy. Instead, he achieved something rare -- a romantic story linethat didn't have men streaming for the exits in search of machine-gunfire.
It's true that most guys go for ESPN over theRomance Channel. But there are certain romantic themes menenjoy.
And "Titanic" has one of the classics -- beautifulwoman ditches rich, pseudo-intellectual snob for decent,down-to-earth, fun-loving guy. We love that. Because we don't allhave $2,000 suits, but we all think we're down-to-earth, fun-lovingguys.
Early on, Rose (Kate Winslet) tells Jack(DiCaprio) to get lost because she's going to marry Caledon Hockley(the very name screams rich, pseudo-intellectual snob). Then shechanges all that with six little, wonderful words: "Hello Jack. Ichanged my mind."
But there's also a scene that plays out a classicwomen's theme -- man prizes woman's love so much that he'll die forit. Jack was on the ship because he won a ticket in a crazy bet. Whenhe's dying in the ice-cold ocean, he tells Rose: "Winning that betbrought me to you. And I'm thankful." In other words, better to havetwo days of Rose's love than a lifetime without it.
The story also has an unusual twist. Lots offlicks have guys eating through barbed wire to rescue the girl. AndJack does save Rose's skin on more than one occasion. But Rosereturns the favor, dangerously venturing into the bowels of thefoundering ship to save Jack.
Very romantic stuff. And all the more reason theending baffled me. Jack tried just one lousy time to see if he couldfit on that piece of floating wood along with Rose.
That's it? Wouldn't he have said something like:"Scoot over, honey. Let's see if there ain't some room for ol'Jacky-boy up on this here wood." And Rose never mentions thepossibility of sharing wood time. What happened to the whole "I jump,you jump," we're-in-this-together thing? Sure, Jack wants to be agentleman. But try one more time to see if it's wood-built-for-two isall I'm saying.
Maybe I'm making too big a deal. It could just belike when one person always hogs the blanket.
Anyway, no film is flawless. "Titanic" is still avery good movie. But only if you don't mind the big to-do about thesinking part.
Stephen A. Simon writes forWashington
Jewish Week. His e-mail isSAS2banter@aol.com