It was hard to escape Titanic when it came out back in 1997. It was one of the biggest movie events of 90s, probably even of all time. What is funny about that is that Titanic was the butt of many jokes before it was released. The most expensive movie ever made is based upon a real life event of which we all know how it ended. Who would go and see a movie to which you already know how it ends? To everyone’s surprise the answer was “a lot of people”.
Titanic became an event. It was everywhere. The song “My Heart Will Go On” was in heavy rotation on the music video and radio stations. Leonardo DiCaprio became an overnight heart-throb to many teenage girls. If my memory serves me correctly I even saw waiting lines in front of the local theater. Lines consisting of those same teenage girls. The following year it would go on and be the big winner at the Academy Awards.
This all made Titanic a very divisive movie even without having seen it. Because it attracted so many women it felt like it was a movie made for women. Even though it wasn’t. I saw it a couple of years later, when it was broadcast on TV. After finally watching it I thought it was a decent movie with great special effects. But I didn’t feel like this was some epic movie with original storytelling and/or great acting. This was not like a lot of the movies in the top regions of the IMDB Top 250. To me it didn’t live up to the hype.
I have no problem with repeat viewings. There are movies that I have seen dozens of times. I’m looking at you, Robocop. But I never saw Titanic again after that one time viewing. Until today that is. After 20 years I decided to watch it again. To see how it holds up today.
And the short answer is that it still holds up well and the same goes for my feelings about the movie. It’s an entertaining movie, emotional on several occasions, but when the end credits roll I had the same feeling I had back then: It’s just a love story put into a disaster movie. An original idea at the time that could have been the basis for a whole new genre. Were it not that Pearl Harbor’s negative reception bombed this genre before it could even properly take off.
But 20 years later something was added to the movie, but not for everyone: nostalgia. Because this movie was so big upon its release, it is so strongly tied to late 1997/early 1998. So watching Titanic in 2021 not only takes me back 109 years in time on screen, but also 24 years in my mind. Watching this movie now gave me the warm fuzzy feeling of me at the age of 19, being an intern at a publisher. But this only applies to me, and the people who also lived through the event that was the release of Titanic. This is not a criticism that will apply to everyone.
Brushing nostalgia aside, Titanic is good movie, but one that never comes close to reaching a level of greatness. It’s a disaster movie built around a well developed love story between an aristocrat and a poor artist. It’s basically Lady and the Tramp on a sinking boat. It’s also long, very long. With a run time over 3 hours and the collision with the iceberg occurring halfway through the movie, the second part of movie basically consists out of 90 minutes of people trying to get off the ship. There were several moments that I looked at the progress indicator to see how much time was still left. Never a good sign.
At the time Titanic felt like this generation’s Gone With The Wind. It does showcase director James Cameron’s skill for pushing the envelope of what special effects can accomplish. Just as he previously did with The Abyss and Terminator 2 and would do again with Avatar. Save for some obvious green screen at the end of the movie, the effects hold up very well which does help making this a timeless classic. Add the fact that Titanic crushed the box-office, the movie had the same impact as the iceberg had on the actual Titanic.
Because while it might not be one of the greatest movies ever made, its legacy and sheer impact makes it a classic in its own right.