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Titanic review (1997) – James Cameron somewhat stands the test of time

Titanic is one of James Cameron's best movies, even after decades have past in Hollywood. Yet, the romance movie isn't exactly perfect either.

Titanic review: Jack and Rose standing in the cold on the ship

Our Verdict

Titanic isn't James Cameron's best, but it is still a testament to filmmaking.

First released in 1997, Titanic is one of the highest-grossing movies of all time and has received love, accolades, and status over the years. Directed by James Cameron, the romance movie was recently re-released in theatres in 2023 to celebrate its 25th anniversary. Like any good film fan, The Digital Fix decided it was high time to watch the hit ’90s movie to see if its classic status is still wholly deserved.

Packed with mesmerising set pieces and a range of cinematography that captures the grand and expensive myth that is Hollywood, Titanic is undoubtedly a by-the-numbers blockbuster. The film starts with a lengthy underwater expedition in 1996 where a plucky crew discovers the wreckage of the RMS Titanic – the famous British passenger liner that sank in the North Atlantic Ocean in 1912 after hitting an iceberg during its maiden voyage.

During the discovery, the crew come across a nude drawing of a mysterious woman, which puts them in contact with the Titanic survivor Rose DeWitt Bukater (Gloria Stuart). Thus the framing device for the rest of the drama movie is established as Rose recalls her experiences and tragic love story during the fateful incident that occurred 84 years ago.

Titanic’s main action takes place in a flashback as we see a young Rose (Kate Winslet) aboard the ship with her obnoxiously classist (albeit immensely entertaining) fiancé Caledon Hockley (Billy Zane) and snooty mother. Unaware of the impending iceberg doom, Rose’s main concern is her upcoming unwanted marriage. However, the caring struggling artist (aka third class passenger) Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio ) soon takes her mind off her woes.

A rapid star-crossed lovers type of romance, emphasised by DiCaprio and Winslets stunning on-screen chemistry, kicks off with Jack and Rose sneaking around and living in their own little world away from the pressures of society. However, as the disaster movie‘s name suggests, the two’s happiness is soon overshadowed by the terror of hypothermia and drowning as the boat begins to sink.

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Titanic is, at its heart pure and glorious spectacle. It is impossible not to be impressed by scenes featuring marvels such as the sweltering engine rooms on the boat or the opulent first-class dining areas, which soon become submerged by rushing blue water.

Cameron knows how to overwhelm our senses with his grand set pieces and perfectly crafts thrilling action sequences once he has impressed us with the scale and appearance of the tragic vessel.

Once the Iceberg hits during the mid-point of Titanic, the film truly hits its stride. Tension is propelled as chaos, unforgiving water physics and panic set in among all the characters. As we see passengers climbing over one another, the cabins fill with freezing water and witness the brutal battles for spots on the rescue boats, it’s hard to be left unaffected. Cameron captures the horror of the Titanic’s history, and his striking visual beats hit a strong human cord of fear and empathy.

Titanic review: the ship sinking

However, where Titanic fumbles is in its core characters and pacing. Jack and Rose, dare I say it, are stereotypical depictions of romantic partners who oddly resemble the Disney movie formula. It is love at first sight. It is the story of a worldly but poor man opening the eyes of the affluent and trapped damsel.

While these tropes seen in animated movies such as Aladdin are typically fine, Rose and Jack’s personalities are too neat, expected, and don’t offer enough substance for a three-hour-long epic. In comparison to the hard-hitting action movie scenes, Titanic’s romance feels less monumental than the horrors that we witness strangers and minor characters go through.

The movie villain Cal, who is brilliantly played by Zane, arguably has more range than our two leads and demonstrates what our main characters could have been. As we see Cal descend into pure anger, he throws away his humanity in order to survive. He is intriguing; like him or not, he leaves an imprint on our brain.

Titanic review: Jack and Rose hanging on a door in the ocean

Unfortunately, neither Jack or Rose move past their opening dynamic or break their squeaky clean ‘good guy’ images even in the face of danger. The result is a less hard-hitting climax, and the protagonists’ scenes dragging down the pacing and tension of the thriller movie.

Titanic is a testament to filmmaking, despite its dragging length and simplistic protagonists. That being said, this film is a marvel and deserves all the accolades. Is it my favourite James Cameron movie? No, that is still the science fiction movie Terminator 2: Judgement Day, but Titanic is definitely still one of the filmmaker’s best.

Titanic is out in theatres now. For more information on the classic film, here is our guide on how to watch Titanic. For new releases, here are all the new movies hitting the big screen in 2023.

If you are still curious about Jack and Rose, read our pieces discussing the true story of Titanic, and this wild theory on whether or not Titanic is secretly a time travel movie.