Rachel del Valle | The movie that never sinks
Duly Noted | The re-release of 'Titanic' in 3D proves the blockbuster will never let go
April 2, 2012, 1:04 am·
Rachel del Valle
Get your 3D glasses and tissues ready. It’s time to watch the Titanic split in half and sink — in 3D!
This Wednesday, on the 100th anniversary of RMS Titanic’s maiden voyage, you can get your multi-dimensional Rose DeWitt and Jack Dawson on. You can yell at Rose to move over because there’s totally enough room on that piece of wood for the two of them. You can listen to her say, “I’ll never let go, Jack” — and then watch her let go a few seconds later. You can relive the magic all over again.
Why hasn’t there been anything that’s really hit the cultural high point the way “Titanic” did in the last 15 years?
In retrospect, it was kind of a weird phenomenon. The film won Best Picture at the Oscars and “Favorite Movie” at the Kid’s Choice Awards. It’s hard to think of the last time a film had such universal appeal.
You could cite something like James Cameron’s other outrageously expensive and overhyped 2009 film “Avatar,” but it just isn’t the same. Were there “Avatar” Barbie dolls? Did Celine Dion croon a sappy song about Avatar love? I don’t think so. Sam Worthington can’t quite compare to Leo.
A movie like “The Dark Knight” is a worthy candidate. But like other successful epics — such as Star Wars and Lord of the Rings — that film had an established franchise and fan base to draw upon.
“Titanic” didn’t have anything like that. It wasn’t grown out of a comic book. There was a 1996 TV miniseries starring Catherine Zeta-Jones and Peter Gallagher that nobody saw. There was a 1953 film version with Barbara Stanwyck that a couple of people saw.
Essentially, all it had to bank on was a historical event, which inspired a morbid societal interest. That’s about it.
A century later, interest continues because there are two more TV productions based on the maritime disaster of the century in the works, including one from “Downton Abbey” writer Julian Fellowes.
In grade school, circa 1998, my best friend and I used to play a game at lunch. The premise was simple: name as many “Titantic”-themed things as possible. “Titanic” wallpaper. “Titanic” pillowcases. “Titanic” lollipops. You’d think we’d get bored of this fairly quickly, but we didn’t.
After a while, we got kind of creative with it: “Titanic” toothpaste, “Titantic” erasers, “Titanic” light bulbs.
We were feeling the Leo-mania pretty hard.
There actually wasn’t as much franchising from the film as you would think besides the soundtrack and replicas of that ridiculous blue, heart-shaped sapphire.
Since people couldn’t buy, say, a “Titanic” lunchbox to make them feel closer to Jack and Rose, their only choice was to watch it. Again and again. And again.
But why was everyone so interested in “Titanic”? Perhaps a better question is, why are people still interested in it as a phenomenon?
I really can’t figure out why.
In many ways, the movie is old-fashioned. It’s a period piece, it doesn’t feature any laser-blasting weapons or skintight costumes. It’s a Romeo and Juliet-esque tragedy of forbidden love. It’s a three-hour historical drama in the vein of “Ben-Hur” or “Gone With the Wind.”
All of this makes me wonder if a film like “Titanic” would be as much of a hit today as it was 15 years ago.
Let’s look at the logistics: The main villain is a giant iceberg. The leading lady was a relatively obscure English actress. There’s pretty much no way it could have a sequel.
What’s that — you say — a blockbuster without a sequel? Yes, the world was a simpler place back then.
Everyone walked into the theater knowing how the movie was going to end and in spite of this, $1.8-billion worth of tickets were sold worldwide. Do we even have the attention span for a three-hour spoiler like that anymore?
The kinds of movies that draw big crowds now almost always come from some other pre-established brand, with established stars. The top performers at the box office of the past month, “The Lorax” and “The Hunger Games,” were both based on books.
I’m not saying “Titanic” is a singular masterpiece that should be analyzed for its technique and subtlety. I don’t even like it that much. But as a friend of mine recently said — if it’s on TV, you have to watch it. It was, and continues to be, entertaining in a way that I’ll never understand. And that must be worth something.
Rachel del Valle is a College sophomore from Newark, N.J. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Duly Noted appears every Monday.