on December 19, 1997 by Joseph McBride
   To describe "Titanic" as the greatest disaster movie ever made is to sell it short. James Cameron's recreation of the 1912 sinking of the "unsinkable" liner is one of the most magnificent pieces of serious popular entertainment ever to emanate from Hollywood. The gargantuan production cost--variously estimated between $200-285 million--has been spent on sumptuous, stunningly believable sets and visual effects, giving the viewer the feeling of being a passenger on the ill-fated voyage. But the three-hours-plus "Titanic" ultimately succeeds so powerfully in retelling this familiar story because, like a David Lean film, it is an intimate epic with a moving and resonant love story at its core.
   Cameron's subtly shaded screenplay follows the fortunes of Philadelphian socialite Rose DeWitt Bukater (Kate Winslet), who, like the heroine of a Henry James novel, yearns to break free from the restraints of money, class and gender. Resisting her imminent marriage to Caledon Hockley (Billy Zane), domineering heir to a company that supplied some of the deficient steel for the Titanic, Rose rebels through a shipboard romance with a third-class passenger, Wisconsin artist Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio). Jack's self-sacrificial saving of Rose "in every way a person can be saved" is the prism through which we witness every facet of this vast human tragedy.
   Cameron's wide, vividly-peopled canvas takes in everything from the ship's festive launch to its rigidly stratified social events, the awesome technical apocalypse of its breakup and sinking, and the appallingly unjust escape of wealthy passengers while poor ones are left to drown. The framing story of contemporary fortune hunters pillaging the wreckage includes eerie footage of the actual Titanic at the bottom of the Atlantic. On board the salvage ship is the narrator, 101-year-old Rose, played with haunting grace, humor and wisdom by 87-year-old Gloria Stuart. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Billy Zane, Kathy Bates and Gloria Stuart. Directed and written by James Cameron. Produced by James Cameron and Jon Landau. A Paramount release. Drama/Thriller. Rated PG-13 for disaster-related peril and violence, nudity, sensuality and brief language. Running time: 194 min
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