The film cost $200 million, a fact that overshadowed a lot of its finer points when first released in 1998. Nevertheless, in its newer avatar, Titanic returns to the screen in 3D. It is also a gimmick that yet again overshadows what made it the highest-grossing film of all time: a genuinely heartbreaking love story enacted by two incredibly gifted thespians: Leonardo Dicaprio and Kate Winslet. So here's the bottom line: don't watch it for the 3D, watch it for them, watch it for a time when their promise was not as fondly recognized by critics, who might have been too eager to trash the sheer extravagance of Cameron's vision or too reserved to gush about a spectacle that in fact has not aged in these 15 years. Perhaps Cameron is not as cheesy as we imagine him to be. And perhaps $200 million was not that big a gamble for a film that has gleaned $1.8 billion in box-office receipts.
For beginners, the story goes like this: Rose (Kate Winslet) is a society debutante who is being married off to a snooty aristocrat (played effectively by Billy Zane). Her mother is a cold, class-conscious bitch who manipulates her strong-willed daughter into this impending alliance on the grounds that if it doesn't happen, she'll end up as a seamstress. Jack Dawson (Leonardo Dicaprio) is a happy-go-lucky artist/bohemian/quasi-tramp who wins a ticket on the third class tier of the Titanic at a poker game and charismatically pulls Rose away from a suicide plunge one evening. Through some more chance encounters they meet over the next few days and fall in love. Soon enough, the two are also forbidden from being seen with one another, for their attraction is too obvious to those around them and it could imperil her marriage. But they do, and on the night that they make love, the ship hits an iceberg and sinks within hours. The entire story is told from the perspective of a 100-year-old survivor who identifies herself as Rose Dawson after seeing a nude portrait of hers flashed on a television loop revealing discoveries from the Titanic ruin. The portrait had been drawn by Jack Dawson on her insistence.
James Cameron's tech-wizardry is a star by itself in the film; those who haven't ever experienced this massive object's star-crossed journey across the Atlantic will be delighted/awestruck/horrified thanks to the enhanced experience in 3D. But the real reason to slip on those 3D glasses is to shed those tears without fear of anyone near you noticing too easily. Kate Winslet and Leonardo Dicaprio are truly outstanding in this blockbuster. Top it up by renting the DVD of Revolutionary Road, a film based on the novel by Richard Yates, an exceptionally brilliant exploration of a marriage disintegrating in suburban America. For further proof of Winslet's precocious streak, you might also want to watch Heavenly Creatures (1994), an especially ill-fated obsession between two teenage schoolgirls in 1950s New Zealand.