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Home Blog Features Home Videos: Titanic (1997)
Home Videos: Titanic (1997) Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Tuesday, 12 April 2011 08:44

After the immense success of last week’s inaugural Home Videos post (Steven Spielberg’s Hook), even the Guardian have started writing about VHS (sort of). And so I continue to rummage through the big bag of tapes in my attic to waffle on about films what I saw when I were a youngster.

This week, out of the depths of VHS past comes Titanic:

Yes, Titanic – that Oscar-winning James Cameron epic that was formerly the most expensive movie ever made, not to mention the highest grossing movie of all time. Until Avatar came along, of course.

The film has a bit of a bad rep, what with pretty boy Leo and sexy starlet Kate swanning about the screen in a metaphorical sea of emotion, but it’s actually a solid bit of work. Contrasting public history with a private fling? It’s the only way a film about the HMS Titanic could work.
Yes, I genuinely like Titanic. I can even just about tolerate Celine Dion's My Heart Will Go On, which has been scientifically proven to be the most annoying noise ever produced by a human. Which would explain why I've seen this film at least 10 times on video. That and the fact that my sister was obsessed with watching it every Saturday afternoon.
The best thing about watching it on VHS? The hardcore 4:3 presentation. It’s also great to see that there are no trailers on this baby. Instead, there’s a piracy notice, warning us all that copies of tapes can "reduce your viewing pleasure", before reminding us that this official Titanic VHS has been digitally mastered for optimal video and audio performance.

Yeah, baby. Feel that visual quality.
The movie kicks off in the modern day, with a crew of film-makers going down into the sea filming the shipwreck of the HMS Titanic. Headed up by their director, the team dive down to search the ship for the big fat jewel, The Heart of the Ocean.

“It still gets me every time... to see the sad ruin of the great ship after her long fall from the world above,” says the director. “You’re so full of shit, boss,” comes the reply. But this isn’t director James Cameron. It’s Bill Paxton. 

Whereas James Cameron looks like this:

Then along comes Rose (the late Gloria Stuart) to tell everyone the story of her affair with Jack Dawson. The two meet when she tries to jump ship (i.e. kill herself) because she’s unhappy with her life. She whines all her way through the first hour, moaning about how Titanic wasn’t a “ship of dreams” but “a slave ship” taking her home in chains. Whatever. Spoilt brat.

The ship of dreams, or "a slave ship"
An actual slave ship

It's hard to work out why she’s so unhappy given that she’s about to marry the sexiest man alive: Billy Zane.


But when Jack saves her life, she goes all luvvy-duvvy over him instead. It's no surprise, really. How can she not fall for Leonardo DiCaprio? After all, he is the second sexiest man alive.


As The Incident approaches, the sexual encounters increase, while David Warner’s evil butler walks around looking scary. Every few minutes, rich people say ominous things like: “God himself could not sink this ship!” That subtle dramatic irony, coupled with the movie's accurate depiction of Irish life, instantly ranked Titanic as one of the most spectacular motion pictures to date. 


The period detail, model work and use of CGI are all brilliantly managed (in places, it looks better than Avatar, even 14 years later) and the emotional story is actually engaging. A star-crossed romance across social divides? A woman out of a poor man’s reach? A big fat expensive jewel given as symbol of ownership? It’s just as much Moulin Rouge! as it is Romeo and Juliet and it’s all the better for it.

Cameron fans obviously love it – it shares many themes with Aliens (I'll think of some to put in here later) and it massively predates Avatar. The blue sci-fi epic even steals bits of dialogue from Jack and Rose: “You have a gift, Jack. You see people." "I see you,” Jack replies, with all the mysticism of a baby-faced Na'avi warrior.
(Insert your own Avatar/Smurfs/blue people joke here.)
In other places, the screenplay serves up dialogue to rival Quentin Tarantino's expert ear:

It all combines to make for one lovely soppy package. But if you’re one of those people who snort derisively at the "I'll never let go, Jack!" moment, then allow me to explain the real reason why Rose is so easy to let her love slip away into the icy depths:
Jack is dying. Probably from some STD. He is told before the opening credits that he only has one week to live. And so Rose takes pity on the boy and pretends to leave her future husband, Billy Zane (the sexiest man alive). Rose humours and flatters Jack, taking her clothes off and letting him draw her naked, steaming up car windows in the lower decks - all the traditional steps taken to ensure a person’s happy last days on planet earth. Then, when he's about to kick the bucket with a smile on his face, she jettisons him into the ocean and gets back to playing with her rich jewels. The end.

That’s what Titanic is: three and a quarter hours of drawn-out euthanasia. And I love every minute of it.
If you're not moved by the tale of Kate Winslet's efforts to make a sick man happy, you really are dead inside. After all, who doesn’t want to watch a film about a boat run by Captain Birdseye? 

Titanic has been available to buy on video cassette since September 1st 1998. Not convinced it's worth paying out for your own VHS souvenir? Check out the video's trailer.