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Holy Hell! Titanic Turns 20

Holy Hell! Titanic Turns 20

Titanic has held up beautifully.

With La La Land scoring a record-tying 14 Oscar nominations on this past Tuesday morning, it is important to reflect upon the other two films that have achieved those same heights. When it comes to 1950’s All About Eve, the comparisons are pretty direct. Both films are stories about making it in Hollywood. Both are infused with humor, wit, craft-level believability (it is inherently easy to imagine both Emma Stone and Bette Davis as movie stars), and both are saturated with self-congratulatory Hollywood aggrandizing, which has benefited other big Oscar performers like Sunset Boulevard, The Artist, Argo and others.

When it comes to comparisons between La La Land and Titanic, they are salient, though subtler. A pair of young, yet well-regarded, Hollywood stars anchors each film. Though Titanic’s Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio were much younger than Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, each had previously anchored films and been nominated for Oscars.

Further comparison can be made between the sweet romances on display in both La La Land and Titanic, as well as the quality of each film’s music. Though Titanic is not a musical, its music was intrinsic to its success. The Titanic soundtrack sold over 30 million copies, and its leading song, “My Heart Will Go On,” won an Oscar, multiple Grammys and topped the charts in nearly every country with music charts.

Having the most Oscar nominations doesn’t mean that All About Eve, Titanic and La La Land are the three best films of all time. That is because of the structure of Oscar nominations themselves, which rewards films based on widespread accomplishments rather than sheer quality, and also because the Oscars only tends to notice films that mainly contain heterosexual white characters. But one thing that can be said about the level of recognition that each of these films achieved is that it serves as a testament to their timelessness. Their success in a broad range of categories mean that they are more than simply a display of cutting-edge effects, cultural awareness or good performances. They are a sum of many parts.

Titanic’s wide-ranging quality is evident in a viewing even today, nearly 20 years after its release. It has the feel of a film that will last forever, which is particularly astonishing given how much the film relies on special effects. Much of this is due to the long-ranged vision of director James Cameron. Cameron himself has said that he thinks about how well his films will hold up over time, and this is evident upon viewing Aliens, The Abyss, the first two Terminator films and Avatar, all of which hold up today.

Even with its special effects holding up, the fact that it is a story well told is more important for Titanic’s legacy. It’s a timeless tale, revolving around love and drama and also one of history’s most fascinating tragedies. It is a masterpiece technically but also revolves around a number of fantastic performances, particularly from Winslet, Frances Fisher (as her mother), Gloria Stuart (as the older version of Winslet’s character) and Kathy Bates, as the unsinkable Molly Brown.

While most parts of Titanic hold up well, the sheer lack of diversity in the film does age it. It is a particular shame that it shares this characteristic with La La Land. Some might argue that passengers on the real Titanic must have been primarily white and therefore the film is simply accurate. However, there was no real Rose or Jack, so surely the writers could have invented a few significant characters of color?

That aside, Titanic has held up beautifully. It is lush, deep, historical, innovative, crowd-pleasing, tragic and thoroughly entertaining, even after 20 years. There have been numerous copycats, from Pearl Harbor to Pompeii to Australia and, most recently, Passengers, yet none have matched the sheer quality of Titanic. Now and for years to come, it will stand as a timeless example of a heartfelt blockbuster, though its whitewashed cast could perhaps turn it into a time capsule of Hollywood’s reluctance to embrace diversity.

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