In honor of the long-tail theory of publishing and the re-release of Titanic this month, I'm re-posting here my original 1998 review of the movie. This review was first published in my movie review column, "A Gamer's View of the Movies," in The Knights of the Dinner Table comic book. If you are interested in my more than 140 reviews of other movies and books, go to my website at www.donaldjbingle.com and click on the Reviews link.

TITANIC

There’s two things that you need to keep in mind when you go see John Cameron’s $200,000,000 epic, Titanic. First, as many other reviewers have noted, this is a three hour and fifteen minute movie filled with scenes of rushing, gurgling, foaming, cold water, so hit the restrooms at the theatre just before the movie starts and take it easy on the super jumbo soda pop. Second, this is not so much an action movie (non-stop mayhem, like Die Hard) as it is a disaster movie (concentrated mayhem following story). Disaster stories are of basically two types—those that skip around to a whole bunch of different characters or groups of characters who are finally brought together to attempt to survive the big event (think of the movies The Towering Inferno or Independence Day or the book Lucifer’s Hammer by Niven and Pournelle) and those that focus on a single group of people and a single storyline (usually a romance) that is interrupted by the big event. Titanic is of the latter type and, thus, a good compromise on the whole "guy flick—chick flick" issue. There’s something for everyone here. The cinematography is breathtaking, the scene transitions are at times amazingly beautiful and seamless, the effects are generally excellent, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, and even Billy Zane (who spent a lot of time playing smarmy characters in B movies earlier in his career) all do a very good job with their characters, and the romance works very, very well. Though the class struggle aspects of the plot are a bit formulaic, the characters end up being not quite as two-dimensional as you might expect, which helps keep the whole thing from seeming trite and shallow. Far from it, there is hardly a dry eye in the theatre during the last twenty minutes of the picture. Sure, Leonardo seems a bit young for his character’s supposed traveling history and there are a few lines and gestures that seem a bit too modern for the period, but, altogether, this is an excellent movie and you should all go see it. In fact, you should see it twice—it is extremely rewatchable.

Of course, I do have a few comments about things in the movie that bothered me a bit. Why should you care about these things? Well, since gamers are generally better educated, more scientifically and historically knowledgeable, and more concerned about realism within the context of a setting or mythos than your average movie-goer (it never hurts to suck up to your readers a bit), you really need to know what to expect.

On the historical and technical side, I must admit to being somewhat better informed about the history of the Titanic than the average viewer or even the average gamer and so probably harder to please. Having co-authored with Mary Zalapi (the real expert of the team in terms of Titanic facts and trivia) an RPGA-sanctioned Timemaster tournament ("White Star Crossing") about the Titanic (which I ran once at sea—which was pretty cool—on a ship about the same size as Titanic), I’ve read several accounts of the disaster, watched two of the earlier movies (Titanic and A Night to Remember), and even pored over the deck plans. Accordingly, I was minorly disappointed by a few things that even the fanatical John Cameron seemed to get wrong or leave out, like the omission of a small incident with another ship on departure and the probably incorrect choice of "Nearer My God to Thee" as the band’s last musical number before the sinking (A Night to Remember used that music, but most eyewitness accounts report a sprightly, upbeat tune as the last they heard). Not a big deal. On the other hand, for a man so hyperactive about detail that he allegedly had the luggage tags written backwards in the departure scene because he knew he was going to have to flip the negative to show the ship facing the correct direction in its departure berth, Cameron’s decision to entirely omit any mention of the California—a ship whose lights could be seen from the bridge as Titanic was sinking and which could have saved everyone, but failed to because its wireless operator was asleep and its Captain ignored the distress rockets seen by his own crew, is a big deal and is completely inexplicable and disappointing.

The other odd thing on the historical/technical side is the movie’s handling of hypothermia. It goes out of its way to explain that the water is freezing cold (28 degrees actually—salt water freezes at a lower temperature than fresh) and that the main risk of death is from hypothermia. They are not kidding about that. Not only is it historically accurate that most who died that night died from hypothermia, floating in their life-vests before the Carpathia could rescue them several hours later, but I know about hypothermia from personal experience (not only have I filled a hot tub in the winter, I was tossed in a 40 degree pool once as a kid and thought that I would die before I reached the surface—in fact someone I knew in college jumped in Lake Michigan one spring evening and died instantly from the shock). Accordingly, the final scenes in the water are very accurately done in terms of depicting hypothermia and its effects. On the other hand, the earlier scenes in the water on the ship are inconsistent about the coldness of the water—sometimes Kate Winslet’s make-up gives a bluish tint to her face and lips, sometimes not. The characters gasp when moving from stomach-deep water to shoulder-deep water, but not really when they first get wet, which is the real shock. And Leonardo DiCaprio retrieves some keys underwater, without the slightest hint that his fingers would be incredibly numb and clumsy from the cold. Keep this in mind the next time your character is campaigning in the winter and someone breaks through the ice—not only would the average character sink like a stone (most are heavily encumbered; some characters even wear armor), but he could die within minutes from the cold.

My real gamer’s comment about this movie, however, has to do with the modern-day scenes—the whole thing is a visualization of a story told by an old woman to a treasure hunter (played by Bill Paxton) seeking to recover a blue diamond necklace that was known to have been on the ship. Now Bill Paxton is a fine actor (I loved him in Aliens) and he does an excellent job with the script he was given, but, as written, his character is no treasure hunter. I’ve run into those in many a tournament roleplaying adventure—I suspect that there are even more in Living City and campaign adventures. None of them would spend a large sum of money on a supposed witness to the location of the treasure (like flying her and her granddaughter out to the North Atlantic) and listen, spellbound, to the entire three hour story of the witnessed events without asking where the treasure is. Sure, there’s some brief indication that the old lady wants to tell the story her own way in her own sequence, but after she finishes the story and we and supposedly the alleged treasure hunter both clearly know that the diamond was in her coat pocket when she left the ship, why doesn’t he ask her what happened to it? Heck, the average treasure-hunting gamer, would be "persuading" the witness for the critical information within five minutes of meeting her.

All of which brings me to my final criticism of the movie—the ending (yeah, I knew the ship was going to sink—I mean the romance’s ending). You know, sometimes an ending just doesn’t fit what we’ve been told about the characters and it’s easy to come up with a much better one that then haunts you every time you see the flick. For example, it’s always bothered me that after a lifetime devoted to finding the Holy Grail, the elder Professor Jones simply rides away into the sunset at the end of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Instead, I think he should have taken the place of the elderly knight guarding the Grail—it would have been much more poetically uplifting and fit the character better. This is that sort of thing. And since I hate it when reviewers and previews ruin the ending of movies I haven’t seen, I’ve typed up the next several sentences backwards, so I won’t even accidentally give anything away to those who don’t want to know. Hey, you’re gamers, I’m sure you can figure it out.

.enecs lanif eht rof mih nioj nac tsohg reh dna deb ni eid og nac ehs neht, eybdoog gniyas fo yaw a sa citnaltA dloc eht otni reh fo werd evol tsol reh erutcip eht ssot ot reh rof eb dluow gnidne retteb hcum A .gnisserpxe eb ot snaem ehs tnemitnes eht rof gnorw lyetelpmoc s’ti os, dehtorteb ymils reh yb tub ,evol tsol reh yb reh ot nevig neve t’nsaw ecalkcen eht (c) dna, ti od ot gniog s’ehs wonk uoy (b) ,evol tsol reh ot eybdoog yas ot etis eht ot tuo reh thgourb ohw retnuh erusaert eht ot neve ro ,ytirahc ot, ylimaf reh ot og dluoc taht yenom fo tol a fo etsaw a s’ti (a) esuaceb retaw eht otni ecalkcen naecO eht fo traeH eht sessot ydal dlo eht dne eht ta taht em srehtob yllaer tI


Have a great holiday weekend. And, if you are interested in the real story of bunnies and Easter, at least from one point-of-view, check out my story "BunRabs" in my e-book, Tales of Humorous Horror available on Nook and Kindle: http://www.amazon.com/Writer-Demand-H... .

Aloha.

Donald J. Bingle, Writer on Demand
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Published on April 06, 2012 07:47 • 161 views • Tags: boat, bunnies, cameron, dicaprio, easter, knights-of-the-dinner-table, long-tail, movies, publishing, reviews, royalties, ship, titanic, winslet

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