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Titanic (1997)

Reviewed By John Smith
Posted 05/21/02 14:23:33

"Film as Religion"
5 stars (Awesome)

I was backpacking around the world the year "Titanic" was released. The global popularity of the film became the unexpected heuristic device through which I understood my experiences that year, as I watched, dumbfounded, while excited queues of people waited to see the film in Bombay, Rotterdam, Bangkok and New York.

I saw it in all those cities, wrapped up simultaneuously in my own love for the film, and the joy and wonder of the audiences, all different culturally, yet all united in the magic of "Titanic".

Returning home, and re-attending University, I was dismayed to find parochial, class-room bound minds dismissing the film as a piece of B-Grade junk, and a triumph of marketing over quality.

My admiration for the film earnt me endless smirks, and god knows how many friendship-rejections. But, while my colleagues unearthed pieces of nerdy garbage from the dusty storeroom of cinema history, I remained fascinated by the awesome pan-cultural power of the big dumb film about the big dumb boat.

Where, precisely, can "Titanic"'s quality be located? I'm the first to admit its dialogue repeatedly falls out of character's mouths like bricks, and that, especially during repeated viewings, substantial chunks of the film are best watched in fast-forward. It's heavy Oscar haul is no recommendation - Gwyneth Paltrow and Mel Gibson are Oscar winners, too.

This is where people usually chime in and say something about the fact that its box-office success is nothing significant either. And this is where I always disagree.

Regardless of personal taste, the global hysterics generated by Michael Jackson, Madonna, Bill Clinton, "Titanic" or "Harry Potter" cannot be denied. Neither should they be underestimated, dismissed as the irrelevant, unsophisticated will of the masses.

There is definitely something - I may lack the learning to articulate it - transcendent in the semiotics of these huge media successes. Something in them speaks to people who have nothing at all else in common. Like religions, they have a universal appeal - and an often devoted one - and communicate through spectacle (stadium concert, Catholic pomp, special effects), light (laser, spot or candle) and music (killer chorus hooks, Celine Dion chants, hymns).

Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not comparing James Cameron to Jesus Christ (though, strangely, they do share the same initials). Nor am I trying to find a international cultural algorithm. Just suggesting that the next time you laugh at things like "Titanic", you give a second thought to why they are so much bigger than you.

I could be wrong, though. Maybe it was just all marketing. Maybe I'm still carried away by the primary-colored spectacle and romance of the film, big circus-queen sucker that I am. What do you think?

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