Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Review: Titanic/Avatar

Joss Whedon may be my favorite Storyteller, but James Cameron is my favorite filmmaker. I've seen two of his films: Titanic and Avatar, and both were breathtakingly beautiful. They may not have had the more original stories, or been the most historically accurate or logically sound films, but you don't realize that when you're watching it. When you're watching one of his movie all you think about is what he wants you to think about, all you see is the beauty of his worlds.

There are two reasons why people don't like, or won't watch, Titanic. The first is content issues. The second is the tragedy aspect. We'll deal with the content first. To begin with, it's not as bad as people think it is. My mom, for example, thought that one of the characters was a prostitute, which is not so. The plot, however, revolves around a drawing, and the drawing is of the main character without any clothes on. The drawing is shown several times, and the scene where it's actually made is part of the climax of the film. But, overall, it's cleaner than Firefly.  One girl I talked to said it's not a film for mixed company, and that about sums it up. When I watched it is was with my younger sister, her best friend, and her best friend's grandmother who's house we were staying at.

Now on the other hand, if you're not someone who doesn't like tragedy, you might be very well advised to stay away from this film. I cried. I cried through the entire second half. The story, in a nutshell, is of a young woman named Rose being pressured into marriage with a controlling man by her overbearing widowed mother. Her mother is concerned only with the money she'll get out of the match, allowing her to maintain her place in society, rather than have to face the prospect of working for a living. Rose is dissatisfied with her pointless life of luxery and despairs to the point of being ready to take her own life. She is saved by a witty, penniless young man named Jack who is going to seek his fortune in America. He saves her twice, but his actions put them both into compromising circumstances.

Rose and Jack continue to see each other. He becomes her only friend, and takes her to the lower decks to parties with other passengers of his class. She finds real companionship among the poor, and a meaning to life that she'd never experienced in her own class. He saves, not just her life, but her soul. He teaches her to live, to love, and to give.

Is it sad? Of course it's sad! It's about the Titanic. Everyone dies in the end, and it's long, drawn out, and horribly tragic. I'm told by people who know such things that it's woefully inaccurate historically, and I'll take their word for it. At the same time, though, it shows the reality of what disaster is like, especially when brought about by pride, and how cruel human nature can be.

I've recently heard Titanic accused of feminism. Try as I might I've been unable to figure out how this can be. Feminism is women's desire to take the place of men in society. Titanic is a romance, with no opportunity for that kind of worldview. Rose chooses to take her life into her own hands rather than continue on the path chosen for her, but that's rebellion, not feminism. Her father is dead, and she is unmarried, so she's not even rebelling against a male authority. Rebellion is not always wrong. Choosing to follow Christ when your family forbids it is rebellion also. One might frown upon her reasons for rebellion, but it's not feminism.

Can we get to the good stuff now? I loved this film. To answer the perennial question: if I could choose one film, only one, to study to become a filmmaker, it would be this one. There isn't a single shot, a single light cue, a single line that wasn't carefully thought out and placed to make an impact on the viewers. The cinematography, the acting, everything blended together beautifully. It was amazing. I have never seen anything like it, before or since. I would recommend this movie, in spite of it's content, to anyone who wants to study film. If you object to nudity keep a remote on hand and skip those scenes. There's only two or three, and the rest is sheer beauty.

I saw Avatar twice in theatres, first in 2D with some siblings and then in 3D with my father. The general consensus is that it's better in 2D. If there was an award for worldbuilding this film would win, hands down, in film and in literature. James Cameron blends alien with the familiar just enough to create something both amazingly different, and beautiful. Sure, the story is basically Disney's Pocohantis, and if there was a sequel in would involve nuking Pandora from orbit, but you don't think of those things until later. You don't care, because the entire reason you watched the film was for the scenery.

A lot of time, when authors take it upon themselves to invent a new landscape, it becomes garishly different. Stray too far from the beaten path and all you have is strange, not beautiful. We, of ourselves, are not capable of creating beauty. We can only embellish beauty that already exits. Reading "Out of the Silent Planet" made me positively dizzy when I tried to picture the bizarre landscapes the Lewis described. Watching Avatar was simply breathtaking. Everything was bigger, and everything was blue. He used bio-luminescence liberally, and colored everything in blue and purple. He drew heavily on colors of the night, and messed with the laws of physics as only a true artist can do.

The aliens win a prize all their own. Most aliens tend to look either like Vulcans or Moties; practically human or totally weird. The Na'vi strike a nice balance. They take some getting used to, but we can recognize them as people, rather than animals, and they have their own kind of beauty and grace. And by the time you walk out of the theatre you've decided you want a tail of your own.

Content issues for this film are pretty simple; none of the natives wear any clothes. Well, for practical purposes. It didn't bother me one iota, because the aliens are eight feet tall, blue, striped like a zebra, and have tails. Other people think differently, however, so there's a very simple test. Look up any picture of Neytiri and see if it's something you're comfortable watching for three hours, because that's what she looks like for the whole thing.

Then there's the religion aspect. At first you're kept guessing whether or not it's going to turn into some weird new age/mother earth time piece, but eventually we find out it's actually a form of Whovian Science. It may sound like a religion, but there's actually an explanation: the entire planet is telepathic! Now that is downright cool. (My favorite Doctor Who/Avatar crossover is A Moment of Peace. Whovians will enjoy it, even if they haven't seen Avatar, just 'cause the idea of a telepathic planet is cool!)


Have I not mentioned music yet? Both films were scored by my favorite film composer; James Horner. The music for Titanic carries the plot perfectly, and the love theme is enough to make most people cry regardless of if they've seen the film or not. The entire score speaks poetry and urgency at intervals, never completely letting you forget that this is a tragedy, never letting you forget that this is a romance.

The score for Avatar is simply amazing, in my uneducated opinion. The rhythms are unique, the tones are unique, and let's not talk about the key changes! One reason I was really excited to see this film was because I knew James Horner was scoring it, but then I kept forgetting to listen to the music. (Which is a good thing in film, since the music should not be obtrusive.) When I did, however, I was not disappointed. Listening to the soundtrack makes you feel like you're flying. The theme is one of my favorite songs by him, ever. It's one of the few songs I can identify that actually uses a parallel major, instead of the relative. To put it simply, it's amazing.

In Conclusion
Put James Horner and James Cameron in the same film and you're sure to have a winner.
James Cameron may not have the most incredible or unique stories, but he's talented enough to make you not care. Imagine if James Cameron made Joss Whedon's films... I have never heard anyone quite give Titanic justice, and Avatar seems like one of those often underrated films. Hopefully this review served to give a more balanced view to two of the most influential films in the modern history of filmmaking. 


  1. I saw a parent-edited Titanic years ago, and Avatar...well, it was gorgeous, but all the New-Agey-ness made me want to vomit. Granted, that was before I was really into Doctor Who...maybe if I tried watching it from that pov, I'd like it.

  2. Great review of Titanic, Katie. I love the way you put things across, clearly and to the point. :D I'm of the mindset if there is minimal "stuff" in a movie, one can simply fast forward it. (That's what Mum and Dad did when I watched Titanic, you seriously don't miss much) James Horner's music is epic, and I agree pretty much entirely with your view of Titanic. Personally, I wouldn't watch it again, simply because it was far too sad for my liking. Unfortunately, I don't do tragedy, so I avoid it in most cases.