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Titanic (1997)

Paramount/20th Century Fox

Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslett, Billy Zane.

Rating: 14A

Run time: 194 mins

Genre: Drama

Verdict: Beautiful (see rating system)

I'll give this 11-Oscar winner a good rating mostly for the amazing computer-generated special effects, rather than the sappy storytelling.

Truth is, I could well do without the fictional romance between poor boy Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) and rich girl Rose (Kate Winslett) that director James Cameron makes the heart of his version of the Titanic tragedy.

I appreciate his desire to put a human face on the disaster, but this is pure soap opera as third-class Jack aspires for the hand of first-class Rose, thus crossing her very nasty husband-to-be (Billy Zane). The British-made A Night To Remember (1958) avoided the romantic cliches, but still made us feel for the passengers and crew. And it told the story crisply in 118 minutes instead of the bottom-numbing 191 minutes Cameron takes.

But to give him his due, Cameron makes excellent use of CGI and a lavish budget to bring the Titanic alive. The scenes of the ship are amazing and the sinking is handled accurately and with such drama you feel the terror those doomed passengers and crew aboard at the end must have felt.

The story is well known: The supposedly unsinkable Titanic was a technological marvel of its age, almost 900 feet long and weighing more than 46,000 tons. The liner boasted state-of-the-art luxury suites (accurately reproduced in this movie), but also cramped conditions well below decks for third-class passengers. On her maiden voyage from Southampton, England to New York, Titanic struck an iceberg and sank in the early hours of April 15, 1912, 400 miles off the coast of Newfoundland. 1,513 people died and only 711 survived.

A terrible combination of factors caused the disaster and high death toll, from the ship steaming at full-speed into an ice field to the million-to-one way the berg split open Titanic's side. If the ship had hit the iceberg head on it is said it would have stayed afloat. Then there was the lack of lifeboats and the failure of a nearby ship (The Californian) to come to the rescue.

All this is enough to make a great movie, but this version throws in a cliched romantic melodrama. Thankfully, the last 45 minutes of the movie - the sinking - is terrific.

Scads of extra features make for interesting viewing on the special edition of the movie.

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