It may have started back in our wild days of high school, but ever since it became cool, a certain crop of insubordinate post-teens have loved to say they hate Titanic. This isn't just another lewd teenage annoyance, like Barney and pogs. At its worst, it's a vicious, vilely anti-conformist movie loathing. Lady Leo lovers beware. These guys are still out there, still raging, still jealous of DiCaprio's ability to steam up a car.
Now everyone has a right to their own opinions and blah blah blah. But what I love about this gritted-teeth rebellion is how mightily it stands next to the largest imaginable mountain of evidence. Some cry "big money, no quality!" and yet there they are, 11 naked golden men named "Oscar" staring them in the face. Others yell "boring and predictable!" But over 600 million buckaroos?$600,779,824 to be exact?say that in a survey, they'd be wrong.
That's not to throw out the whole mess of complaints?after all, there is no definition of what a good movie really is and there never will be. But as all us girls who emptied our tear ducts two, maybe three times in the theater know, Titanic takes all its male-flung flak for two reasons, both understandable: a) it's mushy, sentimental, and romantic, which guys our age can't admit to liking by some unwritten law of maleness and b) Celine Dion.
So yes, the movement has its merits. Celine Dion does suck, there's no getting around that, and the jury's still out on whether "My Heart Will Go On" can ever play again?ever. While I see no reason to take the same morbid pleasure as some do from seeing Leo turn into an icepop bobbing up and down in the Atlantic, I will say this: Titanic really is utterly and almost disgustingly big-budget and formulaic. And everyone loves an underdog. For us cultured folk, this makes the most successful movie of all time seem cheap, easy, out for?god forbid?"money"?and therefore manipulative, suspect, and wrong.
But despite our ranting and hollering, there really is a special beauty in the movie formula executed to perfection?the one that gets us smiling, crying, squirming in spite of ourselves. In our relentless quest to sound so super smart about film, we often forget that it's just as hard to get a formula exactly right as it is to be utterly original. Besides, the movie business is a business, after all, and Titanic?not Pi?is the kind of thing Hollywood puts up on the refrigerator door. Besides, the block-busting, ching-chinging direct hits on our hearts and minds are not always so heavy on the mush and hard on the sperm count.
Take the top ten U.S. grossing films of all time?Hollywood's hall of fame, if you will. Besides Star Wars: Episode I, which set me and other fans on three days of mourning, all these got critical acclaim, and two earned the title of Best Picture: Titanic and The Return of the King, which might someday dethrone the "king of the world." Now, besides The Passion of the Christ and E.T.?religion and aliens, who knew??every one of these used the same formula as Titanic and got it right: a gallon of action and adventure, at least a pint of romance, only a pinch of wholesome, er, wholesale sex and violence, and a whole lot of bang. Mix together in a big celluloid vat et voila! It's something for the guys, the gals, the old ladies who groan about ticket prices, the little kids who want pretzels, and the creepy single men who look down at the floor and only want (fill in hot young female star here). It's got "something for everybody." And it actually manages to please everybody. It's a hole-in-one.
Still think this is cheap and easy? Well, think about all the times it's failed. Remember Pearl Harbor in 2001? (If that film was safely chained up in a dusty corner of your brain, I apologize.) If anything, the movie that marked the beginning of the notorious CBBACC?the Curse of the Bad Ben Affleck Career Choice, tried to replicate Titanic. It had the mushy love triangle, the historical nostalgia, the money, the tragedy, the all-star cast, the adventure. It was all there. So what went so horribly wrong?
Who knows. Lots of things. Little things. Big things. Kate Beckinsale. Thing is, it's hard to tell. And that's why Hollywood, even with all its market analysts sharpening pencils all day, sweating over surveys and calculations, can still lose out on what it figured would be a really good thing. The formula is hard to calculate, and success is not all that predictable.
So go ahead and criticize Titanic. Say Leo is the antichrist. Say it's just a stupid sinking boat. Separate yourself from the masses. After all; everyone likes to feel special. But don't think it's going to get you anywhere. It's not easy to rant against a movie that by the popular vote?the only one that really counts?got everything exactly right.
The Top 10 Highest-Grossing Films of All Time (domestic box office)
1. Titanic (1997).........................$600,779,824
2. Star Wars (1977)....................$460,935,665
3. Shrek 2 (2004)........................$436,471,036
4. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)..$434,949,459
5. Star Wars: Episode I (1999)...$431,065,444
6. Spider-Man (2002).................$403,706,375
7. The Return of the King (2003)...$377,019,252
8. Spider-Man 2 (2004)............$371,538,616
9. The Passion of the Christ (2004)..$370,270,943
10. Jurassic Park (1993)............$356,784,000
Information from www.imdb.com