Rose is intrigued by penniless Jack’s boundless optimism and artistic talent when he shows her his sketches of nude Paris prostitutes.
Along the way, Rose introduces Jack to some of the famous personalities among the first-class passengers, notably Molly Brown (Kathy Bates), but this serves no greater purpose than providing the dramatic equivalent of name-dropping.
What is far more interesting than any of these characters is the plush background of the sets showing the luxurious trappings of first-class accommodations as well as the cramped, unrelieved drabness of the steerage quarters.
The friendship between the youths blossoms into an affair that begins with Rose posing for one of Jack’s nude sketches, then is consummated in the back seat of an auto in the ship’s hold.
This plays out as bad Edwardian melodrama with snarling villain Cal and his dour, armed retainer (Jack Warner) chasing them in and out of the bowels of the ship.
Writer-director James Cameron tries to win sympathy for the young lovers by portraying them as heroes defying the strict social conventions and moral standards of their time.
But he can’t overcome the soap-opera level in which the egalitarian romance is portrayed, nor the cardboard characters of the lovers.
By the time Cameron gets to staging the sinking of the Titanic, it is indeed done on a spectacular scale, using mammoth sets and hundreds of extras. The confusion and panic of the passengers is amply displayed as the ship flounders, then breaks apart and plunges to the deep.
By focusing on the fate of the callow lovers, however, the movie fails to evoke the human dimension of this tragic loss of more than 1,500 lives in the icy waters of the North Atlantic.
In retelling an epic tragedy, “Titanic” has everything but a sense of humanity.
Because of agonizing death scenes on a massive scale, sexual situations and sporadic rough language and profanity, the Catholic News Service classification is A-III – adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 – parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
Herx is retired director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Office for Film and Broadcasting.