Rose feels otherwise, especially when Jack gives her a taste of how the other half lives, partying in steerage with the rest of the commoners. Hence begins the essentially superficial romance between she and Jack that is the heart of Titanic. A rather hokey upper-versus-lower class struggle ensues, as Cal and his evil henchman, Spicer (David Warner), try to keep Jack away from Rose, going so far as to frame him for theft of the diamond necklace. All of this plays out while we meet real-life historical passengers and crew aboard Titanic, including Captain Edward John Smith (Bernard Hill), feisty proto-feminist passenger Molly Brown (Kathy Bates), and Thomas Andrews (Victor Garber), the ship’s builder.
Once the ship has her fateful collision with an iceberg (around two hours into the film), Titanic’s clichés and often ripe overacting are swept away by the virtuosity of the film’s final hour. Cameron captures the tragic scope of the disaster that claimed over 1,500 lives in astoundingly vivid detail. The sinking of the ship doesn’t play out in real time (the ship actually took about two hours and 40 minutes to sink), but Cameron devotes a good deal of time to it. The flooding of the various sections and the sight of trapped passengers (or those who had resigned themselves to their fate) are among the more haunting images I've seen captured in a fictional film. The sheer spectacle on display is scary, thrilling, and unspeakably sad—all at the same time. Jack and Rose’s final moments together have poignancy that transcends all of the puppy love that we saw earlier in the film.
While Kate Winslet was nominated for Best Actress for her work here, Leonardo DiCaprio was not. It's a shame really, because DiCaprio's performance is at least as strong as Winslet's. Cameron made a smart move in crafting a pair of exuberant, youthful, fictional characters—one from the lowest class and one from the highest. Between the two, they interact with a wider variety of passengers and crew members than any real-life person did. Unfortunately, the “framed for theft” storyline is rather hackneyed and predictable. It's a schlocky, B-movie storyline that ultimately keeps a good movie from being truly great. However, if you can get past the hokiness and emotional manipulation of the first two-thirds, the film’s tragic final act makes it more than worth the time.
Titanic looks like a brand new movie on Blu-ray in 2D, with a sterling 1080p transfer that does absolute justice to Russell Carpenter’s award-winning cinematography. Clarity is perfect and fine detail is rich and vivid, all while retaining a natural film look. The golden glow of many interior shots casts a warm yellow over everything that never detracts from the realistic skin tones of the actors. Night exteriors are equally sharp, to the point where some of the green screen effects are more obvious than in previous home video incarnations. The whole thing looks stunning from start to finish.