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By Andrew Jack

LettrineARIS, 2 March 1998 - This is the tale of a vastly expensive and excessively hyped epic that plunged towards a commercial fate as catastrophic as that of its subject material, before resurfacing impressively to salvage more than one professional reputation.

Titanic is a film whose length and profits are matched only by its lack of subtlety. As Hollywood alone can do, there are few nuances in the portrayal of good against evil, beauty against ugliness, and the victory of love over class and money.

The only surprise for such a mainstream US film is that the heart-throb hero Leonardo Dicaprio is ultimately dispensed with - and, indeed in strictly chronological terms, he disappears for good beneath the cold waters of the Atlantic long before the end of the story.

But thanks to a rather unnecessary splicing of a contemporary tale of salvage-hunters alongside the historical love story, viewers get to see him alongside co-star Kate Winslet right until the end.

Amid assorted anachronisms and occasionally disappointing special effects (notably a very one-dimensional ship sitting in the harbour just before departure), Titanic does what American cinema does best: create cliche-ridden, action-packed tension.

While at least half an hour of additonal celluloid could certainly have happily been left ship-wrecked on the editing room floor, the film seems to last far less than its more than 3-hour duration (which at least has the advantage of giving viewers a feeling of value for money).

If its historical research can be relied on, the film also proves surprisingly informative at times: seeing how long it took for the boat to go down, how it split in two before sinking, how corporate greed and personal egos contributed to the lack of sufficient numbers of lifeboats and the high speed which helped cause the collision.

And, most memorably, how the band played on amid the chaos of ship abandonment, and how Guggenheim famously chose to go down calmly sipping brandy in the first class lounge rather than take part in an unseemly scramble for the life jackets.

Less impressive, though hardly surprising, is the caricatural juxtaposition of aristocratic lips so cold and stiff that they could have sunk the ship without external help, crudely contrasted with the fun of the salt-of-the-earth working class on the lower decks where they are soon to be sealed while their "betters" escape.

Don't look for any concealed, submerged iceberg-style meanings in Titanic. But you could find far worse ways to pass a substantial chunk of a chill winter's evening.

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