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Watching ‘Titanic’ For the First Time…15 Years Later

Titanic 3D
Paramount Pictures

I was 16 when ‘Titanic’ released in 1997 (no need to do the math, people) and utterly enthralled by the film’s spectacle and endeared to its characters (I saw it four times in the span of a few weeks). Second only to ‘Jurassic Park,’ I hadn’t witnessed anything as awe-inspiring in a movie theater at that point in my life.

As someone generally disenchanted with 3D, ‘Titanic’s’ re-release ushered little excitement regarding its upgraded format. But seeing it again on the big screen? It’s hard to pass up that kind of trip down memory lane.

I knew I’d want to catch it the evening it came out, but – to intensify the nostalgia – why not view director James Cameron’s iconic film with someone who had never seen it? Thing is: thanks to 15 years of pop culture saturation and televised play, that’s a near impossible feat.

And then I realized: I need not look very far.

My little sister Lindsay (who was 14 when ‘Titanic’ was first released) is my polar opposite – utterly disinterested in cinema. It’s actually kind of refreshing – when I hang out with her, I’m forced to talk about real life as opposed to this oft-all-encompassing world I’ve created as a film writer.

I called her yesterday to ask if she’d be interested in accompanying me to a showing of ‘Titanic’ in 3D. It took some arm-twisting, but she eventually acquiesced. And  despite the fact that the 3D glasses were uncomfortable and made her look “dorky,” she managed to sit still for 3 hours and 14 minutes (a gauntlet, even by today’s standards).

It was thoroughly incredible to re-live a beloved film vicariously through her and we had a post-screening chat moments after she saw ‘Titanic’ for the first time…15 years after its release.

‘Titanic’ won 11 Oscars. It’s one of the most commercially successful films ever made. Do you remember knowing about the movie at the time, or were you blissfully ignorant?

I remember when it came out. I probably cared because it was a love story and I fantasized about movie love stories. But I didn’t like going to theaters.

When we sat down to watch this, you told me you didn’t think anyone would believe you’ve never seen it. So you obviously know how huge this is in the public consciousness. Having finally seen it, do you recognize what you’d been missing out on all this time?

I don’t know. I’m glad I saw it. It was good!

What about the 3D?

It kind of made me nauseous. I don’t really like it. It didn’t seem necessary.

I had to drag you kicking and screaming to see this thing. I was pleasantly surprised that you got into it. What scenes clinched it for you?

I’ll tell you this: when the ship went down and Jack was telling Rose to hold her breath right before they went under water, and he said, “Now!” – I held my breath. That’s good stuff. So that kind of speaks to it right there. As much as I didn’t want to connect with that part of it – because I didn’t want to admit that I was being captivated by it – I held my breath.

A few times at the end you were audibly saying, “Whoa!” and you leaned over to me and said, “I have to sleep after this – I’m going to have nightmares!”

It was tough to see. The claustrophobia of it all bothers me. It is a little bit heart-wrenching. Like, water rushing in and dying that way? I’m thinking about that now.

That part where Jack is handcuffed to the pipe in the basement: you mentioned if you were Rose you’d just run away and drown yourself. But the crux of those moments is the fight or flight nature we all have. What would you do if that was someone you love, if that was me?

Well that’s the stuff this movie brings up, that you don’t want to think about. Because you wouldn’t end it all or leave someone behind. But you don’t exactly want to put yourself in Rose’s shoes, because it’s a very uncomfortable place to be. I tried not to let it get to me, but it’s a good movie – it worked.

On the lighter side – you laughed a lot, and not always at stuff that was supposed to be funny. The first time Billy Zane came on screen you said, “He’d be cute if he had better eyebrows!” So – as far as Rose’s two suitors – are you Team Billy Zane or Team Leo DiCaprio?

On what pretense? Who’s cuter? Who’s nicer?

Well, Billy Zane is the clear villain. But you seem more drawn to him for some reason.

I know, I kinda love him! [laughs] But I don’t like what he does at the end. It’s evil. He’s not good people. But – at the end of the day – Leo’s character isn’t believable to me. No matter where you live – New York City or elsewhere – Billy Zane is real, Leo is a fantasy. Leo doesn’t exist. Billy Zane does.

So you didn’t buy the love story at all? Because I thought Kate and Leo had great chemistry.

No! That would never happen! It’s a double negative. This would never happen, but in the back of our heads – as women – we fantasize that it does. But when it comes down to practicality? “I have nothing to offer you!” “Its okay – you’re a good person!” Yeah. I don’t think so!

Would you prefer the below deck dance party or the fancy on deck dinner party?

You already know the answer to that! On deck!

Even though the below deck party was very clearly more fun?

They were messing around with their feet acting like it was somehow rhythmic and cool. It was stupid.

You laughed very hard during the POV shot of Jack and Rose spinning together. So I’m presuming this below-deck party scene was the low point of the movie for you.

It was lame!

Alright, so what’s the movie’s high point for you?

The part where they finally went into the water and Jack and Rose went down and Rose came up and they’d stopped holding hands under water and she couldn’t find Jack. Because that’s everyone’s biggest fear realized.

Yeah it was pretty incredible to see your reaction when she popped up and the camera pulled out so you saw all the people treading water around her in this huge scope. You audibly muttered, “This is crazy.”

It is! Because you look around and it’s like – it’s almost like feeling like you’re in Times Square and you lost someone’s hand. Like – we’re so used to having the safety of an iPhone and three BlackBerrys and an iPad – we’re always accessible, we’re always connected. And to look at that and realize no resource in that scene could help you, no matter what. You feel helpless. And here’s the thing – she could’ve found him like she did, but she also could’ve not. And the truth of the matter is that if that situation wasn’t made by Hollywood, she probably wouldn’t have. And that’s awful. I don’t think we’re used to feeling that way, which is why it’s so visceral. It’s almost like a 9/11 thing. All the phones went down that day. It’s just too real to us because this stuff has happened.

So you obviously feel like the themes in this film are pretty timeless. What about the look of it? Does it look like 15-year-old technology to you?

I didn’t look at it and think it looked like it was made years ago. Honestly, it worked. I didn’t stop and think once that it didn’t work. Although I haven’t exactly seen a movie in the theater in forever. But antiquated technology was never an issue with this – I believed it. Everything looked amazing.

Who do you think gives the best overall performance in ‘Titanic’?

Kate Winslet was good. Leo was good, but I don’t think it was the right movie for him. Maybe that was part of the problem. I found him a little bit phony.

Who would you re-cast for that lead?

Ryan Gosling! [laughs]

So it’s over! You’ve done it! Do you feel accomplished?

Not really. [laughs]

Did you even know this movie was being re-released in theaters?

Not until you called me today! The rest is history.

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