Titanic - Rated - TEPID, verging on theSIMMERING

Why would a titanic director like James Cameron (The Terminator (1 & 2), The Abyss, Aliens, True Lies) reduce a mega-subject like the sinking of the Titanic to a micro-subject like a love story?

Didn't he trust the audience to comprehend a large-scale tragedy? Didn't he think we'd be interested in the technical details of the sinking? I know he is. Did he assume we'd be bored by a retelling of this classic tragedy?

If that's what he thought, I'd say he was wrong.

I loved every minute of the technical side of Titanic. I loved the early scenes set in the high-tech present. I loved the way he used old Rose - the wonderful Gloria Stuart (The Old Dark House, The Invisible Man) to tell the story. I loved the shots of the huge brass turbines pumping like some infernal machine. I loved hearing scraps of detail about the engineering and the speed of the ship and the damage that the iceberg had done. I loved lines like "She is made of iron. She will sink" from Victor Garber as the boat's builder. If only more time out of the 3 hours or so had been spent on all this fascinating, juicy detail. But it wasn't.

Instead we had Kate Winslet and her heaving bosom, and Leonardo di Caprio, valiantly trying to transform dreadful (and often anachronistic) dialogue into something half-believable. We had Billy Zane, inexplicably cast as a snooty upper-class villain, spouting absurd dialogue in a crazy voice. And we had The Theme of the movie. "Upstairs Downstairs"...and never the twain shall meet. Except that they do, and a whole lot of snogging goes on, below the stairs, and above the stairs, and on the stairs, and in a car, and on and on...This prompts Billy Zane to utter, in the most ludicrous tones, the immortal line "What made you think you could put your (voice shakes) hands on my fiancé?" It is at that moment that the film itself hits rock bottom.

Actually, so much is made of this Upstairs Downstairs theme that it is tempting to see the movie in Elizabethan-world-view terms. The Titanic sank, not because of man's hubris in thinking we could build an unsinkable ship, but because a lower-class spunk dared to love an upper-class chick. The universe couldn't cope, and God sent an iceberg to put Leonardo in his place.

And the iceberg! In a movie about the Titanic, the minimum requirement is that the iceberg is scary. This one isn't. It looks like it's made of masonite. US$200 million spent, and they couldn't even make the iceberg look real! A friend of mine (Keith Howes) said it looked like one of the plastic shopping bags he saves for recycling. Believe me, he's right!

Do I sound harsh? Perhaps. But it is the sheer scale of the film that makes my disappointment so great. There are so many good things about this film, and the director is one who loves gadgets and toys and engineering. So why did he waste so much time on a pedestrian (!) love story. And why didn't he give us more of the fascinating detail of the tragedy? Why did he show Morse Code SOS calls, and neglect to show us how the Titanic made the first radio distress call? Why didn't he give us more of the fascinating detail? Why didn't he tell us more about the Californian, which ignored the distress calls, and the Carpathia, which steamed to the rescue from too far away? Why, after 3 hours don't we have any more idea why the ship sank than we had after watchingA Night to Remember?

I have no answers to these questions, but at least I have the memory of a few fabulous scenes: I've already mentioned the huge pistons, and I loved all the engine-room scenes. Here are some other truly great moments:

· The sight of the huge propellers as they lifted out of the water - it still makes the hairs stand up on the back of my neck.

· The sight of the man hitting the propeller - absolutely horrifying.

· The people clinging to the railings as the ship tipped one way and the other.

· Victor Garber, as the boat builder, stands leaning at in increasingly steep angle against the mantelpiece as the ship sinks. He's absolutely bereft, but he adjusts the time on the mantle-clock .

· An elderly couple cling to each other on a bed. (But who were they?)

· The plates fall out of the cupboard as the ship tilts (this is a pinch - or a quote - from A Night to Remember).

· The moment when a ship's officer has to use a gun.

· The scene stealing performance of the officer who leads the search for survivors from a lifeboat. His scene was unbearably moving and quite uncanny - but it was over way too soon.

Counterbalancing these great moments, we have great disappointments like the pretty ordinary digital miniature shots, where the people all walk the same way, at the same speed and at the same angle.

In the end, it is a very uneven film, and it rarely moved me. It should have had me sobbing uncontrollably. Even the documentaries make me cry.