Last night, I was in kind of a strange, mellow mood. Maybe it was because a date (which I had understood was to be a dinner-date) ended up being a let’s-get-acquainted date (a not unwelcome development), I decided to order in and pop in DVD. Before even rooting through my DVD collection, it seemed I was “supposed” to watch Titanic, a movie I quite liked when it was initially released, but hadn’t seen since I first bought the DVD four or five years ago.
What struck me when I popped it in was visually stunning the film was, even on the small screen, yet how lame the dialogue was. This time, several of the lines really grated. When I first saw the flick, I hadn’t noticed how bad they were. Last night, I wondered how so many talented actors agreed to recite them.
As supreme a visualist and gifted a director as James Cameron is, his writing skills leave much to be desired.
And yet, as a man who once wanted to make screenwriting his career, I had to admit (albeit reluctantly) the lame dialogue hardly compromised my enjoyment of the film. I had watched the full first half of the flick, staying up past midnight when I promised myself I would get to bed earlier (but still only seeing the first half of the movie).
While the dialogue may have been grating, the story lines were smooth, with Cameron able to integrate a classic story about the tension between romantic passion and social position into the story of the ship’s sinking, even into the very structure of the ship itself.Â He showed us all but the doomed ocean liner’s second-class compartments and introduced many of the famous passengers who took part in its maiden (and final) voyage.
As someone who believes he has a talent for dialogue, it is sometimes frustrating to see stories on the silver screen where the language is flat or contrived. I feel certain I could write better lines than that. After being in Hollywood for several years, I know I’m not the only one; many budding (and some successful) screenwriters have said the same thing. And the thing is, a good number of them probably can.
But, as Titanic shows, bad dialogue does not in and of itself sink a good movie, provided of course there’s a good story and a cast talented enough to keep the focus on the story and their role in it.