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A Slow-Moving Disaster Of Immodesty: Cameron's 'Titanic,' 20 Years Later

RAY SUAREZ, HOST:

Twenty years ago today, the film "Titanic" opened in theaters. Titanic the ship sank in 1912. "Titanic" the movie was a huge success. NPR's pop culture critic Linda Holmes takes us back to 1997.

LINDA HOLMES, BYLINE: "Titanic" eventually won 11 Oscars, including best picture, best director for James Cameron and, of course, best original song.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MY HEART WILL GO ON")

CELINE DION: (Singing) Near, far, wherever you are...

HOLMES: It made Leonardo DiCaprio a huge star. It made Kate Winslet a huge star. It made every goofball on every cruise ship you've ever been on stand on the bow and say, well, you know.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "TITANIC")

LEONARDO DICAPRIO: (As Jack Dawson) I'm the king of the world. (Yelling) Woo-hoo, woo (ph).

HOLMES: The film grossed more than $650 million domestically and an iceberg-shattering 2 billion-plus worldwide. And it did great things for the pennywhistle.

(SOUNDBITE OF CELINE DION SONG, "MY HEART WILL GO ON")

HOLMES: Years later, some people will tell you that the whole thing is pretty corny - the rich young woman with a dastardly fiance, the brave young dreamer who sweeps her off her feet, the nude sketch, the descent into steerage, where all the real fun is had. But most of the second half of the film - nearly an hour and a half of screen time - concerns the sinking of the ship after it collides with the iceberg. Apologies for what is perhaps the greatest spoiler in history.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "TITANIC")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character, yelling) It's going to hit.

(SOUNDBITE OF CRASH)

HOLMES: And say what you will about the kissing and the twirling, the sinking of the ship is harrowing. It's tactile, it's terrifying, and it's technically impeccable filmmaking, particularly from 1997. But perhaps the most enduring lesson from the story of Titanic - the thing that still makes it timely is that it's a slow-moving disaster of immodesty. The people who built the ship cannot see, will not see its flaws. By the time they figure it out, it's too late. There's no miracle. There aren't enough lifeboats. Twenty years later, all we can do is wonder. Rose, couldn't you have fit two people on a floating door? I'm Linda Holmes.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MY HEART WILL GO ON")

DION: (Singing) You're here. There's nothing... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.