James and the giant metallic peach. Hope floats? Not hardly, and neither do big broken ships. From good to bad in the time it takes to freeze an ice cube.

WARNING: This review may include spoilers!

The $200 million Titanic that Writer/Director/Producer/Editor/Egotist James Cameron brought to the big screen is the most lavish, beautiful picture I have ever seen. It’s also—and this will come as no surprise for those of you who know me—the most depressing, topping even Phenomenon in the please-kill-yourself-now sweepstakes.

I doubt there’s anyone out there who hasn’t seen Titanic. Not only did it win 11 Academy Awards, it also is the top money-making movie of all-time. So my plot synopsis will be a brief one: Poor boy meets rich girl on a big, doomed ship; many complications result. Given this simplistic storyline, it is strongly to Cameron’s credit that the movie never lags during the more than 3 hours it takes to tell it.

And let me say again what a marvellous piece of eye candy this was. Throughout the entirety of the movie I kept thinking about how glorious the shots looked as the colors, lights and textures played on the screen. A person could take a still from almost any scene in the movie and frame it and hang it in the San Francisco Museum of Art. Nobody would be the wiser. Cinematographer Russell Carpenter earned his Oscar.

The musical score (which thankfully did not include Celine Dion’s sappy lyrics until the credits rolled) was excellent, being both powerful yet unobtrusive. The sound effects were likewise terrific, though I have yet to figure out how, toward the end of the film, the rescuers’ voices echoed so hauntingly across the empty waters of the North Atlantic. Physics can be such a spoil-sport when it comes to movie-making.

The acting was, on the whole, very fine. The Titanic-era supporting cast is stellar, though one wishes that Kathy Bates’ characterization of Molly Brown would’ve been something a little different. That’s not to say that Bates was bad, just that her work seemed like the same thing I’d seen from her before in other pictures.

The present-day cast was less successful mostly because their very existence was an obvious screenwriting device, so we didn’t give a hoot about them anyway. On top of this, I wasn’t enamored with Bill Paxton’s performance, though I thought his character was sympathetic enough, and I still like him as an actor.

The now-famous leads, Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, were a mixed bag. He may be one damn fine, handsome-looking young man, but DiCaprio is a marginal acting talent here. I got the sense that Cameron had to work very hard as director to get the performance he got. As it was, DiCaprio was passable but hardly great. That doesn’t stop everyone, including me, from wanting to kiss him, though.

Kate Winslet, on the other hand, fared better and not just because of the luscious nude scene. She was obviously superior to DiCaprio in talent if not good looks, and she transcended some sections of really dismal screenwriting. Was it performance deserving of an Oscar? I don’t think so, and apparently the Academy agreed, but I don’t have any problems with the nomination she received. From what I hear, she and Leo both deserved Oscars for being willing to work with Cameron in the first place.

But guess who’s the star of the show? Not DiCaprio, Winslet, or even, as some have rather oddly suggested, the ship. It’s James Cameron. As a director, editor, and producer Titanic represents his best work to date. Cameron’s ability to take a vision and capture it on screen is breath-taking. True, in Titanic he continues his gratuitous on-screen female breast fetish, but—and you’ll have to forgive me for being a sexist bastard here—I don’t mind this at all. For those of you who want to argue that this wasn’t gratuitous on-screen female nudity, I can only say, “Okay, well, whatever.” I still enjoyed it more than a standard “artistic nude” scene, and that’s to say I enjoyed it more than is politically correct. (Not that I care.) It was far more erotic, for example, than the love-making scene in the Renault.

But all this yummy nudity and sex stuff aside, where Cameron really falls down is screenwriting. The present-day crew led by Bill Paxton is at best an amusing waste of time, and we could have done without them altogether and had a shorter, more focused movie. Also, Cameron’s dialogue stinks. Not entirely, of course, but there are some monumental clunkers in the script and that’s unfortunate given the overall quality of just about everything else.

Still, this is an excellent picture.

So what’s wrong with me that I was so depressed by this film? Or, maybe, what’s wrong with all of you that you weren’t? All we need is another hunk of driftwood, Jack lives, and everybody goes home in a good mood. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I want the happy Hollywood ending. I do not go to movies to be depressed. I go to movies for escapist fantasy, thought-provoking drama, or fun comedy. I should not need to empty a bottle of Prozac on my way out the door.

I’m not saying people can’t die in the course of a storyline; God knows, in Titanic we got human popsicles by the dozens, and I wasn’t ready to call suicide prevention because of that. But why spend an entire movie creating an extraordinarily sympathetic character only to kill him off? That makes me sad, and being sad is not why I go to the movies.

Now I realize that this is a Baby Boomer acceptance of death thing, and the Hollywood trend of killing good guys is going to get a whole lot worse before it gets any better. It is impossible for the Boomers to do anything quietly, so as they age and die we’re gonna hear even more about how death can be a glorious thing. (That’s hardly acceptance in my book, but I don’t write these things, I just review them.)

“He saved me in everyway a person can be saved,” says Kate Winslet’s Rose at movie’s end. Yeah, except for one: He left you to live your life alone, along with the knowledge of what could have been if he had survived. If that’s Hollywood’s definition of salvation, it’s not mine, and that’s why when Jack followed the ship down under, my love for this movie did as well.

See Titanic‘s brilliance at your own risk.