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`Titanic' may sink all movie records to reap $1 billion

A number of Deseret News readers have taken me to task in the past few weeks, including a couple in the Readers' Forum (the letters-to-the-editor section). Why? Because I confessed to being underwhelmed by James Cameron's "Titanic," which has remained remarkably buoyant at the box office, and which has now collected more Oscar nominations than the ship had life rafts.

Not that I didn't like "Titanic," mind you. I just didn't like it enough!Let's face it; fans of this movie aren't just Titanicphiles - they're Titanic-zealots. There is a "Star Trek" or "X-Files" level of mania building here, which promises to achieve a larger-than-usual cult following, one that may go on for years. They'll call themselves Titans, argue for hours on the Internet about whether there should be a "Titanic II," as they wear period dress and life preservers to conventions where second-tier stars from the film - David Warner, Frances Fisher and Billy Zane - will make special guest appearances.

May the truth live long, prosper and be out there.

But "Titanic's" current box-office performance may simply be the tip of the iceberg. The biggest record-setting aspect may still be on the horizon.

This week, "Forrest Gump" became sunken treasure as "Titanic" displaced it as No. 4 on the all-time box-office chart for North America. Next, "Titanic" is poised to float right past "Star Wars" to take over the No. 1 spot.

In addition, the three-hour-plus disaster flick is well on its way to becoming the biggest moneymaker in the world, despite the fact that it hasn't yet opened in several major territories.

All of which leads to this: According to the insider show-biz newspaper Variety, "Titanic" may be the first movie in history to reach $1 billion in worldwide box-office revenues.

That's right. No typo. That's $1 BILLION!

And with 14 Oscar nominations, there's the distinct possibility that "Titanic" could break the record held by the 1959 epic "Ben-Hur," which won an unprecedented and as-yet unmatched 11 gold statuettes.

Not that any of this makes "Titanic" better than a three-star movie, mind you. After all, other pictures have won boatloads of Oscars, ridden the crests of huge box-office waves and still been less than sterling movies.

- THAT SINKING FEELING: E-mail from Shawn Pollock at Utah State University, however, complains about a different aspect of "Titanic."

"Did it seem to you that most of the fictional characters had been lifted from the movie `Far and Away'?" he wrote. "I got the feeling the two were very similar."

This prompted me to go back to my "Far and Away" review, written in 1992, wherein I said the Tom Cruise-Nicole Kidman vehicle is just "one huge cinematic moment after another, and always too aloof and distant to make us care." I also said "Far and Away" forsakes intimacy, character and story for spectacle.

Yeah, that could be "Titanic."

- WORLD WIDE WEBBING: On another subject, reader Karen T. Garrett of West Valley City shares this Web site, which she refers to as "another weapon in a parent's arsenal against trash entertainment."

She's speaking of information provided by (www.screenit.com), which she says has "tons of really detailed and analytical reviews of movies, videos and also music albums. . . . It would be a big help to parents if they know about this site."

We aim to please.

- DING-A-LING: And finally, a comment about last week's "Toreadoorbell" column. Someone phoned me at home Friday night and left an anonymous message that the doorbell can be changed. "You idiot!" was just implied.

I have since had several calls about this at work as well.

Anyway, the Friday phone message prompted my teenage son David to inspect the doorbell itself, wherein he found a card that told him how to change the first few bars of "Toreador" to something else.

If you read last week's column, you may already have guessed where this is going.

I came home, sat down to dinner and the bell rang - to the strains of The William Tell Overture.