The weights of Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio aren't the only things to have changed since "Titanic" first sailed into theaters in 1997. Movies have, too.
During that December, an array of future classics were screening at your local multiplex. From heart-warmers like "Good Will Hunting" and "As Good As It Gets" to gritty crime sagas like "L.A. Confidential" and "Jackie Brown," the holiday season in 1997 was loaded. Even "Titanic," with its excessive budget -- it was so expensive; it almost cost $200 million! -- and much-postponed release date was not to be treated like some typical blockbuster. After all, it's not like James Cameron was making movies at Woody Allen's pace. (Speaking of Woody: "Deconstructing Harry," one of the director's more underrated and caustic '90s offerings, was also in theaters in December of 1997.)
Contrast that smorgasbord with what you saw in theaters last December, and it makes what was a bland Oscar season seem even worse. There wasn't one film out at the end of 2011 as good as "As Good As It Gets," let alone "Jackie Brown," "Good Will Hunting" or "L.A. Confidential." Which is another way of saying, movies used to be great and now they seem less great. For instance: Not even "The Artist" made me want to drive across Long Island with my best friend to see what all the fuss was about.
That's how I first saw "Titanic": in the town of Glen Cove at 10 p.m. on a Saturday night with another guy.
It was winter break from college and "Titanic" was all anyone was talking about. Rather than see it with my mother -- heaven forbid! -- my friend and I decided to see it together. We love movies! And it's Cameron! We kind of like him! (In 1997, sadly, "True Lies" might have been our best Cameron reference point.) The only problem? Everyone else on Long Island wanted to see "Titanic," too. And in Queens. That put us in the sleepy town of Glen Cove on a Saturday night in December, rushing to the ticket window and hoping to beat out a bunch of blue-hairs for a seat.
I don't remember that much from the screening. I remember sitting close to the front, on the left side of the screen. I remember thinking it was BIG -- like the biggest thing I'd ever seen in a theater. I remember Kate Winslet's nakedness. And, in a surprise, I don't remember crying. (That's surprising because you're reading a person who cries routinely during episodes of "Grey's Anatomy.")
In the car on the way home, I remember talking about the cinematography of "Titanic," as if that were something intelligent movie buffs talked about with their friends. (Me = idiot.) We liked it, and never really spoke of our "Titanic" date again.
I hadn't seen "Titanic" in years, but happened to flip past it on cable last month. The first thing that shocked me was time. My, how young Leonardo DiCaprio looked. (Kate Winslet is right: He's aged.)
The second thing: How Cameron got away with showing so much of Kate Winslet's naked body and still secured that PG-13 rating. (The same MPAA that allowed Kate's breasts to sully the minds of millions of 13 year olds wouldn't let kids see "Bully" because of a few F-words?)
The third thing, and the most important: "Titanic" is hella sad. Hella sad. Is there anything sadder than two people finding love, only to see it ripped away by an iceberg? Seriously, this thing is bleak! Yeah, Old Rose married someone and had a family, but she still pined for Jack. When she died at the end, it was Jack's arms that she walked into, not her dependable and unseen husband. That's depressing in many, many ways.
So, no, I didn't cry the first time I saw "Titanic" as a 19-year-old, but you better believe I cried when I saw a random 15 minutes of it as a 33-year-old. The cinematography wasn't bad either.
What was your first "Titanic" experience like? Let HuffPost Entertainment know on Twitter (@huffpostent) with the hashtag #titanicfirsttime.
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