Titanic: 20 Years Later with James Cameron

Simi Valley, CA - (L to R) Filmmaker James Cameron and Oceanographer Bob Ballard use a scale model of the RMS Titanic wreck to discuss their explorations of the Titanic wreck site (National Geographic/Mark Fellman).

In Titanic: 20 Years Later with James Cameron, the filmmaker takes a look back at some of the choices that were right and wrong in the film.

Over 100 years following its sinking, the Titanic still fascinates people around the globe. It’s unfortunate that the wreck claimed five more lives this week with the Titan‘s catastrophic implosion. However, it also says something about people wanting to see the wreck. The technology didn’t exist to find the site back in 1912. It took Robert Ballard’s discovery in 1985 and that was only after he finished up an assignment for the U.S. Navy during the Cold War. The rest is history!

When James Cameron was making Titanic, the filmmaker and crew did their best work at recreating the ship and sinking from scratch. How much of what happens in the film is what happened the tragic night in 1912? For instance, the filmmaking process led the grand staircase to pop out and go towards the ceiling of its deck. Further dives confirm that the grand staircase is not where it originally was, perhaps proving the theory true. The main thing that Cameron is figuring out in the 20th anniversary retrospective is the ship’s breakup. We know that the bow and stern are some 2000 feet apart on the ocean floor. We know exactly where they broke apart but the question is how it happened.

It isn’t just that Cameron and company discuss the choices made for the blockbuster film but they put them to the test by experimenting with them. Through dives that took place following 1996, Cameron learned that they made the right guess on what the Straus Suite looked like. However, they were completely wrong when it came to the Marconi room. It turns out that while they had photos of one wall, they thought it looked the same as the RMS Olympic. Only through further dives to the wreck did Cameron learn that they had this wrong.

One of biggest discoveries, however, in watching the documentary special is the actual sinking and breakup of the ship. Witness testimony is one way of knowing just how it went down but the question of how it broke into two is a different story. That’s where research and visual effects enters the picture. It’s a mixture of underwater footage, computer-generated simulations, and scholarly discoveries that enable Cameron and company to maybe solve it once and for all.

Another thing that they do is figure out why two of the lifeboats did not get used. Cameron and company use one of their boats from filming to put it to the test. It turns out that it takes a while to get a boat cranked out, loaded, dropped to the water, and launched. When you consider how much time there is at hand, they had to work rather quickly!

There’s something admirable about Cameron revisiting his film and seeing what’s right or wrong. He doesn’t need to remake his own film but at least he can probably sleep better knowing what isn’t correct. Most filmmakers would probably make their film and move onto the next thing on the slate. Well, most filmmakers who are not George Lucas, Francis Ford Coppola, or James Cameron. Cameron is a filmmaker who is able to push forward advances in technology rather than wait for the technology to be invented. The fact that The Final Word with James Cameron is not the final word shows how much Cameron remains fascinated by the Titanic.

In making all the dives and the film itself, Cameron never forgot about the people who died. He speaks to descendants of both survivors and victims of the Titanic. Among them are  Jacqueline Astor Drexel, Muffet Laurie Brown, and Paul Kurzman. Cameron’s further exploration of the Titanic is his way of honoring those that died and their families. The film may have ended in 1997 but the research continued in the years that followed. In fact, Cameron would revisit the film once more for its 25th anniversary.

DIRECTOR: Thomas C. Grane
FEATURING: James Cameron, Robert Ballard, Parks Stephenson, Don Lynch, Ken Marschall, Gene Warren III, Gene Warren Jr., Christopher Warren, Jacqueline Astor Drexel, Muffet Laurie Brown, Paul Kurzman

National Geographic aired Titanic: 20 Years Later with James Cameron on November 26, 2017. Grade: 4/5

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.