Titanic takes a Romeo and Juliet approach while James Cameron and the crew go to painstaking efforts in recreating the ship and sinking.
“It’s been 84 years…”
There’s something about the RMS Titanic that has a staying power in the public consciousness. Maybe its because this supposedly unsinkable ship became just that: sinkable. The reported want of White Star Line managing director J. Bruce Ismay (Jonathan Hyde) to have Titanic to make the news in New York is a factor in the disaster. While the ship does make the news in April 1912, it’s not for the reasons anyone would want. It’s because of the disaster that followed an iceberg collision. Even if Captain Edward J. Smith (Bernard Hill) had opted to go against Ismay’s wishes, the Titanic would probably have still hit an iceberg. The science wasn’t altogether there in 1997 but further research would prove that a cold weather mirage impacted things in the distance. Otherwise, there’s no excuse in seeing an iceberg some 30 seconds before impact.
Eleven Oscar wins in fourteen nominations. A box office run that will never ever be matched again and that’s after almost everyone predicted a box office disaster. I’m not talking about the dollars but the amount of months and days that it took to make this old-fashioned blockbuster to make money. Avatar and Avengers: Endgame did it in a quicker amount of time because of inflation. I remember it like yesterday: Titanic opened in December 1997 and it didn’t arrive on VHS until September 1998. I would receive the 2-disc VHS take for my birthday that year. Let me tell you, it makes a difference watching the film on Blu-ray or Digital and not having to switch tapes in the middle. That’s one of the downsides of watching a three-hour-plus epic drama.
Titanic has us follow the events through the lens of the fictional Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Rose DeWitt Bukater (Kate Winslet). Jack’s lucky poker hand wins him a bed in third-class. Rose is in a loveless engagement with Cal Hockley (Billy Zane) and she’d rather be anywhere in the world but there. It’s only after Jack saves Rose’s life in which they start developing feelings for each other. Much to Cal and DeWitt Bukater’s (Frances Fisher) dismay, of course.
Cameron’s script makes sure to include a host of real-life passengers. All the potential human interest stories end up being sacrificed for the love story. It really is a Romeo and Juliet love story. Both Rose and Jack come from different worlds. Even as the ship is sinking, Cal is causing issues for everyone. Cal’s valet and bodyguard, Spicer Lovejoy (David Warner), sneaks the “Heart of the Ocean” diamond into Jack’s pocket, forcing him to be locked in the master-in-arms’ office. If not for Rose finding ship builder Thomas Andrews (Victor Garber), Jack would be lost. As the saying goes: we cannot go with the film we want but the film we have. Regardless, there’s something to admire about all the painstaking detail in recreating the ship.
Veteran James Bond production designer Peter Lamont takes the helm on Titanic. Thanks to Harland and Wolff opening their archives, the crew is able to rebuild the RMS Titanic once again, cementing their Oscar win in the process. Obviously, they build the areas that they need for filming and use digital models when necessary. Because of further research, we know that they get some of it wrong but that’s fine for having to make a guess at the time. The same goes for the sinking although one could not blame any filmmaker for wanting the stern to look dramatic as it goes down vertically. Regardless, most filmmakers would probably not go anywhere close to in-depth as James Cameron and Titanic. It’s still astonishing to see the recreation in all of its detail.
Musically speaking, James Horner’s score delivers a number of memorable themes. One of which comes during the memorable transition shot from the wreck to April 1912. That transition remains a moment of awe and splendor. Anyway, it’s always a good sign when people start humming the tunes after finishing a movie. This film features some cues in which humming is inevitable. Of course, the music of “My Heart Will Go On” makes frequent appearances as a recurring motif whenever we see Jack and Rose together. It’s not just their theme but the film’s theme as well. Interestingly, it was never planned to be a pop song. The film just wouldn’t be the same without the Celine Dion singing the song during the end credits.
The 2012 Blu-ray contains some 30 deleted scenes. One of those is a scene on the Californian, which was about five miles away. They didn’t come to Titanic‘s rescue that night. Titanic’s Final Mystery gets into a reason why: the cold weather mirage. The Labrador current made it impossible for anyone to see what was right in front of them. From where the Californian was sitting, the Titanic could have very well been a cargo boat. In all likelihood Cameron and editors made the right call because it would have just distracted from the chaos on the Titanic as it started to sink.
I’m not going to get into all of the historical inaccuracies in the film. Some of them are cases of legends becoming fact over time. In one instance, the studio had to apologize to the Murdoch family for William McMaster Murdoch’s (Ewan Stewart) portrayal. Murdoch is a hero and not a bad man. There are other things that we now know them to be wrong through further research and testing. If you want to know what I mean by this, please feel free to read my thoughts on Titanic: 20 Years Later with James Cameron and Titanic: 25 Years Later with James Cameron. Both documentary specials work off of the animatics that Cameron and a host of Titanic experts come up with in The Final Word with James Cameron.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the film’s production is one reason why people should remember that the wreck is a grave itself. We saw it again recently with the implosion of the Titan. All that remains of the Titanic‘s victims are their shoes because the skeletons have dissolved over the time. Collisions during undersea filming would lead to Captain Smith’s to collapse while also causing damage to the Grand Staircase entrance, too. Further dives and explorations are leading to further decay in the bow and stern. The bow might remain recognizable and everyone wants that money shot but we’ve got to protect the site. It’s still a grave at the end of the day.
The fact that we’re still talking about Titanic over 25 years after its release speaks to the film and ship’s staying power. Some issues with the fictional love story not withstanding, Titanic remains an epic achievement in filmmaking.
DIRECTOR/SCREENWRITER: James Cameron
CAST: Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Billy Zane, Kathy Bates, Frances Fisher, Gloria Stuart, Bernard Hill, Jonathan Hyde, Victor Garber, David Warner, Danny Nucci, Suzy Amis, Bernard Fox, and Bill Paxton
Paramount and 20th Century Fox released Titanic in theaters on December 19, 1997. Grade: 4.5/5
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