It is hard to believe that twenty years have nearly gone by since the release of James Cameron’s Titanic. The director already became famous by directing established low and high budget action films such as The Terminator and True Lies. But the Canadian had a keen interest in the famous oceanic tragedy that occurred in 1912 a couple of years before the creation process of the big blockbuster movie that cost in the region of $200,000,000 to develop.
The pre-release hype, at least in the UK, was quite minimal. But all that changed when the picture was unleashed!
Future movie stars Kate Winslet and Leonardo Dicaprio were still relatively unknowns. Winslet was born and bred in the UK in Reading. She had made a couple of British made movies but it wasn’t long before she was thrust into global stardom when she was elected to play Rose Dewitt Bukater, the troubled teenager who was engaged to be married to a millionaire, Cal Hockley who had a rather unsparing streak.
Dicaprio had previously got his taste for fame when he acted in Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet, a modern day telling of the famous Shakespeare play where two star crossed lovers meet a tragic ending. His first movie was Critters 3, the second sequel in the monster furball horror franchise. Before Titanic, Dicaprio had a tendency to pick roles that depicted challenges in relationships and life itself. They may not be everybody’s cup of tea but the now 42 year old actor was certainly on the right path if he wanted to showcase genuine acting talent.
James Cameron showed his attribute for persistence when he pitched the idea of Titanic to 20th Century Fox. They originally requested Tom Cruise or Brad Pitt for the role of Jack Dawson since Dicaprio was still quite unknown and was possibly seen as a financial risk. However, the director held out and won over the studio. The actual pitch itself, in Cameron’s own words was, “Romeo and Juliet on a boat.” Understandably, again, Fox was pessimistic but they gave him the funds to dive to the actual wreckage in the North Atlantic Ocean and grab some footage. During this time, he wrote the script and impressed the studio so much with what he produced and captured that they were eventually persuaded!
The lavish first class dining room, the grand staircase, the cabins and more were all recreated with uttermost accuracy. Even compact items such as dinner plates and breakfast bowls contained the White Star Line logo’s, just like they did on the original ship now more than a century ago. Special water tanks were built to simulate the flooding and sinking of the ship that fictitiously took place during the second half of the movie.
However, the film did not just depend on special effects to impress. The story of two people from two different classes of life coming together not only provoked the audience into caring for them, it was also the key to make people feel sympathy for the rest of the passengers onboard when they eventually meet their doomed fates. But did Jack have to die at the conclusion? Cameron seems to be of the view that killing off one of the main characters is necessary for maximum emotional impact, as proven when he did so for The Terminator and even the ending of it’s sequel in the “chain of death” moment.
Gloria Stuart provided the occasional narration in telling of the events, both authentic to the actual disaster and also for some of the movie’s more imaginary moments. If the ill fated fling between Rose and Jack was to make people care, then perhaps older Rose was the second piece of the puzzle in finalising the process in informing viewers of some of the facts about the sinking. One particular moment would be immediately after Rose makes rescuers aware of her existence and the movie fades into the present with older Rose telling of how many people unfortunately perished and were recovered. A perfect but profound moment.
When the film was released, it can be recalled that it seemed as if the world had gone mad for a sinking ship! Copious amounts of memorabilia were released for retail. Some of the most corny pieces were school bags, stationery and costumes. Then there were your usual t-shirts, lobby cards and posters. Reports of people seeing the movie more than once on the same day were apparently reportedly substantiated. The Titanic marketing machine was certainly a force to be reckoned with! Celine Dion’s My Heart Will Go On was a chart success although time has not been too kind to it. Even Kate Winslet, herself, has stated that she dislikes the song, even going so far as to say that it makes her want to “throw up.”
There really was not another movie out there back in 1997 to compete with it although ones such as Men In Black and the James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies were successful in their own right. Titanic was in a league all on it’s own!
Depending on one’s point of view, Titanic has unfortunately, and fortunately, gotten the reputation over the years as a “chick flick.” It has also been so successful that it seems that there are certain people that hate it for hate’s sake. Let’s get it right, though.The film is not perfect! James Cameron usually had the assistance of others writing scripts for his films but decided to pen Titanic all on his own. And the faults evidently show themselves, including the trite dialogue. Still, the man proved that he is not one dimensional and can take risks and venture into territory not previously experienced.
Behind the (necessary) romantic aspect was a look at the contrast of two social classes of people and the treatment they received. And were perceived. Rose was somebody who was trapped, and forcibly so by a domineering mother, in a situation that she was blatantly not happy with. So not happy that the thought of committing suicide by jumping off the Titanic almost became a reality! On the other end of the spectrum, 3rd class ticket holder Jack was a happy go lucky type of chap who always had to fight to make ends meet, but at the same time had a heart of gold that was eventually recognised by Rose, who could not care less for materialism. Only the genuine love of another soul.
The second half of Titanic is anything but a “chick flick,” although females were, and are, inevitably drawn by Rose and Jack’s affair and the boyish good looks of Leonardo Dicaprio.
What of the movie’s legacy 20 years on?
The film no doubt still, and always will, retain the tag of ‘classic.’ The epic also inspired many to take an interest in the case of the 105 year old sinking of the ship that was claimed by the media to be “unsinkable.” A number of documentaries about it are often seen screen on television, at least here in the UK, covering a wide range of angles and going so far as to offer up different conspiracies regarding what caused the ship to descend into the murky cold waters in the early hours of April 15th, 1912.
James Cameron, himself, was inspired by his own movie to eventually take a deep (pun intended) interest in deep sea diving. He managed to capture footage with 3D cameras when embarking on a record breaking expedition in 2012. The last film he directed was Avatar, released in 2009. Directing still does not seem to be at the top of his list of priorities as of writing in 2017, although Avatar sequels have been mentioned.
Titanic was also given the 3D treatment and was re-released in cinemas in 2012, getting a 3D Blu Ray release shortly afterward although it is debatable as to whether the effort to convert it was worth it. Nevertheless, the re-release managed to rake in nearly $58,000,000 extra, domestically, after spending $18,000,000 for the conversion. It has been reported that the re-release made over $2 billion worldwide!
There have been a fair number of parodies and jokes aimed toward the movie that have been made and seen over the years, mainly directed at the well known “flying scene” and Jack’s venerable “King of the World” line. But it is all in good fun and contributes toward the cultural impact that the film has and probably always will.
Titanic is a timeless piece that inserted itself into that special category that only belongs to a select other few. In terms of filmmaking, it is something other filmmakers can look upon and feel encouraged to make the effort to reach heights they never have before. And some of the movie going public will always look at the film with despair.
Others, with affection.