Director: James Cameron
Production: 20 th Century Fox, Paramount Pictures, and Lightstorm Entertainment; Color (DeLuxe), 70mm; running time: 194 minutes; length: 5,426 m (10 reels). Released 19 December 1997. Filmed July 1996—March 1997 at Rosarito, Baja California, Mexico; Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada; Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada; Belmont Olympic Pool, Long Beach, California; and Titanic wreck, sea bed, North Atlantic. Cost: $200 million.
Producers: James Cameron and Jon Landau; co-producers: Al Giddings, Grant Hill, and Sharon Mann; executive producer: Rae Sanchini; associate producer: Pamela Easley; screenplay: James Cameron; cinematography: Russell Carpenter; editors: Conrad Buff IV, James Cameron, and Richard A. Harris; sound: Tom Johnson, Gary Rydstrom, Gary Summers, and Mark Ulano; production designer: Peter Lamont; art direction: Martin Laing and Bill Rea; set decoration: Michael Ford; original musical score: James Horner; special effects: Digital Domain; makeup: Greg Cannom, Tina Earnshaw, and Simon Thompson; costume designer: Deborah Lynn Scott; casting: Suzanne Crowley, Mali Finn, and Gilly Poole.
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio ( Jack Dawson ); Kate Winslet ( Rose DeWitt Bukater ); Billy Zane ( Caledon "Cal" Hockley ); Kathy Bates ( Molly Brown ); Frances Fisher ( Ruth DeWitt Bukater ); Gloria Stuart ( Rose Dawson Calvert ); Bill Paxton ( Brock Lovett ); Bernard Hill ( Captain Edward John Smith ); David Warner ( Spicer Lovejoy ); Victor Garber
Awards: Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award for Best Production Design, 1997; Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design, Best Sound Effects Editing, Best Visual Effects, Best Film Editing, Best Original Dramatic Score, Best Song, Best Sound, 1998; American Society of Cinematographers award for Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography in Theatrical Releases, 1998; Chicago Film Critics Association Award for Best Cinematography, 1998; Directors Guild of America Awards for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures, 1998; Golden Globes for Best Director-Motion Picture, Best Motion Picture-Drama, Best Original Score-Motion Picture, Best Original Song-Motion Picture, 1998; PGA Golden Laurel Award for Motion Picture Producer of the Year, 1998; Screen Actors Guild Awards for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role (Stuart), Outstanding Performance by a Cast, 1998; Writers Guild of America Award for Best Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen, 1998; Grammy Award for Best Song Written Specifically for a Motion Picture or for Television, 1999; People's Choice Awards for Favorite Dramatic Motion Picture and Favorite Motion Picture, 1999.
Cameron, James. Titanic: A Film Treatment. Los Angeles, 25 March 1995.
Cameron, James. Titanic: James Cameron's Illustrated Screenplay , New York, 1999.
Cameron, James, Ed W. Marsh, et. al., photography by Douglas Kirkland. James Cameron's Titanic , New York, 1997.
Cameron, James and Joseph Montebello. James Cameron's Titanic Poster Book , New York, 1998.
Parisi, Paula. Titanic and the Making of James Cameron: The Inside Story of the Three-Year Adventure that Rewrote Motion Picture History , Newmarket Press, 1998.
Fritscher, Jack. Titanic: Forbidden Stories Hollywood Forgot. Palm Drive Publishing, 1999.
Sandler, Kevin S. and Gaylyn Studlar, editors. Titanic: Anatomy of a Blockbuster , Rutgers University Press, 1999.
McCarthy, Todd, " Titanic " (rev.), in Variety (New York), 3 November 1997.
Parisi, Paula, " Titanic : Man Overboard," in Entertainment Weekly (New York), 7 November 1997.
Corliss, Richard, " Titanic " (rev.), in Time (New York), 8 December 1997.
Masters, Kim. "Trying to Stay Afloat," in Time (New York), 8 December 1997.
Brown, Corie and David Ansen, "Rough Waters: The Filming of Titanic ," in Newsweek (New York), 15 December, 1997.
Glieberman, Owen, " Titanic " (rev.), in Entertainment Weekly (New York), 19 December 1997.
Calhoun, James, "That Sinking Feeling," in Theater Crafts International , January 1998.
Robertson, Barbara, "The Grand Illusion," in Computer Graphics World , January 1998.
Kehr, Dave, "Titanic Earns Its Sea Legs," in New York Daily News , 6 February 1998.
Gehring, Wes D., " Titanic : The Ultimate Epic," in USA Today Magazine (New York), March 1998.
Klady, Leonard, "Epics Titanic and Wind Crush Formulas," in Variety (New York), 2 March 1998.
Ansen, David, "The Court of King Jim," in Newsweek (New York), 13 April 1998.
LoPiccolo, Phil, "The Secret of Titanic 's Success," in Computer Graphics World , May 1998.
Chagollan, Steve, "Reversal of Fortune," in Variety (New York), 14 December 1998.
Pence, Mike, "Explaining the Appeal of Titanic ," in Saturday Evening Post , May 1999.
Chumo, Peter N., II, "Learning to Make Each Day Count: Time in James Cameron's Titanic ," in Journal of Popular Film and Television , Winter 1999.
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That James Cameron would make Titanic was inevitable, since the director of such blockbusters as Aliens , Terminator 2 , and True Lies once likened filmmaking to creating "spectacles," and what spectacle has proven costlier, grander, or more popular than Titanic ? It is also appropriate that the current stage of Cameron's career has been capped by the biggest cinematic spectacle he (or anyone else for that matter) has yet created. Indeed, the film (as of late 1998) has brought in an overwhelming worldwide box office of $1.8 billion (a total that grows exponentially when added with a $30 million television sale, $400 million for the over 25 million copies of the soundtrack that have been sold; and an expected $700 million in global video sales when all is said and done). The unequaled box-office success this film has enjoyed in addition to the critical praise that has been heaped upon it (it tied All About Eve with a record 14 Academy Award nominations and consequently went on to win a record 11 including Best Picture and Best Director—tying Ben-Hur ) has transformed Titanic into something more than a mere movie, it has become a cultural phenomenon.
The production story of Titanic (an epic on par with the film itself) began when Robert Ballard discovered the wreckage of the ship in 1985 on the ocean floor 400 miles off the coast of Newfoundland. Upon seeing the National Geographic documentary on the discovery, Cameron developed the following story idea: "Do story with bookends of present-day [wreckage] scene…intercut with memory of a survivor…needs a mystery or driving plot element." Then, in early 1995, Cameron made the initial pitch to studio executives. A pitch which was reluctantly accepted based on the director's track record of profitability as well as the fact that he was maintaining that the film could be made for less than $100 million. In late 1995, as a precursor to the start of formal production, Cameron made 12 two-and-a-half mile descents to the Titanic wreckage site where he used a specifically designed 35mm camera to obtain footage for the bookend sections of the film. Armed with this footage, Cameron next had to convince the studio to back the film wholeheartedly. After the project was officially greenlighted in May 1996, ground was broken on a studio in Rosarito Beach in Baja California, since it had been determined some months prior that no one studio in the world could provide the facilities needed for the mammoth project. This custom-built studio featured a 17-million gallon exterior shooting tank (the largest in the world) which housed the 775 foot-long, 90% to scale replica of the Titanic ; a five-million gallon interior tank housed on a 32,000 sq. ft. soundstage; three other stages; production offices; set/prop storage; a grip/electric building; welding/fabrication workshops; dressing rooms; and support structures. During this time, Fox was seeking a partnership with other studios to alleviate the film's already considerable financial risk. After pitching the deal to a few studios, Paramount agreed to co-finance the film (but they would ultimately limit their contribution to $65 million). Production on the film finally began in September 1996. Soon after the start of production, rumors were circulating regarding the expensive production, which would eventually jump from 138 to 160 days; the less-than-stellar working conditions some crew members likened to sweatshops (some even complained of having to work as long as two weeks without a break); unconfirmed accidents on the set; an infamous food-poisoning incident when the cast and crew were accidentally served food laced with PCP; as well as the usual screaming tirades from the compulsive director. Cameron and company also went to great lengths to ensure the historical authenticity of the film. It is through these technical aspects (i.e. the set decoration, costumes, etc.) that the film excels on an epic scale. When production finally wrapped in March 1997, over 12 days (288 hours) of footage had been shot. As Cameron secluded himself in the editing room, 18 special effects houses went to work on the more than 500 visual effects shots that the film would eventually require (a process that would take them the next several months to complete). Originally slated to open on 2 July, Titanic was pushed to December when it became clear that Cameron was nowhere near being done with the arduous editing process. When all was said and done, Titanic was released on 19 December in an attempt to maximize it's Oscar chances. The total shooting cost for the film was estimated at just over $200 million.
Titanic tells the fictional story of two class-crossed lovers who meet aboard the disaster-bound ship, fall in love, and then struggle to survive the grizzly sinking all within the context of a true-to-detail retelling of the actual disaster. This story within the film is launched from the present-day via a subplot that revolves around a missing diamond (the completely made-up "Heart of the Ocean"). After treasure-hunter-for-hire Brock Lovett (Bill Paxton) finds a drawing of a naked young woman wearing the elusive diamond and features it in a television program on which he is appearing, an elderly woman (Gloria Stuart as a 101-year-old Rose) comes forward claiming to be the woman in the picture. After being whisked to the Titanic wreck site, Rose proceeds to recount the story of Titanic 's fateful voyage . It is here that a slew of stock characters are introduced: Jack Dawson (DiCaprio) is the American, free-spirit archetype from the wrong side of the tracks; Rose DeWitt Bukater (Winslet) a beautiful Philadelphia socialite who has no control over the course of her life; "Cal" Hockley (Zane), Rose's oppressive husband-to-be who sees her as nothing more than a possession; and Rose's domineering mother Ruth DeWitt Bukater (Fisher) who views Rose's marriage to Cal as vital to the family's survival and Rose's burgeoning romance with Jack as a threat to her current way of life. The romance between Jack and Rose begins when he thwarts her attempted suicide and infiltrates her first-class lifestyle. Slowly, Jack entices Rose to let go and to, as the film ensures we remember, "make it count." Their relationship culminates in the creation of the aforementioned drawing and a torrid bit of lovemaking. Titanic then hits the iceberg and the film shifts from romance to an action-adventure. The final act of the film concentrates on the sinking of the ship and Rose and Jack's quest for survival. After some of the greatest special effects ever put on film, Titanic sinks and Rose is left atop a piece of wood while Jack floats nearby slowly freezing to death. While they wait for rescue, Jack makes Rose promise that she "won't give up, no matter what happens, no matter how hopeless." After being rescued and reaching America, Rose takes the name of Dawson and lives the life that she promised the deceased Jack she would. The film then bounces back to the present day salvage ship to deliver the film's coda, wherein Lovett declares that although he's been searching for Titanic he never "got it." Later that evening, Rose makes her way to the deck of the ship and drops the "Heart of the Ocean" necklace into the sea. Rose dies peacefully in her sleep ("an old lady warm in her bed," as Jack had predicted) later that night surrounded by the photographic memories of the life she had thanks to Jack. Upon her death, she is transported back to Titanic (presumably her entrance to the afterlife) and reunited with Jack, as well as all of those who died aboard the ship, at the grand staircase (where the clock reads 2:20-the time of Titanic 's sinking). She appears in this sequence as her 17-year-old self, thus suggesting that this is, as Dave Kehr suggests in the New York Daily News , "the time it will always be: [both] the beginning of her life and its end."
Before addressing the critical worth of Titanic , it is important to discuss the nature of its immense popularity. Perhaps the weakest explanation for Titanic 's popularity would lie in an offhand comment by Cameron himself wherein he referred to the film as nothing more than a "$190 million chick flick." Although it is true that scores of women (mostly teenage girls) flocked to see this movie less for the special effects or sensational movie making than for the charismatic DiCaprio and the way he swept Winslet off her feet, to categorize the entire film as a so-called "chick-flick" does it a disservice. Instead, the appeal of Titanic exists in the relationship the audience has with the story of the film itself. That is, the film functions almost as a parable for the American Dream and the American way of life.
The core of the film is an epic romance. Cameron has long said that this was the "great love story" he thought The Abyss should have been. While the love story appears to be the heart of the film it is, however, the anachronistic characters of Jack and Rose that make the film so appealing to today's audiences. These two characters serve, as Peter N. Chum has noted, as the "audience's surrogates." That is, neither character is really correct for the time period of the film, they are more like modern interpretations of a princess and a young rogue. Yet they are more than mere stereotypes. Both characters are archetypes of the American consciousness: Rose being the enlightened woman of the 20 th century and Jack being the adventurous American. The way these modern characters function within the time-frame of the film is what endears them to the audience and is also what makes the film more a lesson in morality that a retelling of history. It is for this reason, as Mike Pence has pointed out, that "what draws us to this film is an undeniable sense that we are seeing America of the late 20 th century in metaphor before our eyes."
The critical reception Titanic received was for the most part positive, but there was a faction that detested the film and it is this that causes the film's critical worth to be in question even today after all of its success and accolades. Much of the post-Oscar lambasting of Titanic can be traced to the backlash over the snub of L.A. Confidential in favor of Titanic in the categories of Best Picture and Director. The general opinion was that Oscars voters felt that if they didn't go along with the popular opinion then they would be subject to profound criticism. So, when the big box-office winner also won the two biggest awards, the assumption was that the Academy had been taken in by the hype and had been pathetically swayed by public sentiment. But, this is a very close-minded argument when one considers for a moment that Titanic was actually a good movie. Curtis Hanson (the director of L.A. Confidential ) elaborated on this very point when he stated, "As Frank Capra said, don't make your best movie the year somebody else makes Gone With the Wind. " Does this mean that Gone With the Wind shouldn't have won Best Picture because Capra's Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (released that same year) had a better story, better characters, or even better acting, yet was considerably less popular than it's competitor? Each film exists on it's own terms and each is a fine piece of cinema in its own right. The inability to come to terms with this undeniable fact is the cause of division among critics and film scholars on the subject of Titanic. This does not mean that Titanic is free of flaws. One thing that stands out as sub par is the crude often inelegant dialogue of the script. (A problem that has plagued Cameron in all of his films, but has gone relatively unnoticed until he decided to do a period specific romantic epic in which his writing style is not a comfortable fit). As Brown and Ansen suggest in Newsweek, "Cameron should have lavished more of his perfectionist's zeal on his dialogue." Logically speaking, several script problems exist within Titanic besides dialogue. For example, if the story is being related to us by Rose, how can she know anything about Jack before having met him during her attempted suicide (are his actions embellished by her to befit her memory of him?). Also of note are other instances wherein Rose recounts dialogue and actions she could have had no knowledge of (i.e. the framing of Jack by Cal or the decision by J. Bruce Ismay to push the engines as hard as they could go).
Although it can be argued that the acting throughout the film is at times wooden and merely meant to bring life to what amounts to simply stock characters (DiCaprio's Jack, throughout the first half of the film, stands out in this regard) none of these characters become, as Richard Corliss has accused them of being, "caricatures…designed only to illustrate a predictable prejudice: that the first-class passengers are third-class people, and vice versa." These so-called caricatures never work against the audience forcing a dislike of the film on the grounds of insulting their intelligence. Consider this: Titanic achieved the level of popularity it did without the help of a single international box-office star (although it certainly created one in DiCaprio). Certainly this must attest to the entertaining value of the film. One thing that cannot be disputed is that once Titanic hits the iceberg 100 or so minutes into the film, the next 80 minutes are as thrilling as any action adventure film to date (and is definitely where Cameron shines). When combined with the romantic epic nature of the film, Titanic , as Owen Glieberman has stated, "floods you with elemental passion in a way that invites comparison with the original movie spectacles of D.W. Griffith."
All this is not to say that Titanic is a work of art, it has its problems. It is poorly written (please note that it was not nominated for an Oscar for Best Screenplay) and is at times rather shabbily acted (but hasn't somebody made that same argument about Gone With the Wind at some point in history?). (Certainly Cameron didn't help his own critical standing when he blasted Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times in print for writing an unflattering review of Titanic .) But, where the film does succeed is in being a flat out good movie. It is enjoyable, pure and simple. Surely, nobody can doubt that Titanic is the most successful film in history, and no one can dispute that the film boasts some of the most spectacular effects ever put on film (in fact, apart from Best Picture and Director, all of the Oscars that Titanic won had something to do with the film's technical accomplishments). But, does all of this mean that it deserved to win Best Picture and Director over L.A. Confidential ? That's a matter of opinion and endless debate. Perhaps 60 years down the road we will have a completely different consensus regarding Titanic than the argumentative one we have today.
—Michael J. Tyrkus