Titanic’s depiction in film was ‘wrong on one point or the other’

February 7, 2023 3:30 pm

Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslett in Titanic (1997). [Source: NZ Herald]

For decades, critically acclaimed director James Cameron has been on a mission to ascertain how accurate his 1997 chef-d’œuvre blockbuster Titanic was at realistically depicting the infamous sinking ship.

The answer to this heavily-contemplated topic? “Wrong on one point or the other.”

Details were divulged in the new National Geographic special Titanic: 25 Years Later with James Cameron, which hit screens on February 5, 2023.

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James Cameron, Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet filmed Titanic. 

Cameron came to the conclusion that the remaking of the Titanic tragedy in 1912 was only “sort of half right”.

Various tests were administered on models of the boat in tow with computer simulations via the U.S. Navy to determine the accuracy of the Avatar director’s 1997 blockbuster film, according to Entertainment Weekly.

“The film Titanic depicts what we believed was an accurate portrayal of the ship’s last hours.

‘We showed it sinking bow-first, lifting the stern high in the air, before its massive weight broke the vessel in two,’ Cameron revealed in the special. 

We showed it sinking bow-first, lifting the stern high in the air, before its massive weight broke the vessel in two,” Cameron revealed in the special.

“Over the past 20 years, I’ve been trying to figure out if we got that right,” he added.

The film is based on the true story of the Titanic, which struck an iceberg on April 15, 1912 on its first voyage from Southampton, England to New York City.

The iceberg tore a hole in the side of the boat, which resulted in the sinking of the ship and the deaths of over 1500 people. Cameron’s reimagining of the tragedy follows the fictional romance of Jack – played by Leonardo DiCaprio – and Rose DeWitt Bukater – played by Kate Winslet – who are passengers on the ship when it inevitably goes under.

The director admitted in the National Geographic special that the way in which the ship sank in the film may have been very different from reality.

“I have no way of saying that is in fact what happened, but I’d like to be able to rule it in as a possibility ‘cause then I don’t have to remake the freaking film!” jested the film buff.

Additionally, Cameron went on to say that the movie’s “dramatic image” depicting the ship’s stern descending into the cold waters of the Atlantic Ocean was “as accurate as I could make it at the time”.

Cameron used a model of the ship, which in fact split in the same place as the original Titanic, to test the likeness of the film.

The producing team used rigging and pyrotechnics devices to sink the boat in a water tank, as well as computer simulations that revealed the ship would have broken into two pieces after spouting 23 degrees out of the water.

“We found out you can have the stern sink vertically and you can have the stern fall back with a big splash, but you can’t have both,” Cameron said in the special.

“So the film is wrong on one point or the other — I tend to think it’s wrong on the ‘fall back of the stern’ because of what we see at the bow of the wreck.”

“I think we can rule in the possibility of a vertical stern sinking, and I think we can rule out the possibility of it both falling back and then going vertical,” the director added. “We were sort of half right in the movie.”

Cameron’s commitment to learning about the Titanic’s sinking over the years does not turn a blind eye to the fact that “what happened there was a real tragedy”, he reminded his audience in the special.

“It happened to real people, and it still resonates down through time in this very powerful way.”