A hundred and five years ago, a mammoth shipped named the Titanic, struck an iceberg and sunk in the the middle of the Atlantic ocean. But even a century later, it continues to facscinate us. Albeit for different reasons. Today its aura is due to the 1997 blockbuster movie, which captured hearts and the box office. For me it is still hard to believe that this movie is twenty years old. First time watchers, even today, are sure to fall in love with the doomed couple and awe at the CGI in this movie. And don't forget the music !
Right up until its premiere on December 19, 1997, Titanic was expected to be the biggest disaster since the actual ship went down. (The CGI-laden movie, which was wildly over its original budget, got bumped from summer to winter.) Instead, the James Cameron film spent a ridiculous fifteen consecutive weeks at the top of the box-office charts, eventually blowing past Star Wars to become the highest-grossing release of all time, a record it held until Cameron’s Avatar displaced it twelve years later. Because of Titanic's unprecedented reach, its impact on popular culture was immediate and enduring. Not only did the film made household names of its young stars Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio, it embraced marketing opportunities by packaging every possible aspect of the film for sale: the historical research, the legendary production process, the clothes, the jewelry, the music, the actors. And the film greatly benefitted from a new type of fan culture emerging on the Internet, one that allowed anybody, no matter how young or technology-challenged, to create a personal webpage documenting his or her obsession.
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.
January 1: National Geographic releases a collector's edition of its 1986 “Secrets of the Titanic” special on VHS.
Leonardo DiCaprio appears on the covers of People magazine and Vanity Fair.
Kate Winslet, break-out star, does a whirlwind TV post-release press tour, appearing on The Rosie O'Donnell Show … and Access Hollywood and Entertainment Tonight ... and Good Morning America … and Oprah. Meanwhile, Leo DiCaprio stopped by Entertainment Tonight.
January 10: Saturday Night Live runs a sketch about fifth-class black passengers trying to evacuate from the Titanic, starring Tracy Morgan and guest host Samuel L. Jackson.
January 16: Entertainment Weekly editor (and future top editor) Jess Cagle publishes an anti-Titanic piece called "When the Ship Hits the Fan: Why I Hate Titanic."
January 18: Kate and Leo go together as "buddies" to the Golden Globes, where each is nominated. Neither actor wins, but Titanic takes home four awards: Best Drama, Best Director, Best Original Score, and Best Song. While accepting the Best Drama award, James Cameron snidely quips: "Does this prove once and for all that size matters?"
January 26: Deja Vu releases its dance remake of “My Heart Will Go On.” The peppy track peaks at number 69 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart on May 30.
January 31: Twentieth Century Fox estimates that 7 percent of all U.S. teenage girls have seen the movie twice.
February 1: Newspaper comic "Fox Trot" begins a weeklong arc about the mother's obsession with Titanic.
February 6: EW runs a cover story called: ”Titanic: How It Will Change Hollywood.” The author's conclusion: "And there it is — what may be the biggest sea change of all in Titanic-shaken Hollywood: the ascendancy of a new post-ironic, neo-romantic era of mainstream, big-budget filmmaking. Or, if you prefer, the return of schmaltz."
February 13: Fox airs the hour-long promotional documentary Titanic: Breaking New Ground that reels in 7.7 million viewers on a Friday night opposite the Winter Olympics and new TGIF episodes of Sabrina, the Teenage Witch and Teen Angel.
February 10: Titanic receives fourteen Oscar nominations, tying All About Eve (1950) for the record.
February 10: Curly-haired smooth jazz saxophonist Kenny G releases an instrumental version of "My Heart Will Go On" as a promotion CD single. The following year, it is nominated for a Grammy in the Best Pop Instrumental Performance category, losing to the Brian Setzer Orchestra song “Sleepwalk.” (Celine Dion won Record of the Year for her vocal version, edging out Brandy and Monica, the Goo Goo Dolls, Madonna, and Shania Twain.)
February 10: Thirteen-year-old Edith Hoag-Godsey launches her Tripod page "Titanic Rules." Her profile specifies that she has already seen the film six (”6!!!!!”) times.
February 12: Celine Dion’s "My Heart Will Go On" breaks the record for most radio plays in a single week, with 117 million plays.
February 14: The movie scores the highest Valentine's Day grosses of all time: $13,048,711.
February 17: A collection of 32 telegraph distress signals from the Titanic, including one that says "we have struck an ice berg," sells for $123,500 at a Christie's auction.
February 24: Titanic beats out Jurassic Park to become the all-time leader in worldwide theater revenue. The film pulled in a total of $920 million internationally in its first ten weeks.
March 1: Winslet appears on the cover of Rolling Stone. The accompanying profile, in which Kate talks about getting her period on set ("If it suddenly looks like Jaws, it's my fault") and trading sex tips with DiCaprio, is described as "the last non-star interview she gives."
March 1: Kate and Leo are the "most-searched Oscar nominees on Lycos."
March 6: Following Leo's Oscar snub, more than 200 fans call and e-mail the Academy to demand a recount. ''The calls did not just come from teenagers," says the spokesperson. "One older woman called and said the whole state of Florida was upset."
DiCaprio has moved on to promoting Man in the Iron Mask, but he still only gets asked about Titanic – much to the amusement of co-stars Gabriel Byrne and Gérard Depardieu.
March 8: Gloria Stuart wins Titanic's only SAG Award. (Winslet was also nominated.) In her acceptance speech, she says, "I've waited 60 years for a moment like this."
March 13: Celine Dion rides a boat on the cover of Entertainment Weekly and announces her plans to pursue an acting career. Also in this issue: the headline "Yoga Becomes the Latest Craze in Hollywood."
March 13: A British travel company called Wildwings announces that it is now booking Titanic-themed vacations, in which voyagers will travel 12,460 feet into the ocean in Mir submersibles to see the wreckage.
March 13: From a political humor page last updated on March 22, 1998:
Q: What is the difference between Clinton and the Titanic?
A: Only 200 women went down on the Titanic.
March 15: Nine books about the movie, the ship, or Leonardo DiCaprio make the top 25 best-selling books on the New York Times nonfiction list.
March 23: Titanic wins eleven of the fourteen Oscars for which it was nominated, tying Ben-Hur's record from 1960. The telecast is the most-watched ever, with 55 million viewers. At 3 hours and 47 minutes, it is also the longest. Some highlights:
March 23: Host Billy Crystal opens the ceremony on a Titanic set and sings about the film to the tune of the Gilligan's Island theme song.
James Cameron declares himself "king of the world" when he wins Best Director, endearing himself to nobody.
Madonna lauches a shot at the bow (at 2:35).
March 23: Accurately predicting Oscar night results, The New Yorker runs this cover.
March 26: Leo files a lawsuit against Playgirl for obtaining unauthorized nude photos of him. The magazine settles and the pictures are never published.
March 28: James Cameron attacks Titanic-hating L.A. Times critic Kenneth Turan in an editorial: "Nobody's interested in the vitriolic ravings of a bitter man who attacks and rips apart movies that the great majority of viewers find well worth their time and money."
April 2: The J. Peterman Company, which is selling licensed Titanic film props and reproductions through its catalog, announces that they are back-ordered on their $198 Heart of the Ocean necklace. Meanwhile, Fox sues Ohio's Lindenwold Fine Jewelry, which has received "tens of thousands of orders" for a $19 knock-off called Jewel of the Sea.
April 4: Saturday Night Live turns the doomed boat into a chipper Disney character named Titey for an installment of "TV Funhouse."
April 4: Titanic ends its run at the top of the U.S. box office, after fifteen consecutive weeks at No. 1.
April 14: Celine Dion performs "My Heart Will Go On" at the inaugural VH1 Divas concert.
April 15: Thirteen-year-old Joey Russell makes national news when he sells his most valued possession, a 1912 postcard of the Titanic, to fund his friend's mother's cancer treatments.
An urban legend about a cursed mummy aboard the Titanic makes the e-mail rounds.
Apr 24: Tourists flood the removed Fairview Lawn Cemetary in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where 122 Titanic victims are buried. From an EW article: "Kayla MacLellan of Wellington, Nova Scotia, took her friends to Fairview for her Titanic-themed 11th-birthday party before they all headed to see the movie again. Two of the girls ran between the graves shouting, 'I'm the king of the world!'"
April 24: Leonardo DiCaprio is introduced on the cover of Entertainment Weekly as the leader of Hollywood's new "Frat Pack" (which includes Damon, Affleck, and … Van Der Beek).
Fundamentalist Christian group United Church of God includes an article called "Lessons from the Titanic" in its March/April newsletter. Excerpt: "This age is like the Titanic. We naively assume society to be unsinkable. Yet it is destined to go down. But we don't have to go down with it. By establishing a relationship with God and upholding the way of life He calls us to, we can locate a lifeboat."
May 11: DiCaprio is the cover boy for People's "50 Most Beautiful People in the World" list. Gloria Stuart also makes the list, and tells People that Hollywood beauty regimens have changed since the 1930s: "I don't even remember knowing about personal trainers. We played tennis on Sundays and went to Palm Springs and lay in the sun and swam."
May 15: Leo joins the grand Hollywood tradition and shoots a fifteen-second commercial in Japan for a $4 million payday.
J. Peterman releases its Spring/Summer catalog, offering reproductions of Titanic costumes like Rose's "jump dress" ($35,000, only one available) and the "heaven dress" from the last scene ($2,000, recommended for brides).
May 16: Conservative media group ChildCare Action Project declares that "there has not been a more subliminal, far-reaching theft of innocence of such scale and dimension in the history of childhood than Titanic!"
May 17: Titanic surpasses Star Wars to become the highest-grossing film ever, prompting George Lucas to take out a congratulatory full-page ad in Variety.
May 18: Opening of a People article: "Created at great expense and delivered with feverish hype, it may be the most remarkable thing ever to happen to romance. No, not Titanic; we're talking about Viagra, the sky-blue, diamond-shaped pill for men that treats sexual impotence."
May 21: Two feature-film Titanic parodies go into pre-production: Titanic Too — It Missed the Iceberg (set to star Leslie Nielsen) and Gigantic (about a ship that's two-and-a-half inches shorter than the Titanic). Both are dead in the water a few months later.
May 30: The MTV Movie Awards award Titanic Best Male Performance and Best Onscreen Duo, though it loses Best Kiss to The Wedding Singer. A highlight of the ceremony: Stiller and Vince Vaughn pitch a sequel to James Cameron.
May 31: Dave Barry publishes a humor piece containing the script to his own Titanic sequel.
June 20: Ozzy Osbourne debuts his Ozzfest video intro, in which he pulls a Billy Crystal and gets swapped in for Kate Winslet via editing for the nude-portrait scene.
June 25: Dan Akroyd brags to People about his new film Pearl Harbor, saying, "It is going to be bigger than Titanic ... the biggest movie in the history of the film industry."
July 24: After nine rumored film leads (including American Psycho), DiCaprio announces that his next project will be Danny Boyle's The Beach. His salary, which was $2.5 million for Titanic, is now $21 million.
July 30: Leonardo DiCaprio pays a well-publicized visit to paralyzed teenage gymnast Sang Lang.
July 30: "Titanic: The Exhibition," featuring salvaged artifacts from the ship, debuts at Boston's World Trade Center.
August 16: The Family Channel premieres "Leo Mania," an hour-long documentary about DiCaprio's fan following.
Aug 21: Leslie Nielsen parodies the "King of the World" scene in the film Wrongfully Accused.
August 25: Back to Titanic, a sequel to the bestselling soundtrack album, is released.
September 1: The Titanic double-cassette VHS box set hits stores.
Blockbuster chains stay open until 2 a.m. in order to start selling at midnight. In Bay Ridge, a video store promotes the release with an 8-foot ice sculpture of the ship; in Dallas, stores offered a free rental to the customer who brought in the largest chunk of ice.
September 2: A Utah video store offers to cut the racy scenes from Titanic VHS tapes for $5. More than 50 customers take them up on it in the first day.
September 5: The Mariners' Museum in Virginia opens an expansion of its exhibit "Titanic: Fortune & Fate," which has been visited by 200,000 people since opening in January.
September 13: Katie Holmes shows off the trend in Titanic-inspired ladies' fashion with her cap-sleeved lace gown at the 1998 Emmys.
September 11: The Starr Report goes public, revealing that one of Monica Lewinksy's last gifts to Clinton was "a romantic note that she had written, inspired by a recent viewing of the movie Titanic. In the note, Ms. Lewinsky told the President that she wanted to have sexual intercourse with him, at least once."
October 30: Director Steve Oedekerk announces that filming is near completion on Thumbtanic, a Titanic parody in which all the characters are played by thumbs. (The 26-minute film doesn't see release until 2002.)
October: Galoob releases a limited-edition collector's doll of Rose DeWitt Bukater.
November 3: "James Cameron's Titanic Explorer," a three-disc CD-ROM reference guide to the ship's history, hits stores.
November 13: DiCaprio reportedly crashes Kate Winslet's wrap party for Quills, wearing a Dennis the Menace mask.
November: A series of Titanic trading cards is released in a limited-edition box shaped like a steamer trunk.
November 22: Celine Dion guest stars on the CBS drama Touched by an Angel.
December 6: The new Titanic Restaurant in London opens its doors for the Tatler magazine Christmas party.
The long-running Las Vegas burlesque show "Jubilee," which features a thirteen-minute dance sequence about the sinking of the Titanic, is now playing to capacity crowds.
December 28: People announces there are "more than 500 web pages" dedicated to DiCaprio. These are joined by the many sites with Titanic-inspired humor, poetry, fiction, passionate defenses, passionate takedowns, and art.
By the end of 1998, the name Rose has risen 100 spots on the Social Security Administration's list of most-popular baby names. Jack, Leo, and Kate also increase in popularity.