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How has James Cameron Presented and Adapted the True Story of the Titanic for the Cinema?

Directed by James Cameron, ‘Titanic’ is a popular recreation of the famous nautical disaster. Captivating its audience with its authentic setting, powerful romantic storyline, and the fabulous acting of the rising young stars Leonardo DiCaprio (Jack Dawson) and Kate Winslet (Rose DeWitt Bukater), the blockbuster movie picked up awards in eleven categories at the Academy Awards Ceremony 1998. The film quickly replaced ‘Gone with the Wind’ as the largest box-office blockbuster of all time.

While searching for the Coeur de la Mer diamond, a huge necklace lost in the tragic disaster of the ‘Titanic,’ Brock Lovett (Bill Paxton) and his crew meet Rose Dawson (Gloria Stuart), a 100-year-old woman, who was the model for a nude drawing in a sketchbook found aboard the corpse of the ‘Titanic.’ As memories come flooding back, after having a glimpse of the fated ship, Rose tells her story to Brock and his crew. Once again, she becomes the fianc�e of rich Cal Hockley (Billy Zane) and daughter of Ruth DeWitt Bukater (Frances Fisher). Joining the rich, Molly Brown (Kathy Bates), and the poor, Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio), as they sail in the trust of the ship’s designer, J. Bruce Ismay (Jonathan Hyde) and Captain E. J. Smith (Bernard Hill) onboard the ‘Titanic.’

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In a slow panning shot, the ship, setting, and surroundings are revealed to the audience. Special effects create dramatic scenes, for example, when Rose slips and hangs off the rails at the back of the ship, over the water, and the infamous final scenes when the ship starts sinking. Visual design is used to recreate what the producers think the ‘Titanic’ would look like from their research. The use of costume and detail, such as the crockery, creates the setting and effectively persuades the audience that they were in 1912.

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Using computer-generated imagery, Cameron succeeds in capturing the terror and awe of the legendary maritime disaster. The minutes when the ship splits in half, it tilts upward, exposing its enormous propellers, and the desperate passengers cling to the suddenly vertical deck or plummet from its heights into the icy water are particularly effective. This sudden tragedy is similar to the sinking in ‘White Squall.’ However, in comparison to other maritime disaster movies, ‘Titanic’ shines. Made before ‘Titanic,’ we see a similar idea in ‘The Poseidon Adventure,’ showing a lack of special effects and digital technology. The cinematography in ‘Titanic,’ along with the music, sound effects, stunts, special effects, and night and day contrasts, all make the ‘Titanic’ differ from movies of a similar plot.

The structure of the film, flicking from the present day back to 1912 and back again, might seem a bit skittish. Still, this dynamic approach gives the audience a narrator to the love story of Jack and Rose as well as a description of the tragedy of the sinking of the ‘Titanic.’ Played by Gloria Stuart, the modern-day Rose ties together the past and present; this gives a storybook structure to the film, with the modern-day Rose as the storyteller. The music, by James Horner, set the tone of the entire film, with Celine Dion’s ‘My Heart Will Go On’ becoming the theme tune, the song used during the memorable ‘flying’ scene.

Rose calls the Titanic “the Ship of Dreams” yet to hear it was a slave ship taking her home to America. Her clothes, make-up, and characteristics all reflect the control her mother and fiance have over her. On the surface, the world (her mother) has shaped her; silently, she is screaming, not wanting to be married to a man she will never love (Cal). These two (her mother and Cal) walk arm in arm throughout the movie to keep Rose from running away. Rose is unmoved by the ‘Titanic’; this forces Cal to comment that God himself could not sink the ship.

Jack’s boarding of ‘Titanic’ is altogether different from Rose’s. The sharp contrast between the two worlds they inhabit begins right here. He wins a ticket, which means he is going home. Unlike her slow walk up the gangplank, he leaps onboard at the last moment. While she unpacks luggage cases in her staterooms, he throws his single bag on a bunk bed. He is freedom personified. Filled with life, he runs, leaps, shouts, and waves as he boards the ship. The class structure of the ship reflects the world’s class systems. First Class is the wealthy industrial nations; the Second class is the developing nations; and Third Class is the third world. It is this class, an unimportant part of the world, to which Jack appears. Running to the bow, he proclaims, “I’m the king of the world.” Although a third-class passenger, he sees the ‘Titanic’ as a salvation from the boundaries of classes.

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Although she travels in first-class, Rose feels overpowered by her desperation to escape from this world, so she runs, seeing death as the only way out. This results from the control her mother and Cal have had over her life. Jack, who has seen her from a distance, is there to rescue her, to pull her back from the brink of disaster. This is where the word ‘trust’ enters the movie. There is a striking contrast between Jack saving Rose and Cal is trying to ‘own’ her. Cal pulls out the Coeur de la Mer diamond to tempt her into opening her heart. He tells her, “There isn’t anything I couldn’t give you.” She may have given him her body, but she has not given him her heart. Jack, however, has nothing to give to her apart from himself, which he does willingly. “You see, people,” Rose states while looking at Jack’s sketchbook. He sees and is interested in their hearts, their stories (for example, Madame Bijoux, the one-legged prostitute).

He sees Rose and knows she wouldn’t have jumped. Jack knows how Rose feels and has come to set her free from the boundaries of her first-class life. He gives her a description of a life of freedom: roller coaster rides, horseback riding on the beach, even the freedom to spit in the wind, which he humorously demonstrates. The compelling role played by Winslet enhances the captivating connection these two young actors share. Although DiCaprio’s talent seems to make Jack came to life, Jack seems to have only charming flaws, however for the rules, a little too perfect for a young artisan. Both DiCaprio and Winslet are excellent choices, conveying all the emotions expected in a romance, both actors playing to their individual strengths. However, to this familiar ‘Romeo and Juliet’ story between Jack and Rose, Cameron forgets the truth of the ‘Titanic,’ and the tragic sinking and loss of life seem to be an afterthought, an approach that seems wrong for a three-hour film.

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The disaster only seems to take centre stage when the ship sinks. Nevertheless, the other passengers and crew are all but ignored, causing the audience to miss out and not appreciate the sinking scale. The film pleases the viewer with an all-star cast, glorious cinematography, a wonderful wardrobe, held together by the attention to detail and Cameron’s broad control of the film. Unfortunately, like most films, ‘Titanic’ has its flaws. With many opportunities to integrate both the love story and the disastrousness of the sinking, Cameron’s treatment of the event is awkward and disappointing. By weakening the true story in favour of a fictional romance, the film becomes one-sided, unreal. Irrevocably ‘Titanic’ entertains, giving its viewer a visually exceptional recreation of the sinking, along with a captivating love story, unquestionably a motion picture to be witnessed at least once.

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How has James Cameron Presented and Adapted the True Story of the Titanic for the Cinema?. (2021, Aug 10). Retrieved February 6, 2023, from