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Titanic Critical Essay

In 1912 an exceptional boat was created, one that was far supreme to any other previously seen. Its name was TITANIC. In this essay, I intend to explain how, using various special effects and techniques, James Cameron and his crew, along with the help of highly talented divers, managed to create a true cinematic masterpiece, namely the film ‘Titanic.’ Also, I will demonstrate how the universal themes of ‘forbidden love’ and ‘courage in the face of disaster’ were used as a key to show the audience around all sections of the boat.

In addition to this, I will explain how it enables the audience to become more emotionally involved by focusing on some main characters. When the ship sinks, rather than ‘it’s a ship, who cares?’ there is a reaction of ‘oh no, I hope Jack and Rose are ok.’ The audience has grown to love the characters they have been introduced to, so when the ship sinks, the audience’s first reaction is to think of Jack and Rose, making the sinking more devastating.

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This film is made more authentic by the time, detail, and money put into the development of the project by James Cameron. Cameron made a total of twelve dives down to the wreckage of the original. Each time is making detailed notes and observations of the ship. What makes the film is the fact that the boat itself is the main character. The wreckage at the bottom of the ocean 5000m down is still well preserved, so Cameron made the set to pinpoint accuracy. Unfortunately, the set of the ship was three-quarter size, and there was a suspension of disbelief amongst the cast that it wasn’t the real thing.

By paying so much attention to detail, James Cameron achieved the audience’s belief that the set was a real boat and that you were watching it sink. The film is based on the two universal themes ‘forbidden love’ and ‘courage in the face of disaster.’ The first, the ‘forbidden love’ between Jack and Rose, is used to develop ‘real’ and ‘modern’ characters with whom the audience can relate and sympathize when the tragedy occurs.

In one of the early scenes, when Jack has first boarded the ship, you see Rose on the upper deck looking out to sea. Jack spots her and is sent into a daydream by her beauty. The music immediately changes into a slow romantic melody that the audience recognizes as a ‘love song,’ giving the impression that Jack has feelings for Rose. A high-angle shot is used to make Jack look lowly and unimportant. In contrast to this, there is a low-angle shot to show Rose’s ‘importance’ and ‘wealth’; however, with this shot, Rose’s hair is blowing in the wind to portray her beauty further.

Throughout the scene, the sun is shining, and the mood is a happy and uplifting one. As Rose’s beauty entrances jack, his close friend Fabrizzio is talking in the background. This gives the impression of Jack daydreaming, and there is a medium shot on his face with his eyes squinting from the sun. His hair is blowing in slow motion from the breeze, which also sets the tone. This scene immediately shows the difference in class between Jack and Rose. Furthermore, one of Jack’s friends tells him she’s out of his league and that he has no chance with her, which further shows the difference in class between them.

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In a slightly later scene, Jack is laid on a bench smoking a roll-up when suddenly Rose runs from inside the ship onto the deck and towards the ship’s stern. The mood is unhappy and upsetting, and tears are flowing from the eyes, Rose. The music is relatively non-existent, although there is a low note held and the footsteps and crying of Rose add to the tension. A medium tracking shot is used to follow Rose running and to show her body language. Dim lighting is used to create the effect of it being night while still giving a good view of Rose’s face and emotions. When Rose threatens to jump off the ship, Jack offers his hand out to her.

There are computer-generated graphics for creating the effect of the sea and significant sound effects to make the sea sound realistic and look good. Here the sea is an example of a visible effect, although usually, it would be an invisible effect. It is visible in this case because it is the main focus of the shot. Usually, the sea blends into the background, making it an invisible effect. There is a big close-up shot (BCU) on the hands of Jack and Rose when Jack helps her back over onto the deck. Also, a faint sound of a melody gives the impression there is more to come from them. I consider this the most crucial scene in the ‘forbidden love’ aspect of the film. Not just because Jack saves Rose but because it is the first time they meet and it brings a ‘Romeo and Juliet’ type feel into the storyline.

Another reason for using the ‘forbidden love’ aspect of the film is to show the audience around the ship and show off the set’s authenticity about the actual ship. This is shown when Jack is invited to dinner in first class. The difference in class is immediately noticed as Molly sees Jack and tells him that he can’t go down wearing that. She offers him a suit and shoes so he can make a good impression. As Jack enters first class, there is bright lighting with chandeliers and candles. Jack immediately realizes that he must change the way he acts to be considered a ‘gentleman’.

There are many points of view shots (POV) throughout this scene, showing what Jack is seeing and creating what Jack must be feeling as he enters the first class. At the dinner, there are many looks across the table ones that suggest there is something between Jack and Rose. This scene is the actual antithesis of the steerage party, where the atmosphere is very laid back and relaxed. People are laughing and smiling and generally having an enjoyable time. Jack and Rose are visibly enjoying themselves. As they dance together, there are many close-up shots (CU) to show the emotion on each of their faces.

There are also some (POV) shots enabling you, as the audience, to see what either Jack or Rose are viewing. This creates the feeling of pleasure as Jack and Rose spend time together and become close to each other. This type of shot is used when Jack and Rose are dancing at the steerage party. Jack is spinning Rose around in circles, and the camera repeatedly changes between a (POV) shot from Jack looking at Rose’s face and a (POV) shot from Rose looking at Jacks’s face. In this case, the (POV) shot is also a (CU) shot to emphasize happiness. Although Jack and Rose are just friends, there are hints that there is more to Jack’s feelings for Rose than just friendship.

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This is shown many times throughout the steerage party scene as Jack repeatedly gives Rose looks of desire and (CU) shots of his face show him overwhelmed by her beauty. The music through this scene is happy and cheerful. Irish music is used to create this effect because it is upbeat. Notice here how ‘forbidden love’ is used to show two different areas of the ship, but both scenes are closely related. The second universal theme, ‘courage in the face of disaster’, is mainly the sinking of the ship and the events surrounding the sinking. This theme is where you get the hero saving the day or people saving friends and risking their own lives in the process etc.

What made the sinking of the ship more tragic was that there were warnings about the iceberg that were ignored. When the warnings were issued, Captain Smith was pressured by Bruce Ismay (chairman of the white star line) to push the ship hard to ‘make headlines.’ This was ironic for the audience as they knew that the ship would make headlines but for the wrong reasons. After the ship has struck the iceberg, there is screaming and terror everywhere. There are lots of (CU) shots on people’s faces to show how frightened they are. Jack has been handcuffed to a steel girder or something similar by Cal Hockley (Rose’s Fianc�e), so Rose runs back to free him. This is a brilliant example of ‘courage in the face of disaster’.

The ship is sinking, the chances of survival are incredibly slim, but still, Rose, who in this example is the heroine, goes back to save her love. There are again lots of (CU) shots to show emotion. Rose is very upset and eager to set Jack free and Jack is obviously very concerned for his life. The strength of the relationship between Jack and Rose is shown when all Rose can find that may set Jack free is an axe. Jack trusts Rose not to hurt him with it and as a result, she sets him free. The music throughout this scene is loud and sharp to give the impression of danger, and there are lots of sound effects of water crashing against the walls and windows.

In a slightly later scene, out on the deck, the band is still playing as the ship sinks. There is horror and fright among everyone and the band still continues to play. They know they are going to die so they play to try and relax people. This attempt is in vain as there are people running around everywhere frantically trying to find a space on a lifeboat. At one point the band all give up and one of the members asks what’s the point no one is listening to us. So they all walk off in different directions, all apart from one who continues to play on his own. The others turn round as they hear him playing and return to play together.

Just before the ship finally sinks one of the members said ‘Gentlemen it’s been a pleasure playing with you’. The music they are playing is very quiet, slow, sad music that is coming from the hearts of the members. It is an indication of what they are feeling at the time. Throughout the scene, there are sound effects in the background. Sound effects of people screaming as they leap from the deck of the boat, or screams of mothers trying to find their children. Later in the film, after the ship has sunk, there are people floating in the ocean dead and alive. A third-class passenger pushes Rose under the water as he tries to save himself. Jack hears Rose screaming and comes to save her. They embrace as Rose is upset.

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A (CU) shot of Jack and Rose hugging shows how much they mean to each other and makes you feel upset as you expect them to die. The (CU) shot also shows the breadth of both Jack and Rose. This special effect really gives the impression that they are in freezing water rather than it being a set. Light-coloured make-up is used on the faces of all characters to emphasize how cold the water is. Also, wax is used in the characters’ hair to make it look frozen. This is very effective. Jack sees afloat in the water and tells Rose to follow him towards it. Jack helps Rose on to it first then himself tries to get on it. This is unsuccessful as the float is only strong enough for 1 person. Jack lets Rose have the float and he stays in the water holding her hand.

Slow classic music creates a romantic moment where (CU) shots of their faces show severe depression. Jack then tells Rose not to say goodbye because they are both going to survive. Here Jack sacrifices his chance of survival to give Rose a higher chance of surviving. This is the last occasion on which Jack and Rose talk as Jack freezes to death before the lifeboat comes to save them. Overall I think this is an exceptional film. Although it is not one that I would choose to watch personally, it would be an excellent film for someone interested in love-type themes, as this really is the main gist of the film.

I feel that the sound effects, lighting effects and camera angles were used in a very effective way to set the different scenes. The film is very moving and emotional. Although it is not my type of film I do agree with the essay question “A tale of forbidden love and courage in the face of disaster that triumphs as a true cinematic masterpiece”, I agree with this quote as the various effects used to come together to make a great film. I recognize that to someone who likes this type of film it could possibly be one of his/her favourite films. The scenes of the boat sinking and people dying everywhere are very emotional and effective. So to round off it is not a film I would watch but I do agree it is a cinematic masterpiece and would recommend it to anybody who likes love stories.

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Titanic Critical Essay. (2021, Sep 26). Retrieved May 18, 2022, from