The One Scene That Sealed Titanic’s Fate Essay
The One Scene That Sealed Titanic’s Fate
Titanic is thought to be one of the most iconic films to ever hit theaters. According to the film industry, the film by James Cameron falls into the realm of an epic romance/disaster genre. Released in 1997, Titanic was an international box office sensation, due to the director providing equal importance to history, fiction, and romance. The film is set in April of 1912, where Jack Dawson played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Rose DeWitt Bukater played by Gloria Stuart and Kate Winslet share a love story that cannot be broken. The movie also gives a historical overview of what happened that dreadful night. This critical analysis of the film Titanic provides an overview that the innovative mode of storytelling (flash back and other techniques) can portray both a love story and the historical background while using a dissolve editing method, in which “the end of one shot gradually merges into the beginning of the next. The effect is produced by superimposing a fade-out onto a fade-in of equal length of imposing one scene over another” (Petrie and Boggs 160).
This editing effect was used at the beginning of the movie, in which at 21:03, the wreckage of the Titanic is seamlessly and effortlessly transformed into the beautiful masterpiece of a ship that it once was. This effect is also used when Jack and Rose are standing together “flying” on the edge of the Titanic, later to be transformed back into the ship wreck. This scene brings the audience back into the present and shocks them back into the harsh reality that the scene was merely a memory from Rose, and no longer the reality (Titanic1997).
The editing in Titanic is truly remarkable, bringing the audience from the future into the past, shocking the audience by showing both first-class and lower-class struggles, and showing not only the love story between Rose and Jack, but the life and death of the Titanic and the two thousand people aboard. Through the use of other film techniques such as editing and camera work, set design, imagery and color, James Cameron created one of the most influential and moving works of art the film world has seen. The editing style and technique brings new life to the cinematography world, and “rejects the norms of modern Hollywood style” (Butka). In all film elements, visual effects, cinematography, color palette, editing, sound design, and music, contributes to the film as a whole. Cameron, “who has been pushing the boundaries of the Hollywood classical cinema since The Terminator, finally reached a career high point with Titanic’s synthesis of compelling storytelling and dexterous style and technique” (Butka)
Visual effects, color, imagery, and set design play an important role in all forms of movie and television. These elements are the core foundation of the overall feeling that the audience experiences when watching a particular film. One particular element of film that impacts the story line is the setting of the scenery. Setting may “often seem unobtrusive or be taken for granted, it is an essential ingredient in any story and makes an important contribution to the theme of total effect of the film” (Petrie and Boggs 82). The setting of a film should be carefully analyzed because of the effects it has on the interrelationships of the characters, plot, and overall general feeling that the movie brings out in its audience. In Titanic, the setting plays a major role in the fact that the first class citizens were held to a higher standard that the lower class citizens. This set the mood for the rest of the film and sets up the segregation that separates Jack and Rose. The colors also provide a strict divide between the upper and lower classes aboard the Titanic. The royalty wore brighter, more vibrant colors, as well as more flashy materials, whereas the lower class wore much more torn clothing, all of which were dark and dirty colors. These elements ultimately set the tone for the rest of the movie, and would be a constant struggle for Rose and Jack to keep their bond strong. James Cameron put an emphasis on the difference between these classes in order to give the audience the sense of segregation.
James Cameron is a critically acclaimed film director known for some of the biggest box-office hits of all time. A science-fiction fan as a child, Cameron “went on to produce and direct films including The Terminator, Aliens and Avatar. He has received numerous Academy Awards and nominations for his often large-scale, expensive productions” (Biography Editors). His most noted work, 1997\’s Titanic, became the first film “to earn more than $1 billion and landed 14 Academy Award nominations. Cameron took home three Oscars himself for the project: Best Director, Best Film Editing and Best Picture” (Biography Editors). To re-create one of the greatest disasters at sea in history, “James Cameron had a special studio built in Mexico, which featured a 17-million-gallon water tank and the 775-foot replica of the Titanic,” this proved to help the film be a successful blockbuster hit (Biography Editors). James Cameron’s techniques used in Titanic became immensely popular as the film became popular. Cameron’s own “documentary urge was so intense, that he created new diving and photographic equipment – at an extraordinary expense for his studio – to achieve textural authenticity by recording and presenting the eighty-five-year-old wreck of his subject. The film, then, like so many other fictional films, says the ultimate compliment to the documentary form: Cameron uses the real thing to inform his reel thing” (Petrie and Boggs 468).
The main purpose behind editing a film is to keep the film in continuous motion, regardless if the time periods switch rapidly, much like in Titanic, where Rose goes from being a seventeen year old girl, to a one-hundred year old woman explaining the history of the Titanic as she remembers it. The editing techniques that were used were ultimately used to shock the audience through “sudden, jarring cuts between the third- and first-class, [which] build the antithesis between the classes and accentuate the conflicts. Some of the examples include: the cut between the steer get berthing space when Jack and Fabrizio (Danny Nucci) first arrive on the ship and Cal’s private promenade deck; the cut between Rose and Jack dancing in the steerage party scene and the first-class smoking lounge (which is such an abrupt change of atmosphere and energy that it comes as quite a cinematic shock to the viewers); the cut between the flooding in the steerage with rats on the run and the propriety of a first-class corridor that does not even hint at the impending tragedy” (Butka). Throughout the movie, the film consists of scenes mainly from the Jack and Rose era, however in the beginning of the film, the director made use of flashback technique to unearth the romantic story of the lovers in the film. To be specific, the plot moves from present condition (say, 1996) to past (say, 1912) and to present (1996). In the opening scene, the director portrays the effort of Brock Lovett (say, a treasure hunter) to unearth the secret behind a necklace sunk with RMS Titanic in 1912. Gradually, the director portrays the love affair between Rose and Jack. In the end, Rose drops the necklace into the Ocean and returns. The film ends with a fictional reunion between the lovers. Dissolves are very important to the film, “particularly those between different time periods, and even fades are used occasionally to mark important points in the film (e.g., when Rose finishes her story)’ (Butka)
Cameron also uses “establishing shots regularly, thus preserving a locale orientation for the viewers: not only do we always know exactly where we are, but these establishing shots also help us grasp the ship’s enormous dimensions” (Butka). Even in the period section of the film, “there is a separation between two distinct photographic styles: “In the first part, the camerawork is rather polite, graceful and even eloquent. [Carpenter] was trying to reinforce the opulence and beauty of the time with lighting,” (Butka). This eloquent style gives a feeling of tranquility and perfection to the first class shipmates, providing deep segregation to the boat, thus bringing about the conflict of Jack and Rose’s love. This camera and editing style let the audience feel the same way that the characters were feeling, eloquent and fashionable. When looking at the color of the first class section of the boat, “there is also use of amber, a color Cameron has not used before; in addition, the first-class sections of the ship are even more colorful, which is undeniably helped by the exquisite costuming” (Butka). In the second part of the film, the camera work and editing becomes much more violent and choppy, showing the struggle the passengers endured as the ship hit the iceberg and ultimately began to sink. The camerawork “quickly loses that polite edge and segues into this very kinetic, sometimes violent movement. It’s jarring and bumpy, which suggests the panic of the situation. This is a point that Cameron, Carpenter, and Muro worked on together; later in the film, initial smooth and refined camera movements transform into “less elegant and more nervous. There’s a lot more handheld work and Steadicam, and its rough” (Butka).
The overall production of the Titanic came at quite a cost but was a tremendous success, to say the least. Titanic’s production was a “famously difficult and complex one, a shoot on an almost unprecedented scale which featured tough technical challenges and which was overseen by a director who knew exactly what he wanted and who demanded the utmost from everyone until he got it, but it was a tough journey to get there” (Braund). Production of the film began in 1995, when “Cameron shot footage of the real wreck of the RMS Titanic. He envisioned the love story as a means to engage the audience with the real-life tragedy. A shooting took place on board the Akademik Mstislav Keldysh — which aided Cameron in filming the real wreck — for the modern scenes, and a reconstruction of the ship was built at Playas de Rosarito, Baja California. Cameron also used scale models and computer-generated imagery to recreate the sinking. At the time”, the picture became the most expensive film ever made, costing approximately US$200 million with funding from Paramount Pictures and 20th Century Fox (Butka). “Principal photography for Titanic began in July 1996 at Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. In September 1996, the production moved to the newly built Fox Baja Studios in Rosarito, Mexico, where a full-scale RMS Titanic had been constructed (Marsh).
Special effects played an important role in how the movie filmed. Many critics were skeptical about how Cameron would portray such a disastrous scene, including the deaths of all of the people aboard the ship. Cameron then went on to say that \”the people were all computer graphics. The way we did it was, we had people act out all of those individual behaviors in what we call a \’motion capture environment.\’ So, a steward pouring tea for a lady seated on a deck chair – that was all acted out and then that motion file was used to drive and animate those figures. The end result is like you said: We pull back down the full length of Titanic, and you see 350 people all over the decks, doing all those different things. The same technique was used for the sinking when you see hundreds of people on the ship jumping off or rolling down the decks\” (Ebert).
Cameron also did not want to cut corners in regards to the props and sets used. In addition to the life-size model of the Titanic, Cameron also had “construction crews build two huge water tanks. One was 90 foot deep and over 800 foot wide in which the model could slowly sink into 17 million gallons of water fed directly from the Pacific Ocean. The second tank was 30 foot deep. It contained 5 million gallons of water and housed the elegant first class dining saloon and the three story Grand Staircase” (Titanic and Co).
One of the most impressive interior sets was the recreation of the famed Grand Staircase— the most famous room Titanic contained. Additionally, the Staircase, “as mentioned by one of the film crew personnel, ended up acting almost as a character in the film, due to it being the location of several pivotal scenes, including the ending scene. Interestingly, the staircase presented in the film is slightly larger than the one on the real ship. The reason for this was because people in 1912 were shorter than they are today. As a result, the staircase was scaled up to make the actors look smaller” (IMDB). For the exterior shots of the ship sinking, the almost “full-scale ship was placed in a 3 foot deep, 17 million gallon tank and tilted using a crane. For the interior shots of the sinking ship, the sets were enclosed in a 5 million gallon tank and again tilted in the water using a crane. This was the method used for the Grand Staircase. However, to make the destruction of the Grand Staircase more dramatic, Cameron and his team dropped 90,000 gallons of water onto it. Because the Staircase would be destroyed, there would be only one attempt to get it right. Unexpectedly, the massive volume of water ripped the Staircase from its steel-reinforced foundations, collapsing certain sections of it” (IMDB). This destruction of the stair case was relatively dramatic and saddening to the characters and audience because it had become such a vital work of art in the movie. These stairs were much more than just stairs; they were the place in which Jack fell in love with Rose, the place Rose and Jack embraced in their final kiss in the final scene; a true masterpiece that had become one of the characters, gone in an instant.
Roger Ebert became “film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times in 1967. He is the only film critic with a star on Hollywood Walk of Fame and was named honorary life member of the Directors\’ Guild of America. He won the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Screenwriters\’ Guild, and honorary degrees from the American Film Institute and the University of Colorado at Boulder” (Ebert). He then went on to interview James Cameron on his success and struggles with the making of the Titanic. The footage of the sunken ship was mainly real footage of the actual sunken Titanic. James Cameron believed that in order for the movie to have a more authentic feel, that he should take actual film himself with his own camera. Cameron wasn\’t content to buy footage from documentaries about the search for the Titanic; he shot the film\’s undersea footage himself, new for this film: \”It\’s all our own. I made the dives and operated the camera and we lit it and everything” (Ebert) Cameron then went on to explain the struggles that appeared when creating the interior of the Titanic. “It\’s consistent with what Titanic looks like” Cameron mentioned. “We couldn\’t explore the whole interior of the ship. We could only get a glimpse into some areas. We went down some corridors to the D-deck level and saw a lot of the remaining hand-carved woodwork, the wall-paneling, and the beautiful ornate carved doors. A lot of it is still there. It\’s very, very cold, which helps preserve things. There are marine organisms that will eat wood, but in certain areas the wood was covered with white-leaded paint that protected Titanic” (Ebert).
As morbid as it sounds, it was important to display the fear and anguish on the faces of the people trapped on and inside the sinking vessel. Even though this was a Romeo and Juliet type of love story, the overwhelming message was to portray the absolute disaster the Titanic was and to show the terror on the faces of those involved. Cameron goes on to say that many died in terror, you know, when you look at the numbers, if you were a third class male on Titanic you stood a 1-in-10 chance of survival. If you were a first class female, it was virtually a 100 percent survival rate. It broke down along lines of gender and class. If you were a first-class male, you stood about a 50-50 chance of survival. And the crew took it hardest.\” Of the 1,500 who died, 600 or 700 of them were crew members. The people who stayed in the dynamo room and the engine room, to keep the lights on so that the evacuation would not become panicked – who stayed till the end and missed their opportunity to leave the ship – that\’s something you\’d see less of today” (Ebert). This just goes to show that Cameron felt very passionate about the way he needed to portray this type of despair in his movie, and in order to do that he needed have the film crew work extremely hard in order to portray that same anguish.
\”That was our most dangerous work,\” Cameron said. \”The stunt team worked for weeks in advance, videotaping each one of those stunts and rehearsing it and showing me the tapes. It was all intensely pre-planned and the set was made about 50 percent out of rubber at that point, all padded up. But there\’s always an X-factor. We had 6,000 stunt person days on this film – the equivalent of one man doing stunts seven days a week for 16 years. But it was all happening at once. We did have a guy break his leg, which I hated. I don\’t think anybody should get hurt for a film. So I decided to do more of it with computer graphics” (Ebert). This made it more apparent that special effects had to be made more in order to keep the cast and crew safe. Therefore, the scene in which the Titanic is actually sinking was almost entirely CGI when the camera was sweeping over the boat in a birds eye view.
Cameron goes on to talk about the importance of human nature and how the story of Titanic is iconic not because of the class struggles, but once tragedy strikes, we are all on the same level fighting for survival. Cameron goes on to state that the “great lesson of Titanic for us, going into the 21st century,\” he said, \” is that the inconceivable can happen. Those people lived in a time of certainty; they felt they had mastered everything – mastered nature and mastered themselves. But they had mastered neither. A thousand years from now Titanic will still be one of the great stories. Certainly, there have been greater human tragedies during this century, but there\’s something poetically perfect about Titanic, because of the laying low of the wealthy and the beautiful people who thought life would be infinite and perfect for them.\” What would you have done? Anyone seeing this movie, I said, will have to ask them this question: Would I have fought to get on a lifeboat? Would I have pushed a woman or a child out of the way? Or would I have sat down in the lounge and called for a brandy, like Guggenheim, and faced the inevitable with grace” (Ebert)?
In conclusion, Titanic taught the general public that the human race is not invincible and that nature does not care whether you are rich or poor, perfect or imperfect, or nothing at all. Through the masterful works of camera angles, visual imagery, editing, and specific scenery, director and writer James Cameron was able to recreate the tragedy of the unsinkable Titanic through the camera lens. Cameron was able to display the struggles of love, life, death, and historical understanding through the eyes of Jack and Rose, and through the magic of filmmaking, teach an incredible lesson that will live on through eternity.
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