“Titanic: The Final Word with James Cameron”
James Cameron explores the Titanic’s final moments in his new special.
It took me 15 years to realize that for James Cameron, “Titanic” functioned primarily as a tax write-off.
Now, stay with me here–I’m not being a contrarian. I’m a 29 year old woman, which means that I was 15 in 1997, which means that I have spent more hours in my life weeping over the sad fate of Jack and Rose than I have spent, say, learning how to do my taxes correctly. But while watching “Titanic: The Final Word with James Cameron,” the new National Geographic Channel special premiering this Sunday, I realized that Cameron didn’t write “Titanic” in order to tell the story of the doomed love between an oppressed upper-class woman and the kid from “Growing Pains.” He wrote it so that he would have an excuse to spend millions of dollars exploring the wreck of the Titanic.
Not that that is necessarily a bad thing. Cameron is a man obsessed, devoting two decades of his life to exploring every inch of the Titanic’s wreckage, both in person and through hundreds of hours of remote control camera footage. In addition to “Titanic” itself, Cameron also made 2003′s “Ghosts of the Abyss,” a 3D documentary that makes good use of the footage of the ship’s remains. His passion for the Titanic–”the Everest of shipwrecks,” as he calls it–is palpable throughout this two hour special, which convenes a crew of 8 Titanic experts (in addition to Cameron) who reconstruct the exact events of the Titanic’s final moments. How exact, exactly? Well, have you ever wondered if the rockets they shot off while the boat was sinking were actually white, or multi-colored? Because you’re about to find out.
The group uses 3D models, maps of the ship’s remains, computer graphic simulations, remote camera footage of the wreck, and clips from both of Cameron’s Titanic-focused films to uncover and debate the hard facts about the ship’s sinking, addressing anomalies and mysteries of the wreck–including why the boat never capsized, and why all the windows in a certain section of cabins were unlatched and opened. The research models are top-notch–narrator Cameron notes, with no small amount of pride, that the wreck has “never been animated so precisely” as it is in this special–and the experts show off awe-inspiring knowledge of their specialties.
But after two films, how much is there left to say the great unsinkable ship that wasn’t? Though passionate care and attention to detail permeate every second of “Titanic: The Final Word,” the special is made with the expectation that the viewer, like Cameron, is a Titanic obsessive, desperately interested in how the ship’s bow was destroyed, or the physics that created the ships’ debris pattern on the ocean floor. And if you aren’t, the special can feel like it is moving at a snail’s pace.
“Titanic: The Final Word” comes alive a few times–like when one expert emotionally retells the story of smelling a bottle of perfume discovered in the wreckage, or when the panel debates what tactics they would have used if they had captained the sinking ship–but for the most part, this human element is absent from the special, jettisoned for emotionless computer graphic recreations of how exactly the ship went down. Even actual footage of the wreckage is thin on the ground, in favor of the computer recreations. Yes, the computer recreations are the show’s selling point, but as a regular viewer of forensic infotainment, they left me cold.
“I wanted to dive the wreck more than I wanted to make the movie,” Cameron says in the special, and for those who share his passion–those who thrill in understanding the mechanics of shipwrecks–this special is a treasure trove of new details and discoveries. But this special never quite draws the layman into it’s world. Those whose interest in the ship lies more in it’s reputation as one of history’s greatest tragedies of human hubris–or in the film that Cameron once described as “this ship [plus] ‘Romeo and Juliet’”–might be better off forking over $18 for the 3D re-release. Don’t worry, I’ll come with you. What? I’m not crying, I just have a piece of iceberg in my eye.
“Titanic: The Final Word with James Cameron” airs Sunday 4/8 at 8PM ET on National Geographic.
Image courtesy teeveetee.blogspot.com
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