Cameron's Titanic authenticity


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The "Why do people dislike the 1997 Titanic movie?" thread has wandered into a discussion about Jack Thayer, so I thought I would continue with some of the original discussion points with this new thread. Concerning the discussion about the break-up, I have some insight. Rather than re-type what I've already written, I'll paste the following from my website:

<FONT COLOR="0000FF">One aspect of the movie depiction is most assuredly not true, and that is the manner in which the ship broke apart. The Titanic's hull formed a hollow box-like structure, supported externally by the steel shell plating and internally by longitudinal and transverse beams and bulkheads. Given the stresses that Titanic was under due to the unsupported stern, this structure would have collapsed from the bottom up, instead of from the top down (as depicted in the movie). To use Roy Mengot's analogy, a stick will break from the top down if downward stresses are placed on both ends; on the other hand, a cardboard tube, when subjected to the same stresses, will collapse upwards, splaying out the sides as the bottom deforms. Titanic's box-like structure would have acted more like the cardboard tube and the condition of the wreck appears to confirm this. The manner in which the ship broke apart in the movie had more to do with the unit director's need for multiple takes than actual structural mechanics. Digital Domain had to construct the break-apart model in such a way that it could be split in half over and over again, with only cosmetic repair needed to prepare the model for each successive shot. The distortion of the hull plating seen in the final print was digitally added, but is nowhere near as severe as it would have been in real life.

We know from Edward Wilding's testimony at the 1915 liability hearings that the boilers would become unseated if the hull reached an angle of 35 degrees. Subsequent examination of Boiler Room 2 just forward of the break confirms that the boilers there are still seated on their foundations. In addition, computations by the Marine Forensic Panel indicate that the ship sank with a bow trim of about 17 degrees, which would put the stern about 50-60 feet out of the water before the break. Looking up from the vantage point of the lifeboats, the sinking angle would have appeared greater and this has evolved into the modern popular image of the ship nosing under at an angle of 45 degrees or so before the break-up.

When the keel began to compress during the initial stages of the break-up, the ship would have settled a bit, lowering the stern piece back down to the surface in a less dramatic fashion than shown in the movie.

What about the stern, then? If the bow trim never exceeded 20 degrees, then how does one account for the survivors' accounts of the stern assuming a nearly perpendicular attitude before disappearing below the surface? This indicates to me that the ship actually did break apart near the surface, probably at a depth of 100 feet or more. The air trapped in the stern would have acted underwater as an opposing force to the downward pull of the flooded bow. This condition could not have lasted long before the already fatally damaged double bottom and shell plating separated, allowing the stern to settle a bit before it tipped up, filled with water and sank. The reported rotation of the stern indicates to me that the uneven tearing of the shell plating pulled one side of the stern as the bow broke away.

As far as accuracy of the interiors is concerned, one major problem is that the interiors were based mainly on Olympic, because of the paucity of evidence about Titanic. Titanic's interiors were similar in style but, through subtle changes in colour and furnishings, presented an entirely different appearance than the elder sister. For example, the Smoking Room tiles for Titanic were of the same pattern as those for Olympic, but formed from different-coloured linoleum stock. That alone gives the room an entirely different look and would mean that the furniture would be covered in a colour different from that used for Olympic. Speaking in very broad terms, my impression is that Olympic used more earth tones around the vessel, while Titanic tended more towards brighter colours.

Other interior flaws can be attributed to the realities of Hollywood movie-making. Even though Jim Cameron swore that authenticity would prevail, his production assistants didn't always share that vision. In other areas, artisic license had priority over historical detail (the layout of the engine room and the width of the Grand Staircase are two such examples). Of course, the scene that frustrates me the most was the fly-by scene down the length of the ship. The entire ship was filmed backwards, simply because Digital Domain lighted the model from the wrong side. Rather than re-shoot the scene (which was probably impossible at that point), Cameron took the chance that no one would notice or care. Comparing the number of people who did notice against total ticket sales, Cameron's risk was justifiable.

In my particular areas of expertise (Marconi Room and the bridge), I can point to numerous faults with the sets. However, one would have to admit that the Cameron sets were the closest anyone has ever come to resurrecting the ship. They weren't perfect, but nobody else has managed better.

Parks
 
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Rolf Vonk

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Hi Parks,

I agree with the point that there are enough faults in the Cameron movie as I said in the other thread. I haven't much knowledge about the breakingpoint of the ship, though I saw a documentarie on the Discovery channel which concluded that the stern didn't rise that much out of the water.

What "frustrates" me the most is the fact that the scenes are too overcrowded and aren't always reliable. As I said about the A deck scene when Rose jumps out of the boat she runs trough a mass of people. Accounts of survivors told us that the whole A deck promenade at that moment on starboard and portside were totally empty. It seems that Cameron made the movie a bit extra "dramatic" to impress the people.

Another point is the interior. My first thoughts were that the interiors are all exactly recreated. That's a mistake. Of course they are the closest anyone had ever come, but they are still not fully correct. The third class "labyrinth" is really too exaggerated and is far from reliable from the real third class compartments. What about the route Rose and Jack followed during their discoveries and adventures aboard Titanic. Some things are a bit strange according to the real deckplans.

I'm very interested in the suiterooms aboard Titanic and Cameron didn't use the right styles for his cabins. In addition the furniture wasn't correct too. Even when the rooms were more like the ones aboard Olympic it isn't correct.

The movie is the best in recreating Titanic, but don't see it as the real Titanic.

But what do the social classes (society) in the movie make clear to us?

- in first class many nobility (almost royalty as Jack said). Do we forget that the biggest part was the American high society? The VERY little group of European nobility is to neglect.
Of course all the first class passengers are in large suiterooms furnished in exclusive styles. However (to say it a bit rough and exaggerated) most of them were in upgraded second class cabins.

- we have no information of second class, so this group of society isn't represantative.

- In third class are only strange foreigners piled up in little cabins. Yes there were many foreigners, but the mainpart was formed by British and Scandinavians. And what about the prejudices.

As an important point I like to add the non-fictive characters used in the movie like Astor, Guggenheim etc. We are inclined to see them as the real persons. Who knows, maybe wasn't Ismay that stupid man as how we see him in the movie. And what about Guggenheim? The movie made a heroic person of him, but was he heroic? What a brave guy to die like a real man! Yes, he was a real man. I'm sure our dear madame Aubart was convinced about that! Did you know that Madame Aubert decided to take all her meals in the A la carte restaurant? Strange that she's having dinner at Rose's dining saloon table in the Cameron movie.

I know, I know, I sound like a critical spoilsport, but realise that the movie is just a story and not the real Titanic!

I'm looking forward to your responses and eventually comments about my points. Feel free to attack them!

Regards,
Rolf
 
Mar 3, 1998
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Rolf,

What I see in this and the previous thread is some confusion about the stern rising out of the water. The stern acted differently after the break, as compared to before. As the current position of the boilers in BR#2 suggest, the hull never reached a trim angle greater than 35 degrees before the break. After the break, it is very possible that the stern could have reached an almost perpendicular position before settling down again. The Discovery Channel was referring to the trim angle of the hull before the break.

Parks
 
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Nigel,

Bridge:
The telegraphs did not have the proper facings (and kept jumping positions) and the two outboard telegraphs did not have the aft-facing dials. The helm indicator was missing. Those are what I remember...I would have to look at the set in Titanic Explorer again for refresh my memory for other details.

Wheelhouse:
I never said there was anything wrong with the wheelhouse; however, there's not enough evidence to justify where everything was placed. There was no lighted status board in Titanic (or Olympic, as Senator Smith's party discovered). In both bridge and wheelhouse, lights were placed where the set designer thought would be advantageous to light the set, not where original lights were located.

Marconi Room:
The receiving components were wired incorrectly. The aerial plug sockets, earth arrester and tuning lamp were mounted too high (like Olympic, not Titanic). The standby valve receiver and associated battery box were missing (although the switchboard is there). The phone condenser should have been mounted on the wall, not lying on the desk. The magnetic relay key was missing from the desk. The D.C. mains switch was on the wrong wall. A plaque on the wall is a copy of the plaques used for the displays at the Marconi House in England (not used aboard ship) and incorrectly identifies the set as a 1.5 kW set. The lamp used on the set was a swing-arm lamp, Titanic's wasn't.

Again, though, I must reiterate that nobody has ever come closer to resurrecting these rooms. The Marconi Room, especially, has such a beautiful gathering of vintage wireless equipment that one can overlook the errors.

Parks
 

Sam Brannigan

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Hello one and all!!

Ive been gone a while and this seems an interesting thread to pick up on.
Another thing Cameron may have missed were eyewitness reports of a spray of sparks hundreds of feet high when the ship split.
For film purposes alone it is surprising no one picked up on this.
The split scene in Titanic is disappointing to me because it just doesnt "look right", and Parks' point explains why.
There was a low budget simulation on the discovery channels' tour of the titanic which seemed much more feasible if slightly less dramatic, and bears out Parks' observations very well.
Another point, which I admit is pedantic, is the striking view of the ship sinking on a suspiciously moonlit looking night. From most accounts it was pitch black. Food for thought...!

Good to be back!

Regards

Sam
 

Nigel Bryant

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To Parks
You said something about the Grand staircase's width. Were all the landings of the staircase accurate like A to D deck etc. I always seem to ask this question and I like hearing people's opinions. How would you rate the accuracy of the Titanic set to the real R.M.S Titanic out of 1 to 10 (10 being the highest) This includes exterior and interior sets.My rating is a 8 out of ten, what is yours?

Best Regards Nigel Bryant
 
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Rolf Vonk

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Hi There,

Hey Mr Sam, great to see you back again! Yes, it's interesting that nobody note the spray of sparks in the comments about the movie. Well, me not too. Didn't we somewhere discuss about the fact that the corner of the rising of the stern couldn't have been more than 12 degrees as according to the Discovery Channel??

Nigel: I'm not sure about the width of the vestibules, but you can see on your deckplans that the vestibules around the first class landings are different on some decks. Also the area around the elevators.

BTW, the shape of the grandstaircase itself was on D deck different than on the other decks. The corners of the two outside banisters were more rounded. You can see this difference very good at the detailed first class deckplan. I don't know if Cameron did this correct in the movie.

Regards,
Rolf
 
Mar 3, 1998
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Nigel,

The Grand Staircase in Cameron's movie is larger than the original; specifically, Cameron needed it to be wider so that on film it looked to be Grand. I can't remember the exact number, but the number 18" sticks in my mind. That number could be wrong, though.

I believe Cameron's sets were good enough to serve as a backdrop for his play about two star-crossed lovers. The movie was neither a documentary nor a snapshot of history. For the consultants involved in the movie, it was mostly fun (there was some frustration at times) and gratifying to exercise their knowledge for a period of time (and be paid for it, which is unusual). Despite some errors, those who were able to visit the product of their work were impressed by the verisimilitude. For all of us armchair historians who were not lucky enough to be directly involved with the movie, it's fun to exercise our knowledge by seeing if we can spot the errors made by the production crew. So you see, we can all benefit.

Who can we thank for this? I believe the idea for the movie grew in Jim Cameron's head as he was looking at Ken Marschall's paintings. Through Ken's vision, Cameron was able to see the ship come alive, and he became obsessed with attempting the same on film. The rest is history. Because of this, I rank Ken up there with Walter Lord as one of the most influential personages in Titanic post-disaster history.

Parks
 
Jun 10, 1999
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Parks:

Actually....Who can we thank for this? It is my understanding, and I will refer my source as an HBO "Behind the scenes" interview with Cameron himself. Owing to his exposure to "Return to the TITANIC, live from Paris France 1987" (IMO, the most dramatic wreck footage to date. The one and only time the 18" port bow name was ever revealed) Cameron was inflicted with *Titanic fever*... which culminated with his epic film!

I will concur with you 100 per cent in regards to Marschall. Ken's hand, nonethelesss touched by GOD, brought TITANIC alive for us entrusted enthusiasts, as well as an awareness of some general facts of this tragedy to a general public formally unbeknowst.

And for a time...TITANIC was bigger than Jackie Chan in China, albeit it were probably China's youth touched by the fabled *Jack & Rose* love story.

Michael Cundiff
 

Nigel Bryant

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To Parks and everyone,
As I was touring A-deck promenade in Titanic Explorer, I noticed an error and I am just wondering if anyone can confirm this. I was on the spot just aft of the first-class lounge and the cloak room. The cloakroom's bulkhead seems to be to long and had not just one arched window,but two. I also noticed as I looked down from that point, I saw cabin A-36.Looking from the same view point as I was before I also noticed that it also had the wrong configuration of windows. How could they make such stupid mistakes like that. When Cameron was doing his research did he see all the photographic archives of the real Titanic from an exterior point of view? One last question. I am now situated outside the first-class entrance portside, on the boat deck looking down the promenade. Nearest to me I can see a Sirocco Cowl Vent. On the movie this vent has always puzzled me, It has the wrong shape base on it,I thought it had a motor on it? A photo taken at Queenstown by Miss Kate Odell confirms that it has the motor on it.These photos have been published in mostly all the Titanic books. How could Cameron get this vent wrong? Did he not see all photos taken of the real Titanic. When Ken Marshall was touring the sets, he helped Cameron fix up the inaccuracies that appeared. Why didn't Ken Marshall spot this big mistake?

Regards Nigel
 

Eric Sauder

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"How could they make such stupid mistakes like that."

To be blunt -- Because it was a movie set, not a museum piece. The only people who cared about accuracy were Cameron and Ken Marschall. When you have several hunderd people building sets (most of whom couldn't tell Titanic from a Chinese coastal ferry), mistakes will naturally get by. Once something is built, it's very hard to convince the people who are watching over the ever-expanding budget that they "need to redo this vent because the base is wrong." Most people just didn't care. It was a job, nothing more. They weren't trying to recreate Titanic down to the last screw and nail, they were building a movie set.

People can sit here and pick the sets apart and wonder why there are mistakes until the cows come home, but I don't think most people realize how lucky we are that the sets were as accurate as they were. And for that, we have Ken Marschall to thank.

"When Cameron was doing his research did he see all the photographic archives of the real Titanic from an exterior point of view?"

First, Cameron didn't do the research. He left that to others, people who felt that close was good enough. Second, Cameron's set designer had total access to Ken Marschall's voluminous photo archives, which is probably the largest in the world, numbering many thousands of images. So yes, they had access to all useful exterior images of Titanic (and Olympic and Britannic).

"How could Cameron get this vent wrong? When Ken Marshall was touring the sets, he helped Cameron fix up the inaccuracies that appeared. Why didn't Ken Marshall spot this big mistake?"

Please don't assume that Ken missed "this big mistake." Just because Ken told them about an error (and Ken kept pages and pages of notes about things that needed to be fixed), that doesn't mean it was corrected. I can't tell you the number of times Ken and I walked around the sets, and Ken would shake his head in frustration at not being able to convice someone to change the position of a particular light because it was in the wrong place or there were too many liferings or a certain piece of trim was painted brown and it should be white. There was a tight schedule to get things built, and like I said above, which I can't emphasise enough, most people who worked on the movie just didn't care.

Eric Sauder
 
Mar 3, 1998
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Nigel,

I don't know every spot on the ship, so the inaccuracies you point out could very well be. I will say that Ken Marschall was hired to supply note and reference material for the set and prop designers. He was invited to tour the set later as a courtesy, not to critique the finished product. How many inaccuracies Ken noticed during his time on the set, I don't know (he did notice several, if not all), but I can say he was more involved with soaking in the ambience than pointing out errors that were probably too late to be fixed, anyway. Can you blame him?

Again, this was a movie set, not a historical recreation. Cameron wanted a certain degree of verisimilitude and to that end, he hired the best consultants. The consultants submitted their resources to the set/prop designers and provided suggestions to the production assistants and unit directors. After that, the consultants had no control over the judgment of Cameron's assistants. Mistakes were knowingly accepted by the film crew when historical accuracy stood in the way of their artistic vision. You have to realise that the Titanic set was physically put together by people who saw it as just another job, another film set...not because they loved or cared about the ship or her history.

The amount of knowledge that Ken Marschall and Bill Sauder have about the ship is staggering. The volume of material that Ken, in particular, gave the production crew had to have overwhelmed them. Given that there were precious few, if any, among the set designers who had had any previous exposure to Titanic, it's a wonder that they cared, or were capable, enough to include the amount of detail they did. Maybe their motivation can be attributed to Cameron's directorship. Whatever the cause, the question shouldn't be, "How could they get that wrong?" but rather, "How could they get so much right?"

Of course, if Ken and Bill had been involved with complete say in every step of the process, I can guarantee that you would not be able to find a single error. However, they were not hired, or even desired, to be that involved in the process. And that was a conscious decision on the part of Lightstorm Entertainment.

I did not read this somewhere...I gained this perspective through personal conversations with the principals involved.

Parks
 
Jul 9, 2000
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The mistakes notwithstanding, to Camerons credit, they were closer to the real thing then just about anyone else who had produced movies on the Titanic over the years. How many flicks have we watched that were clearly done on the Queen Mary or some other liner?(I don't even bother counting anymore) Some producers haven't even made a token effort to get it right.

Given tinseltown's attitudes towards historically based dramas, I'm amazed that any effort was made towards even a modicum of accuracy.

Cordially,
Michael H. Standart
 
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Rolf Vonk

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Of course the movie is a good reconstruction and it's certainly the best accurate set ever made for a Titanic movie. However I think the point is that people are going to see the Cameron movie as the REAL Titanic, and it's important to know that it wasn't.

Regards,
Rolf
 
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Rolf, I heartily agree. Every once in awhile, I get into discussions on this with freinds, aquiantences, and people I meet in public, and I have quite a time pointing out the differences between the movie and the reality.

Cordially,
Michael H. Standart
 

Nigel Bryant

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Hello everyone,
I would like to apoligise,
As Parks was saying "How could they get so much right" That is great motivation and true, as the set was one of the most historical accuarate sets every made of the Titanic. It actually looks like the real ship, not like the old movies.Dont get me wrong but I love this film for its accuarcy and story, when I compare old archive photgraphs of Titanic/ Olympic, the sets look like the real ship,interiors and the exteriors.As I said above I would like to apologise for my last message and my remarks.The errors that I mention are two tiny to make a big deal about and are uncalled for.
Sure inaccuaries do occur but its nobody's fault. It happens, and anyway they are to small to distract you from the movie.The whole overview of the set is amazing and I would like to thank all those fine historians like Eric Sauder,Ken Marshall and director James Cameron and the rest of the production team for bringing the Titanic back into the spotlight again as accurate as she could be.A qoute comes to mind, many of you may have heard this.It is from Ken Marshall's art of Titanic book. " It became my goal to accomplish on film what Ken Marshall had done on canvas, to will the Titanic back to life"-James Cameron. You sir,certainly did achive this goal and I am thank you for bringing the Titanic back to her formal glory.

Best Regards
Nigel Bryant
 
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I have been a member of T.H.S. for years. It was truly a glorious experience when my wife and I were given the opportunity to be extras in the movie. Walking down the staircase, sitting in the first class dining room, conversing with the orchestra, climbing in a lifeboat, seeing the piles of life jackets and watching the dead "frozen" for the final scenes were just thrillng personal moments. As said earlier, even though there were technical inaccuracies, I think it is important to take the picture as a whole and "enjoy the ambience'. I certainly did. It was particularly fun picking out the various first class passengers, guessing who they were and being right the vast majority of the time. As an aside - those corsets were sure a pain for the woman.
 
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Kimberly R. Loop

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David,
I read somewhere that James Cameron tried to give the extra's a real passenger name so that they could research and really get into their part. Is this true and were you and your wife a certain person in particular? Are you going to the convention in Halifax? I would love to go, but my family and I went there last summer for vacation and I just can't seem to justify it this time. Maybe in the future. Kimby
 

Ben Holme

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To revert back to an earlier point, for what it's worth, I was rather dissapointed with the discovery channel's representation of the splitting hull. It was too low in the water which conflicted with survivor accounts.

re interiors: I have read elsewhere that the Smoking room had coloured linoleum tiles as opposed to the pinkish floral carpet which we see on the film. According to Eaton and Haas's "Journey through time" the 1st class dining saloon carpet was also wrong. However, I believe Cameron did a generally successful job of researching the interiors, and this came through in the film. The luxury was conveyed, but of course, there can be no comparison with the luxury of the real ship. Incidentally, it goes without saying that real events will always be more dramatic.

I have also read that Cameron gave each extra a historical "identity". Could somebody confirm this? Certainly Widener,Hays,Davidson,Marvin and others appear to have been portrayed, and they weren't given speaking parts.

If we're talking about individuals, yes ,there were a few probable inaccuracies. For example, it is likely that Astor was less confident and more morose, and the countess was too snobbish, but we can never really know.
Was Guggenheim heroic?... I think so! Anyone who refuses to board a lifeboat with the knowledge that women and children are still aboard is pretty heroic in my book. Although the actor was clearly over 46, the general portrayal was accurate.


Regards
Ben
 
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