It’s been 20 years since director James Cameron brought the sinking of the Titanic to the big screen. One of the most successful movies of all time, Titanic earned $2.2bn at the box office and won 10 Academy Awards.
Although it had the tragic love story of Jack and Rose at its heart, Cameron created the film as a piece of “living history” and went to great depths to make sure the sets and stories within the movie reflected what actually happened on that fateful 1912 night.
But given the advancement of technology, and the dozens of further dives down to the wreck of the ship since the release of the film, new discoveries and evidence have been unearthed. So how accurate was Titanic?
In this one-hour special, Titanic: 20 Years Later with James Cameron, James and his team of Titanic experts aim to compare and contrast what they got right, and indeed what they got wrong.
Before this highly anticipated special airs, here are 10 little-known facts about this landmark movie.
1. Hundreds of shoes remain untarnished
Footage of the wreck of the Titanic shows multiple pairs of shoes. In the new special, James Cameron explains that shoes are one of the few items that remain almost completely intact on the shipwreck.
The sea life and bacteria that has consumed much of the sunken ship's remains is not able to digest the shoes and as they were sprayed with tannic acid they have not disintegrated. A tragic symbol of the 1,503 lives lost on Titanic, Cameron says he has seen hundreds of pairs of shoes within the wreck itself.
2. Storylines were crafted from archaeological evidence
In addition to the central love story of Jack and Rose on Titanic, there are multiple side stories involving their fellow passengers. Cameron says many of these were inspired by the archaeological evidence he and his team came across when they went down to the Titanic on their dozens of dives. For example, in a steerage cabin a hand mirror and bone comb were discovered.
Cameron used this to craft the storyline of the Irish mother who, realising she and her children are doomed, combs her children’s hair as she gets them ready for bed.
3. The Straus suite was unexplored
Isidor and Ida Straus, the elderly co-owners of Macy’s department store, occupied one of the ship’s most opulent suites, now known as 'The Straus Suite'. A witness recalled seeing Ida boarding a lifeboat only to disembark once she realised her husband wouldn’t be able to join her.
In the film the couple are shown returning to their suite to die together. Cameron based the set’s depiction of the suite on historical photos and sketches, as they were unable to enter the suite in the lead-up to the filming of Titanic. However, years later Cameron returned to the wreck and with new technology was able to have a remote camera enter the cabin.
Amazingly, it appears much as how it is depicted in the movie – right down to the clock on the mantelpiece which remainined perfectly intact. The explorers' next step is to find a way to clean the clock in the hope that the time it displays tells them when the suite was flooded.
4. There was plenty of improvisation
Titanic is full of unforgettable lines and scenes, but several of which were completely improvised. For example, the “spit like a man” scene between Rose and Jack was entirely improvised by the two, as was Rose spitting in Cal’s face. Unfortunately for Billy Zane (who played Cal), the scene required multiple retakes - with the spit retained at Cameron's insistence.
And when Second Officer Charles Lightoller (played by Johnny Phillips) pulls out his gun and tells struggling passengers “keep back, or I’ll shoot you all like dogs!” was entirely improvised. Cameron applauded his ad-lib, only for Johnny to reply he was so caught up in the moment he didn’t even remember what he said.
5. Each extra had a back story
There were 150 extras, and each was given a back story for their character. They were also given historical etiquette training and taught the type of language people of the time would have commonly used.
Cameron also insisted that each of the extras remained on set throughout the filming of Titanic, to ensure that they truly understood and felt involved with the story and the film’s epic nature.
6. The movie cost more than the original ship
Titanic, the movie, cost a staggering $200 million to make. The 1912 ship itself cost £1.5 million to build which would be the equivalent of around $150 million today.
7. Much of Titanic was filmed in Mexico
Titanic was not filmed out in the North Atlantic Ocean but mostly at Baja Film Studios in Mexico, about a three-hour drive south from Los Angeles, California. Huge tanks were built to hold the reconstruction of the ship, and because the water within them was warm, some of the scenes had to be edited to disguise the actors' visible sweat. What’s more, in the climactic lifeboat scenes, visible breath was added digitally to suggest icy temperatures.
8. The first-class staircase was deliberately built larger
The famous first class wooden staircase at which Jack and Rose meet for their group dinner and which was later seen dramatically flooded, was built deliberately larger than the original. This was because people are now on average slightly taller than they were back in 1912, and Cameron feared the cast would look disproportionate if they stuck to the original dimensions. They also only filmed the flooding of the staircase once, as they knew it would destroy much of the set.
9. Johnny Depp was offered the role of Jack Dawson
Johnny Depp was offered the role of Jack Dawson before Leonardo DiCaprio was cast. He turned it down, and rumour has it greatly regrets it. As the movie that catapulted Leonardo into one of the most bankable and successful actors of all time, we can only imagine why…
10. Rose’s dog is inspired by the ship’s dogs
The elderly Rose Dawson is shown as owning a Pomeranian. This was a deliberate nod to the 12 dogs aboard the Titanic, though only three survived – two Pomeranians and a Pekingese.
Their caretaker released the remaining nine dogs from their kennels as the ship sunk, and a Titanic survivor recalled seeing a French bulldog swimming in the ocean. Cameron included a scene showing the ill-fated dogs, but decided not to include it in the fnal cut.
Titanic: 20 Years Later with James Cameron airs on Saturday December 16 at 9pm on National Geographic BT Channel 317.
Image credits: 20th Century Fox/REX