Back in April of this year we saw the 100th anniversary of the fateful maiden voyage of Titanic. With all the media fuss surrounding it, cinemas and TV stations of course pumped out all the Titanic-related material they could find. As someone with a passing interest in the subject, I watched as much of it as I could. I'd be curious to know other people's thoughts on the various films it's inspired over the years, especially as it seems there are still an awful lot more I've yet to see.
TITANIC (1943) - Neither the best nor the most accurate of the Titanic movies, this one may at least qualify as one of the most interesting, even if it's as much for the story behind the movie as anything that happens on screen. Conceived as a Nazi propaganda piece, the film skews the story towards a portrait of tragedy fuelled by the greed of evil English capitalists while throwing in a fictitious German officer who of course is the hero that does his best to overcome the inevitable tragedy.
Over schedule, over budget and eventually scuppered on its release by the Nazis themselves (giving more ammo to academics who claim it was a subtle criticism of the party by the film's director), the film's director Herbert Selpin died under mysterious circumstances shortly after criticising the German army. From a propaganda point of view, perhaps the ultimate ignominy came in 1958 when footage from the film was pilfered for use in the British take on the disaster, A NIGHT TO REMEMBER. If you can ignore the dubious morals behind it all, it's actually not that bad a film. It moves along at a reasonable pace and certainly, propaganda issues aside, I found it slightly more enjoyable than...
TITANIC (1953) - Robert Wagner, Clifton Webb and Barbara Stanwyck head up the cast of Hollywood's first really high profile take on the story but despite a decent cast it never feels like the story of the Titanic. Even with the period setting it just feels to me like a contemporary Hollywood film of the time, mixing elements of melodrama and screwball comedy in a film that could really have taken place anywhere but just happens to be on the Titanic. Not a bad film by any means but it didn't do much for me.
A NIGHT TO REMEMBER (1958) - Arguably the first to demonstrate a slavish attention to detail, this British effort is also for me the strongest film treatment of the story. Kenneth More offers a strong lead presence but the minor roles are just as memorable - for me, the angry performance of Ken Griffith as an increasingly exasperated communications officer is one of the film's highlights. There are a few moments that feel somewhat of their time and date the film a little but for the most part it more than stands the test of time. The only moments that don't really ring true are when the filmmakers attempt to lecture on what happened by forcing their own views, with the benefit of hindsight, into situations where they don't really fit, such as More's speech on a lifeboat that dissects the disaster with a "if only they'd..." diatribe bemoaning all the things that were done wrong. A delightful film though, and one which manages to entertain while at the same time maintaining a melancholy faithfulness to much of what we know of that tragic night. Another of the best moments in the film is the band striking up "Nearer My God to Thee", a moment which was then recreated in...
TITANIC (1997) - While Selpin demonstrated fanatical attention to detail, ran over budget and over schedule and was rewarded with a banned film and a suspicious death, Cameron's reward for similar behaviour was a clutch of Oscars and one of the most commercially successful films ever made. Having seen it on its home video debut, my opinion hasn't changed much of this one. Undoubtedly the most spectacular recreation, I find the same problems as I do with much of Cameron's work. Incredible attention to detail and gobsmacking technical achievement, but the human side of things always leaves me feeling short changed. Even with all the stories we now know of the Titanic's passengers, this is a big budget studio picture so we still have to shoehorn in a cliched against-the-odds romance, inappropriate one-liners and set pieces and dastardly goings on. The effects and recreation are incredible but the attention paid to the real life passengers wasn't quite so on the money, most famously Cameron's decision to trash the character of Murdock without any real evidence for the sake of a more dramatic scene during the sinking.
My main reason for revisiting this one in the cinema was to see if Cameron could walk the walk when it comes to post-conversion of 2D movies into 3D. I figured if anyone should be able to get it right, he should. To be fair to him, the 3D looks as good as any 3D film I've seen, post-converted or otherwise, but in a film of this length you get used to it pretty quickly and once the gimmick has worn off the film isn't really improved by its conversion. All the same faults are still there and I'm unlikely to see past them any time soon, but you at least get plenty of spectacle for your money and it's marginally better than AVATAR. And don't even get me started on that Celine Dion song.
Cameron was all over the place, particularly on TV, during the centenary events so we were offered the chance to see feature-length documentary TITANIC: FINAL WORD (2012), in which Cameron gets in a room with a bunch of different experts and en masse they piece together once and for all exactly what happened when the boat sank - how it was damaged, how it split up, how the various pieces came to be where they were on the sea bed etc. and Cameron even has them come up with crazy ways in which, at the point the boat has struck, they would rescue more passengers with the benefit of hindsight, ranging from filling the bow with all the lifejackets to reversing and getting all the passengers onto the iceberg! It's an interesting exercise, if perhaps a little dry and technical for some people's taste, and Cameron at least subsequently admits to getting a couple of technical details wrong in his film. Sure, he still stays quiet about Mr Murdock, but at least he admits that he had the ship break in two at a slightly incorrect angle. The documentary's title is rather appropriate however as much of the film does seem like it's the experts all offering up their opinions and then Cameron telling them why they're wrong.
The TV movie TITANIC: BIRTH OF A LEGEND (2005) is an interesting take on the story in that it concentrates on the build up to the Titanic's launch and the issues of the day that plagued the building of it in Belfast. Ireland's sectarian problem, the 1912 Ulster Covenant and the politics of the day all fed through into every day life in the Harland & Wolf shipyard and would still continue to reverberate during and after the ship's doomed voyage. It's a great idea for a Titanic film but although it's not too bad, it's frequently hampered by some poor acting, the kind usually reserved for historical recreations in TV documentaries.
SAVING THE TITANIC (2012) is another made for TV movie, a drama-documentary concentrating on the heroics of the men in the boiler room. An Irish production, appropriately enough, the film has a predominantly Irish cast including young Andrew Simpson (NOTES ON A SCANDAL), the underrated Ciaran McMenamin (star of acclaimed Irish post-apocalyptic movie ONE HUNDRED MORNINGS and currently being seen in ITV's series PRIMEVAL) and a voiceover by Liam Cunningham. Some of the set is done via CGI but the reduced budget actually works in its favour here, the cramped sets increasing the sense of claustrophobia in the unpleasant, and rapidly flooding, areas below decks on the ship. The film's main flaw is that the characters are underdeveloped in the time they're on screen so that what should be major moments in their arc just end up feeling like they've just come out of nowhere.
That's the bulk of the movies I saw - in amongst countless other TV documentaries and ITV's good-but-not-great four part drama - although I'd be curious to know if anyone has seen the 1912 silent movie A SURVIVOR OF THE TITANIC aka SAVED FROM THE TITANIC, written by and starring the actress Dorothy Gibson, quickly churned out in the aftermath to capitalise on her fame as someone who actually survived the night's events herself.
I'm pretty sure the Gibson film is lost--and has been for almost 90 years. But there's a German film from 1912 with subs, viewable here
, that's also about the sinking.
Bill, looks like you're right enough about the Gibson film now that I've just gone and read a bit more about it - a cursory glance at IMDb was all I'd seen but looking at the two "reviews", one is based on having seen a few stills (!) and the other seems to either be mistaken or winding us up. Still, as usual, hasn't stopped a bunch of people from casting a vote on it anyway.
Many thanks for posting that link though, I was unaware of this one. Another for me to check out, cheers.
And not forgetting her sister ship Brittanic
which also sank a few years later:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Britannic_(film)