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Blog: April 15, 2012

Titanic and blissful ignorance....

As I sit in the study to write this, it’s April 15, 2012. It was a hundred years ago today that the RMS Titanic ended it’s ill fated maiden voyage, striking an iceberg in the Atlantic Ocean.

Below is the last shot ever taken of the real Titanic.


Here are some facts:

It took two hours and forty minutes for the unsinkable supership to meet its end from collision to finally decending to the depths.

Only 31.6% of the those on board survived.

With the number of lifeboats available, that figure could’ve risen to 53.4%.

The stricken ship took fifteen minutes to reach the ocean floor, sinking a total of 2.3 miles at an approximate speed of 10 mph.

The impact on the sea bed was such that the bow penetrated 18 meters.

The tragic event has been documented several times by film makers both in the UK and in Hollywood. Currently, there’s yet another adaptation running on ITV here in the UK, with the finale scheduled for tonight. It does kind of make me wonder why bother? Surely a UK TV budget can’t, at this stage offer anything new on the subject, and surely they would’ve known that all eyes would be on James Cameron’s Titanic of 1997.

It’s a much maligned movie, but a masterpiece nevertheless. (Below is a shot from Titanic (1997) recreating the previous photo.

Go in to the movie to see a derivative love story between a peasant and member of the privileged class, and you miss the entire point that I’m making. What I’m saying is that the actual event of the sinking of the super cruise liner, the ultimate in man’s dreams and technological achievement at the time has never been realised and recreated on the screen. Every last detail that Cameron could’ve possibly included in his film from the carpeting, the crockery, the cutlery, the conditions in steerage, the arrogance at the suggestion that the iceberg tear below the waterline could prove the unsinkable claim wrong, to the blind panic when the realisation dawned that sinking was inevitable - it all comes from documented fact as told by eyewitnesses and is about as true an account as we’re ever likely to see.

The previous definitive film about the sinkling of the Titanic was A Night To Remember (1957) but at that point, it wasn’t publicly known that as the ship took on water from the bow and began to tilt nose first, with the stern rising out of the water, that the stress and weight had caused the ship to literally tear in half. This was, of course addressed in Cameron’s version.

As the film is rereleased in 3D to commemorate the centenary, there is, I understand, only one small tweak being made to the movie. Knowing Cameron’s obsessive mania with detail, an astronomer has pointed out to him that the starscape when the ship has sunk and Kate Winslet’s character is adrift on some wreckage is wrong for her location and the time. Cameron has set this straight. You have to admire the attention to detail.

But what of the 3D version? Well, I have to say that having watched the 3D retro-refit of The Phantom Menace, that I won’t be watching it. Much as I was disappointed in a lot of Menace, because it wasn’t ever intended to be released in 3D at the time of filming so many of the shots didn’t wirk, the same is true here. Yes, I’m a little bit intrigued because underwater scenes, to my mind, lend themselves better to 3D than most other kinds of shots. But unless the whole of the element that’s supposed to be coming from the shot is visible - then the effect is ruined. Darth Maul holding the top half of a lightsabre with the bottom half out of shot just didn’t work. The same principle will apply with the money shots in Titanic.

I will, however, settle for watching my DVD at home with the home theater system adding to the experience.

Now, possibly a rant.

Everything I’ve said about the historical accuracy of Titanic above, same thing applies to Pearl Harbor. Take away the derivative love triangle - and you have an almost documentary-like account of the actual attack on the naval base in 1941. I’ve often thought that these aren’t in any way chick flicks, but a way of bringing history alive to audiences, particularly teens and young adults.

As I’ve been reading around the web this past week about the re-release of Titanic, I was disappointed to discover that there are people out there who somehow don’t even know that the film is based on a true event. I’ve even read someone complain that the trailer gave away the ending. (Really? What the hell is wrong with these people?) That set me thinking about the general ignorance that’s part of our every day life.

Part of the problem is schooling, I think.

I was brought up with tales of WW2, because when I was born it was still a relatively recent event - having only happened 15 years earlier, and my late father was a serving soldier in Burma at the age of 19. However, despite being at secondary school (high school if you’re in the USA) my daughter couldn’t recognise a picture of Adolf Hitler because the second world war had never been mentioned at school. (Oh, the Welsh Not had - to an irritatingly tiresome level. They’ll never let THAT go). Not her fault, she’s like a sponge and takes everything in - and a screening of Schindler’s List helped fill that gap. When WW2 was eventually covered in her history class, she had the advantage of knowing some of the causes and effects. The same thing happened at around the same age with my son not really knowing about slavery until we watched Amistad, and when it eventually came up in class - he had the upper hand.

But it’s not just schools either. There’s a general malaise of ignorance and lack of curiosity that will certainly bite us on the ass in future generations.

On the same week that I learned that some air heads thought that Titanic was a work of fiction, the UK online news media was reporting the alarming amount of light pollution in this country. Most of us can’t see the stars at night because of the high levels of street lighting, and there are people out there who’ve never seen anything much more than Venus and the moon. I find that disturbing. Whenever I’ve been to a city at night, one of the things I’ve noticed and have missed is the night sky. I live in an area with no light pollution, on a quiet country lane in a rural area without street lighting. The views we get from here on a clear night are truly majestic. A few weeks ago, on one fifteen minute walk - the last of the day with our dog, before calling it a night, I saw Venus, Jupiter, Mars, the moon, Orion’s Belt, Cassiopeia and a handful of shooting stars. That alone makes it worth living out here, in my estimation. We might not manage Starbucks or super fast broadband - about 1.5mps is our limit, but we do have the universe to look at.

But again, reading those online reports and feeling pretty lucky about what we can see - there were comments from the public who just didn’t "get it". They didn’t see it as important to be able to see what’s around us out there, and labelled those of us who do as oddballs.

I guess I’ll be embracing the "oddball" tag even more now - as I’ll take a humbling view of the milky way over sports, soaps, reality TV and the resulting faux wannabe celebrity culture any day of the week


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