Published April 11, 2012
Editor's note: FoxNews.com is pleased to present an excerpt from the new introduction of the book "Titanic" by director James Cameron
At 11:40 p.m. next April 14 I plan to do what I do every year at that moment: raise a glass in honor of the officers, crew and passengers of the RMS Titanic. It is an unfailing observance, and one that will be especially somber next April because it will mark 100 years, to the minute, since the most famous ship in history hit an iceberg and sealed its fate.
I choose 11:40, the moment of the collision, rather than, say, 2:20 a.m., when the ship slipped beneath the surface, because that is the moment at which all destinies were set in motion: the destinies of the 1,500 who perished, and the 703 who survived.
Titanic still captures our imaginations after 100 years because her story is like a great novel that really happened. The story could not have been written better had it been fiction . . . the biggest ship in history, on her maiden voyage, filled with the wealthy elite of two continents, runs smack into a lone iceberg that is literally directly in her path and is swallowed up by the black ocean as if she never existed. The elements seem conjured by a master storyteller. The juxtaposition of rich and poor, the gender roles played out unto death (women first), the stoicism and nobility of a bygone age, the magnificence of the great ship matched in scale only by the folly of the men who drove her hell-bent through the darkness. And above all the lesson: that life is uncertain, the future unknowable . . . the unthinkable possible.
When we made the film, we strove to capture all of this, and more important, to give the tragedy a human face through the heartbreak of Jack and Rose’s story.
The making of the motion picture "TITANIC" is chronicled in this book. It was a three-year odyssey for me, a journey of the most gut-wrenching lows and giddy highs, which even took me to the wreck itself down to her stygian North Atlantic grave.
To do the story justice, I believed we needed to make a pilgrimage to the wreck itself and film it. I convinced Twentieth Century Fox to fund not only the movie, but also an expedition to the rusting hulk lying in eternal blackness, 2.5 miles down in the North Atlantic. We built a camera and housing that could withstand the crushing pressure, more than 2 tons per square inch. And we enlisted the aid of Russian deep ocean scientists and their submersibles, the Mirs, two of only five subs in the world capable of reaching those depths.
It was the ultimate “pinch me” moment, to see Titanic materializing in our lights like a ghost ship. Here was the beautiful lady, drowned on her honeymoon, now draped in shrouds of rusty stalactites, a foreboding gothic ruin.
We filmed the exterior of the wreck, even acting out our storyline of treasure hunter Brock Lovett sending his robotic vehicles to enter the ship, but on the last dive we flew our Snoop Dog vehicle down the grand staircase for real (even though I promised myself we wouldn’t). What our lights revealed deep inside the ship stunned us. The finely carved mahogany woodwork still existed, along with gold-plated light fixtures and ornate bronze doors, appearing on our video screens like surreal images of some flooded gothic mansion.
Having borne witness to the wreck, and feeling an inescapable connection to the lives of those who walked the ship’s decks, I turned to the task of shooting the film with a sense of responsibility to tell that story with accuracy and compassion. This mantle of responsibility seemed to be taken up by everyone who worked on the film, a guiding principle that ultimately imbued everything in front of the cameras with a sense of absolute truth, from the carpet to the china, the embroidery on the costumes to the hand-carved woodwork paneling on the walls.
The actors, challenged by the almost hallucinatory sense of having traveled back in time, gave spectacular performances that swept us along on a powerful emotional journey. For me, the making of the film was an emotional journey as well, from the joy of creation, working with blazing talents like Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio, to the hopeless sense that we were working on the biggest fiasco in Hollywood history.
Variety ran a daily “Titanic Watch” column on the front page, ridiculing the production as the most over-budget movie ever, destined to be a box-office disaster. The relish with which our impending demise was anticipated was daunting, but it made us strive that much harder for excellence. In the editing room I kept a razor blade taped to the screen of my Avid with an inscription written in pen: “Use in case film sucks.”
James Cameron's "Titanic" is published by HarperCollins Publishers.