How Has James Cameron Presented and Adapted the True Story of Titanic for the Cinema? Essay Sample
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Titanic is based on the true story of the RMS Titanic sinking in 1912. Entwined into the main plot of the great ship sinking, is a story of Jack Dawson, a lower class unknown artist, and Rose De Witt Bukater, an upper class engaged girl. The two fall in love and have to fight the stereotypes on the 1900’s so they can be together. The story shows the difficulties in
difficulties in life and the pressures put upon upper class people to be prim and proper, and lower class people are to be looked down upon, sneered at and used as servants. The story contradicts a lot of stereotypical views, making the film interesting with lots of hidden depths. The film relies quite strongly on how people would expect upper and lower class’s to be, leading viewers to have a higher understanding of the pressures placed upon Jack and Rose’s relationship.
James Cameron not only directed Titanic, but he also wrote, produced and edited it. He made twelve dives to the action wreck, and is the artist of Jack’s drawing of Rose. As he went over budget on Titanic, he sacrificed his own pay to keep it funded.
Cameron uses a lot of facts about the Titanic tragedy in his film. This helps to increase the emotion people feel when viewing the film because it makes their prior knowledge of that tragedy really sink in. Cameron is known as the “Master of Disaster” for his skills of making emotions and actions so intense and clear.
Before directing “Titanic” Cameron had directed other high budget films such as “Terminator” and “Aliens.” These films were great successes for Cameron, opening more windows for more films by building up his reputation as a very talented and skilled director.
Rose wants a way out of her life, away from pressure to act like someone she isn’t. She has been brought up to be a good, attractive wealthy girl, but when her father died leaving her and her mother nothing buts debts and a good name, she is being told by her mother Ruth, to marry a rich man, Cal. This pressure makes Rose realise that she doesn’t belong to the upper class society, and unable to see a way out, she tries to jump off the ship. Her plan is ruined by a lower class man saying if she jumps, he jumps, and she is pulled back on board. Jack and Rose then fall in love and have a long hard fight for happiness. Rose’s family and fiancï¿½ don’t want to face the humiliation of Rose marrying Jack, and try to stop them. As the ship strikes an iceberg, the plot thickens and the atmosphere gets tenser and tenser as the panic on the boat increases.
The story is told from a old woman’s perspective, claiming she is Rose, and at emotional parts the film sometimes fades in between the past and present, showing the emotion in the old woman’s eyes.
The film brings many issues into question, such as how hard it is for people to live up to stereotypes. Also how much money can effect your social status, lifestyle, ways you are treated and happiness, and it shows how it was frowned upon to be seen socialising with someone from a lower class than you.
In the following essay I hope to answer the question “How does James Cameron present and adapt the true story of Titanic?”
At the beginning of the film, Titanic uses real life black and white footage of Titanic leaving port on her maiden voyage. This emphasises the reality of the story about to be told, by giving the authentic look of old film. There are also hand held camera shots giving an amateur, real feel to the introduction of the film. Very sombre music is played to give you the sad emotional feeling that the film emits. As the film begins, it becomes colour with “My Heart Will Go On” playing quietly and slowly as the film starts to set the scene.
The film jumps forward to present day, where divers are swimming around the wreck of the Titanic filming it. As the divers find a safe in the wreckage and bring it up to the surface, the camera shot goes panoramic and shows a beautiful day and a large, modern boat in the middle of a deep blue ocean, with happy music. This gives a feeling that although they are at the wreck of the Titanic, people are happy and at ease, not thinking of what happened there so long ago. As the story develops you find out that the divers are scientists looking for the Heart of the Ocean, a beautiful, priceless diamond given by a man, Cal Hockley, to his fiancï¿½e, Rose DeWitt Bukater.
Instead of the diamond, the safe contains a nude drawing of a woman wearing the diamond, this is Rose. She phones up the scientists and gets flown out to the boat, so she can help them look for the jewel. As she arrives, many of the scientists are sceptical, believing her to be a fraud, senile and a waste of time. The lead scientist holds on to the hope that she’s right, and as Rose begins the tale of her trip on Titanic, the scientists around her get more drawn into the story.
James Cameron uses the aged, droopy looks of Rose’s eyes to trigger the emotions, as they fill up with tears, tension and melancholy builds up. Violins begin to play as we get taken back in time to when the passengers of the Titanic are getting aboard.
As Rose is introduced, she is a blatantly upper class girl who is not looking forward to her journey to America. This stands out because people exited about going on the world famous biggest, most unsinkable ship ever surround her.
She is very well dressed and beautiful, and Cal and family are smiling and polite to everyone. They emerge from a shiny new car, and instantly Rose dismisses Titanic as just another ship, whereas everyone in the lower classes are enthralled in its splendour. This is showing how the upper classes take things for granted and don’t realise how lucky they are, whilst the lower classes are grateful for everything they’ve got.
The ways the two classes are treated are very different, the richer people are assumed lice free and clean, and the poor have to be inspected. You can easily tell the difference between a rich and a poor person, the clothes are very plain on a poor person, and fancy on a rich. The upper class people have good posture and look rather fake, like porcelain dolls. People on the ship find it hard to believe that an upper class person can do wrong, but they always assume the worst of you if you are a lower class member. For instance when Jack saves Rose’s life, Cal and his servant think he was taking advantage of her, and pay him to stay away. They think they can bribe any poor person with money, as if it is all that matters.
The upper class people even treat other rich people badly. Molly recently became rich and is known as “new money”. She isn’t snobby and uptight like the rest of them and helps Jack and Rose. She is a friendly character and is disliked by the rest of the upper class ladies.
When the ship is sinking, the upper classes are put in the lifeboats first, while the lower classes are forcefully kept in the lower decks. The panic you see below decks deeply contrasts that of the calm evacuation going on above. All through the film the upper and lower classes have deep contrasts, and here it is brought out at its highest level.
The different decks that the classes are confined to are very different, the upper class decks are covered in glass, chandeliers, glamour and expensive decorations but the lower classes are very basic – bunk beds in tiny cabins, narrow, dull corridors, rats everywhere, and no decorations. The people from the lower classes are not allowed on the upper decks, and the servants from the wealthy passengers walk their dogs on the lower decks, showing a huge lack of respect from the upper classes. The lower classes constantly move out of wealthy people’s way, smile politely and carry of, and are treated like scum.
The romance is very exiting because it is controversial and risky. Jack and Rose have to hide their love, and for a while deny it to even themselves. They are both young and attractive, and have been brought up very differently. This in itself is interesting as you get to see how opposites attract. Sometimes Jack will offend Rose by asking her a personal question (for example he asks her if she loves Cal) and she will freeze up, and act very uptight. It takes a while for her to relax into his laid back personality and way of life. He is open and honest while she has been taught to be more private and talk about conventional subjects, not people’s love lives.
When Jack saves Rose’s life, he convinces her that killing herself is not the way to get free from her life. She realises she has to resist her mother and Cal from tying her down, she has to be strong and stand up for herself. Jack gives her the will power to do this and the strength not to back down. He helps her after Titanic sinks even though he isn’t there any more, because she remembers his personality and the way he lived life for the moment and didn’t try to live up to peoples expectations. This helps her leave her family, change her name and start a new life.
Cameron uses many facts from the actual tragedy, but he also adapts lots of them to enhance emotion and drama. He uses actual footage of the wreckage has captured the images of the captains, Mr Esme and Mr Andrews personality’s very well. Mr Andrews was the designer of Titanic, and when talking to Rose she realises that there aren’t enough boats for everyone on board. Her mother frowns upon her saying this as it isn’t lady like to be doing the mathematics of it and contradicting such a fine man. Mr Andrews explains to Rose how he had designed enough boats for everyone, but his plan had been dismissed because it made the upper deck look too “cluttered.”
The place, time, and basic facts of the Titanic were kept in the film, as were others such as the words used by the crew members when the boat struck the ice berg. The Captain and Mr Andrews went down with their ship in a gallant, gentlemanly way, as did many of the upper class passengers. You see the gentlemen sitting in their best clothes waiting to die, so their lady folk know that they were brave. As the water reaches them you see that they are the same as the lower class people – they all fear death more than anything, and towards the end didn’t care if they were rich or poor, because it didn’t matter anymore. Rose realised this without having to face death, and she tried to do something about it.
When Titanic was built, it was portrayed by the world’s newspapers as the “unsinkable ship”, so no one was worried about the fact that there were only enough life boats for half of the passengers.
Mr Esme gave orders to the Captain to go full speed, and against his better judgement the Captain obeyed, because he knew that when they arrived early to America they would get a hero’s welcome and amazing headlines. The Captain had also been given ice warnings, but did not see a problem. Their arrogance stopped them from realising that a ship that size, going that speed in the dark would never be able to turn quick enough to avoid a large ice berg. They were taught a final lesson the hard way.
This is all fact, and a lot of the way they are in the film is also very ironic, for example, when Mr Andrews is reassuring Rose when she hears an ice warning, he says that nothing is going to happen because the Titanic is unsinkable. This is highly ironic because we know exactly what is going to happen, and its almost humorous that they believed nothing would happen after ignoring so many warnings and being so careless. They took the Titanic’s reputation too far, believing that “Not even God himself could sink this ship”. James Cameron uses our prior knowledge to his advantage, making us realise that the people on the real Titanic had no idea they were in so much danger. Cameron uses this brilliantly to build up tension and suspense.
The way Cameron uses the cameras also increases the emotion, but a viewer would rarely notice the thought and skill involved. When Jack is trying to tell Rose that he loves her for the first time, the camera is on constant close ups between the two people. You see Rose over Jacks shoulder, making you see the way Rose is looking at Jack, as if she is looking at you. Long shots generally give a less intense feel to the shot, for example when Cal’s servant is paying off Jack when he saves Rose, it is a long shot. Wide sweeping shots are used a lot, at the beginning when you see the scientists boat, you can see a wide, beautiful ocean and a hot sunny day. When the ship strikes the ice berg and breaks in two, you see the huge dark ocean and sky, with what looks like a tiny boat all alone in the middle, increasing the feel of despair and no hope for life.
Costumes were used well, for the upper classes smart suits and fancy dresses, each individual and every dress looking different. They were made up to look like dolls. Lower class people wore dull clothes and all looked fairly similar in appearance, with dull hair and no make up, they were made up to look plain and not stand out in a crowd. Even when Jack is in his dinner suit, he still has a rough, rogue look about him. This is deliberate to portray that you can dress a peasant in princes clothing but he will never be the prince – clothes don’t change the person.
As Ruth ties up Rose’s corset, you see Ruth’s human side. She no longer seems like the heartless woman, but more of an old lady with no way to change her life – she was brought up to rely on money and reputation and it is too late in her life to learn to live differently. Rose is young enough to learn a new way of life and now she has met Jack she can break free from her life. The corset she is being bound in represents her upper class life, and when she goes to Jack and refuses to marry Cal, she will be free from fake pretences of happiness and politeness, and corsets. Away from upper class life she will always be as free as she was when she went below decks with Jack, when she danced and drank beer, when she was truly free and truly happy.
When Jack and Rose are below decks dancing, the atmosphere is relaxed, the smoky room is full of laughing, happy, drunken relaxed people and children. On the upper decks, the glamorous surroundings add to the uptight, tense atmosphere. The postures of the upper class people makes them look tense and uncomfortable, as if they aren’t enjoying themselves and they’re smiles are fake.
The lighting of scenes contribute to the images given, upper decks are well lit and lower decks are darker and slightly smoky, giving the impression that the richer people have better living conditions than the lower, which was true.
The music is always well suited to the scene – when people are going to the life boats the violists play music that is supposed to keep people cheery, but in modern day sounds slightly frightening. The honour of the captain, Mr Andrews, violinists and other people that went down with the ship deliberately is amazing, and gives a feeling of pride to the viewer when they see how brave people were.
Rose always spoke very good, proper English, and Jack spoke more relaxed American. The difference in the language used enhanced the contrasting cultures of the two lovers.
Jack is the hero of the film; all the way through it he puts others before himself and always looks out for other people’s feelings. When he is dancing with Rose in the lower decks, a small girl he was dancing with before looks disappointed so he reassures her with “don’t worry, you’re still my special girl!” When Cal tries to get Rose into a life boat, Jack knows he is going to die but still tells Rose he’ll be fine, just so she’ll save herself. He also runs back for a small child after he is freed from his handcuffs, even though he was risking his life doing it.
Rose is the heroin, fighting her own battles against her trapped life, fighting for her happiness and for love. She represents a brave, strong, fiery woman and has many strong qualities that many people wish they had.
Cal is the villain; he is selfish, arrogant and heartless. He tries to get Rose on a lifeboat, purely because she has the jewel in her pocket. He also has Jack arrested for a crime he didn’t commit and deliberately has Jack left to die handcuffed to a pipe while the ship sinks. He would rather kill a man than face the humiliation of his fiancï¿½ falling in love with a lower class person. He represents every evil inside every person, and the evil in everyone’s life.
These three characters are the extremes of qualities everyone possesses, so everyone can relate to each of them in different ways. This increases the emotions given off by each of the characters.
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