x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

The unsinkable stories of Titanic

Titanic set sail 100 years ago today. We look at the many films the disaster has inspired.

A 3D version of James Cameron's Titanic has been released recently. Courtesy Paramount Pictures / AP Photo
A 3D version of James Cameron's Titanic has been released recently. Courtesy Paramount Pictures / AP Photo

On April 10, 100 years ago, a luxury liner set sail from Southampton with more than 2,200 people on board. Bound for New York City harbour, it became famous because it didn't reach its destination - instead, on the night of Sunday, April 14, the RMS Titanic struck an iceberg and by the following morning, the ship had sunk and 1,514 passengers and crew were lost forever to the icy waters.

The story of the ill-fated voyage of Titanic has fascinated writers and filmmakers ever since. There is a memorial to the ship's engineers and musicians (who continued to play as the ship sank) in Southampton, another at its last port of call in Cobh, Ireland, and more in Washington DC, Manhattan, Glasgow and Liverpool, but perhaps the best-known memorial to the survivors and victims of the famous ship is James Cameron's 1997 movie with Kate Winslet and Leonardo Di Caprio, an Oscar-winning film that was given a 3D reworking and re-release to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the tragedy.

It's not the only movie to tell the famous story, of course. In fact, there are more than 20 movies, TV movies and mini-series that have featured Titanic in some way - it's even popped up in the kids' animated film Shark Tale, the sunken wreckage starring as the "mob" hangout for a group of great white sharks - while the first-known Titanic movie was made just a month after the ship's sinking. Saved from the Titanic (also known as A Survivor of the Titanic), a silent short directed by Etienne Arnaud and starring the actual Titanic survivor Dorothy Gibson, told the story in flashback in just 10 minutes, as Dorothy tells her parents and fiancé about her experiences on board. Sadly, all prints of the movie are believed lost.

Another fascinating project about the ship never even came to be: in 1939, a drama about Titanic was to be Alfred Hitchcock's first Hollywood movie after he signed a seven-year contract with the producer David O Selznick, until Selznick decided he would prefer Hitchcock to work on Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca instead.

There are, however, some interesting (and not always accurate) Titanic movies that did make it to the screen that you can read about on page three - and if these weren't enough, there are also two TV drama series being made this year to commemorate the anniversary: the four-part Titanic, written by Downton Abbey's Julian Fellowes and starring Celia Imrie, Toby Jones, Timothy West and Linus Roache, and Titanic: Blood and Steel, a miniseries about the building of the liner with Neve Campbell, Derek Jacobi and Chris Noth.

In Nacht Und Eis (1912); Atlantis (1913)

Made in Germany in 1912, In Nacht Und Eis (In Night and Ice) was thought lost until a print was unearthed in the 1990s, and is the earliest surviving film about the ship (you can view the entire 35 minute film on YouTube). While the sinking is depicted using a toy boat in a pond, the depiction of life on board is fascinating and the scenes of water entering the ship just as dramatic as later movies. It was followed a year later by the Danish silent film Atlantis, a romantic movie set aboard the fictitious SS Roland, though clearly modelled on real events.

Atlantic (1929)

Although set aboard the fictitious Atlantic, this British-made movie is clearly about Titanic and follows the story of John Rool (Franklin Dyall) as he has an affair with a fellow passenger under the nose of his wife. Once the ship hits an iceberg and begins to sink, his devoted missus refuses to leave his side to board a lifeboat. Actually a combination of German and English language versions that were filmed simultaneously, this co-stars Madeleine Carroll, Alfred Hitchcock's first blonde muse.

Titanic (1953)

The first film to use the word Titanic in the title was actually a 1943 Nazi propaganda movie that blamed greedy Brits for the ship's sinking, and it was followed 10 years later by a rather more sympathetic American production starring Clifton Webb, Barbara Stanwyck and Robert Wagner. Stanwyck played a disillusioned wife taking her kids to a new life in America on the ship, while Webb was the husband trying to stop her, and Wagner the hunky tennis player with designs on their eldest daughter. Well plotted despite some historical inaccuracies (the iceberg strikes the wrong side of the ship, for example), it went on to win a Best Original Screenplay Academy Award.

A Night To Remember (1958)

Until James Cameron's 1997 blockbuster, this was probably the best known and loved of all Titanic movies. It focuses on the final night of the RMS Titanic, with the story told from the point of view of passengers, crew and, specifically the second officer Charles Lightoller (Kenneth More). Thought to be one of the most accurate portrayals of the disaster on film, the director Roy Ward Baker employed one of Titanic's former crew as an adviser on the film and created sets using the ship's original blueprints as a guide. The movie also starred Honor Blackman, David McCallum and, in an uncredited role as a deckhand, a young Sean Connery.

The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1964)

A musical based on the life of the American socialite Margaret "Molly" Brown, starring Debbie Reynolds as the Colorado tomboy who marries a miner who then literally strikes gold. While the newly rich couple aren't accepted by Denver society, Molly is a hit in Europe, but decides to return to her husband in New York … by travelling aboard a certain doomed ship. Molly became famous in real life for encouraging the crew of the lifeboat she was on to return and search for survivors, and the movie ends with her being welcomed home, safe and sound, by her husband and the previously snooty people of Denver.

SOS Titanic (1979)

Originally made for TV in the US but released theatrically elsewhere, this movie gives a fairly accurate portrayal of the infamous voyage of Titanic, focusing on passengers in the three classes of cabin: the first-class passengers John Jacob Astor IV (David Janssen) and his new wife Madeleine, the "unsinkable" Molly Brown (Cloris Leachman); second-class passengers Lawrence Beesley (David Warner) and (fictitious) teacher Leigh with whom he begins a romance, and a handful of Irish immigrants in steerage whose characters were all based on real people. Location fact: some of the interiors were filmed at the Waldorf Hotel in London while exterior deck scenes used the Queen Mary docked in Long Beach, California.

Raise The Titanic (1980)

And the prize for most disastrous Titanic movie goes to … Raise The Titanic. Based on the Clive Cussler novel about competing teams trying to raise the boat for some precious mineral on board, the movie's tagline boasted: "They said no man on Earth could reach her. Now, you will be there when we … Raise the Titanic." Hmm. Instead, the rumoured $40 million (Dh146.8m) budget was partly responsible for sinking Lew Grade's ITC Entertainment company (Grade memorably once said about the production that "it would have been cheaper to lower the Atlantic") as much money was spent on a model that when finished turned out to be too big for the water tank it was built for. Jason Robards and Alec Guinness were among the cast who probably left this off their CVs.

Titanic (1996)

A year before Cameron's Titanic movie came this three-hour miniseries made for American TV. George C Scott is the ship's captain, Catherine Zeta Jones and Peter Gallagher former lovers reunited on deck, while Tim Curry gets the bad guy role as a steward planning a massive robbery on board. Made hastily to be shown on TV before James Cameron's movie was released in cinemas, the series had quite a few mistakes, from minor ones (having first-class passengers dance the tango, which would have been unseemly back in 1912) to more major ones (a nanny aboard the ship, Alice Cleaver, is confused here with the child murderer Alice Mary Cleaver).

The Legend of the Titanic (1999)

A movie about Titanic featuring mice, sharks, dolphins and even a giant octopus, this animated fantasy from Italy is utterly bonkers, as a grandfather mouse tells the "real" story of the sinking from his point of view as a mousy sailor on board. There's romance between the (human) gypsy Don Juan and the society lady Elizabeth, but some evil sharks convince an octopus to move an iceberg into the ship's path on the wishes of a bad guy who wants to marry Elizabeth himself. A year later, another (unrelated) Italian animated movie, Titanic: The Legend Goes On, was made and, despite the bonus of a talking dog, has been described as "staggeringly bad".

Titanic (1997); Ghosts Of The Abyss (2003)

While the plot featuring the third-class passenger DiCaprio steaming it up with the society gal Winslet may have been akin to a bad romance novel, there is no disputing the fact that the director Cameron's Titanic is a jaw-dropping spectacle, featuring impressive effects and mind-boggling attention to detail. The notoriously difficult 160-day shoot (that included 50 crew poisoned by PCP, a never-before-heard-of $200 million budget, and numerous injuries due to filming in massive tanks of water) was ultimately worth it, with the movie becoming one of the most successful of all time, and also winning 11 Academy Awards. Cameron returned to the wreck during 2001 with historians and marine experts, using new technology to explore the infamous ship for his 2003 documentary Ghosts Of The Abyss.

Titanic II (2010)

Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water … along comes Titanic II. In April 2012, a ship named Titanic II is launched in New York, set to travel in the opposite direction to the original ship, ending up in Southampton. Unfortunately, global warming sends a tsunami that causes an iceberg to crash into the ship, and in this tragedy, it's the poor souls on lifeboats who get squished while a few people who remained on the ship are lucky survivors. Shane Van Dyke wrote, directed and stars in the movie - he's also known for other low-budget movies similar to big blockbusters such as Transmorphers, Paranormal Entity and The Day the Earth Stopped.

 

For more on Titanic, check out the forthcoming edition of M magazine, out on Saturday

 

artslife@thenational.ae