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What You’re Still Getting Wrong About ‘Titanic,’ According to James Cameron – Monomaxos

In 1997, when James Cameron was finishing the most expensive film of his or anyone else’s career to date, he had a sharp reminder taped up to the screen in the edit bay. Next to a straight blade razor was a note bristling with sardonic humor: “Use in case film sucks.”

It’s hard now to imagine anyone, much less Cameron, was that worried about Titanic, the 26-year-old blockbuster that still has a bigger cultural impact than any of the films that have since surpassed its box office record. But in a new documentary accompanying the 4K Blu-ray release of Titanic, on sale December 5, Cameron and his producers vividly recount the feverish, schadenfreude-filled press coverage that led up to Titanic’s December 1997 release. “Everybody was just acting like this was the biggest boondoggle in cinema history,” Cameron recalls in a recent conversation with Vanity Fair. “There was a daily story running on the cover of Variety,Titanic Watch,’ and they were really trying to architect this dismal failure, sight unseen, of the movie.”

The solution turned out to be what Cameron calls “a bit of aikido,” moving the film’s release date from July to Christmas and taking more time in the edit bay, with that razor blade looming in front of them. Talking to then Fox chief Peter Chernin, in what he calls “one of the most memorable phone calls of my life,” Cameron convinced him: “They’ll go right past us and fall on their face. And then how are they going to resurrect that negative story five months later? And that’s exactly what we did, and that’s exactly what happened.”

Cameron and his Titanic producer Jon Landau have gone on to prove the skeptics wrong many times over on two even wilder bets: the first two Avatar movies, which are still numbers one and three on the list of lifetime worldwide grosses (Titanic has settled, over time, for fourth place). But it’s striking how vividly both of them remember the moments when success seemed entirely out of reach. “I mean, when we were in the thick of it on that film, we just assumed we were doomed and we’d never work again,” Cameron says. “I mean, we were over budget before we shot a foot of film, and by three or four weeks in, we were wildly over budget. At a certain point you realize your only way out is through.”

The new 4K release—the first of new releases for six Cameron films, including The Abyss and True Lies in high definition for the first time—includes plenty of behind-the-scenes photos, including several shots of Landau looking both thrilled and overwhelmed by the scale of the full-size ship set behind him. “To me, [there are] two images that I remember of myself,” Landau says. “One is me standing on the barren land where we built the studio. And then standing essentially in that same spot 100 days later in front of the ship having been built. That to me is sort of the journey that we went on every step of the way. We were there on barren land, but somehow 100 days later we had the ship.”

“There’s this craziness to the film industry,” Cameron adds, remembering when he called the studio and asked them to buy the land in Baja California where the Titanic replica could be built. “[It] allows you to imagine something and then manifest it in the real world. There’s nothing else quite like it.”
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