Sunday, April 8, 2012


 By James Colt Harrison

As we approach the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the great Titanic ocean liner in 1912, a spectacular re-release of the James Cameron written and directed 1997 film is being brought to a new generation of movie-goers. The film, which launched the mega-star careers of Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, has been enhanced by the new 3D process to make it more realistic to today’s movie-fans.

Having made a trip to Northern Ireland and the City of Belfast, this writer saw first-hand the docks and warehouses where the Titanic ocean liner was built and launched. Yes, they are still there, although time-worn and well-used through the subsequent years. There is almost a haunting look and feel about the dockyards. Knowing this is where the “unsinkable” ship was launched that sank and took 1500 souls with it gives one a sinking feeling in the stomach. Perhaps those souls “haunt” the place after all these years.

The original “design studio” is there with its large, barrel-vaulted drafting room where the large drawings for the ship were produced. Men sat at long drafting tables and unfolded the enormous inked drawings which occupied their skills and time. They were all hand-drawn as there were no CAD computers then. When we visited, it was already a ramshackled, run-down building nearly ready to collapse. But it is rumored that the City of Belfast has completely restored the building to its 1912 classic design. The building itself is a beauty frozen in time, just as its grand final product---the Titanic ship---was a masterpiece of nautical design. The original builders of the ship gave Cameron use of the prints so that every set detail was authentic.

The entire production was so huge that it was budgeted at more than $200 million. Fox felt it needed to buy 40 acres of beachfront land near Rosarito in Mexico and build a new studio called Fox Baja to accommodate the Titanic company. An outdoor tank filled with millions of gallons of water was built in which a replica of the ship was built. It was a marvel of Hollywood magic because only one half of the ship sliced down the middle was built. The other side was not there! Again, this writer visited the studio and marveled at the authenticity and detail shown with the interior sets. Once inside the sets, the feeling was of being on the actual ship.

We’re all familiar with cast members DiCaprio and Winslett. There was an actress who played the Winslet character Rose in old age. Her name was Gloria Stuart. Long retired from films, she had been a glamorous blond star in the 1930s. After appearing at the Pasadena Playhouse, she was signed by Universal Pictures in 1932. While at the studio she became a favorite of iconic film director James Whale. She starred in The Old Dark House and The Invisible Man with leading man Claude Rains. Ms. Stuart became disenchanted at Universal and went over to 20th Century Fox to star with moppet Shirley Temple in Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. She married screenwriter Arthur Sheekman and retired from the screen to work on her paintings and other art projects.

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