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“It’s been 84 years…” Well, actually, it’s been exactly 20 years, as James Cameron’s epic Titanic hit theaters on this day in 1997. This is one of those movies that is so timeless and is still so fresh in people’s minds that it’s hard to believe that 20 years have passed.

The story follows the star-crossed love affair of Jack Dawson, a homeless artist who wins his ticket aboard the vessel in a lucky hand of poker, and Rose DeWitt Bukater, who is betrothed to Pittsburgh steel fortune heir Caledon Hockley. Their fictional romance is set before the backdrop of the Titanic and its doomed maiden journey. Cameron uses a love story as the basis to tell the story of Titanic because he felt that was best way to convey the emotional impact of the disaster on a micro level.

Rose and Jack

Though Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jack and Kate Winslet’s Rose are made up characters, Cameron paid special attention to details of the voyage by including some of the famous passengers.  Notable travelers included Kathy Bates as The Unsinkable Molly Brown, the woman who encouraged the crewman of her lifeboat to turn around to gather more passengers.  Victor Garber portrays Thomas Andrews, the shipbuilder in charge of the RMS Titanic.  J. Bruce Ismay, chairman and managing director of White Star Line, played by Jonathan Hyde, later testified before the Senate regarding the ship’s sinking.

Recreation of the most legendary ocean disaster was as historically accurate as possible. Cameron and his team not only built a full-size exterior replica, they created interior spaces that perfectly match photographs of the original ship. The costuming, hairstyles, and makeup were ornate and flawlessly depicted the “gilded age” of the early 1900’s.

The special effects used in this movie were groundbreaking and technologically superior to any film of its time.  Cameron made us feel like we were going down with that ship, too.

Titanic Sinking

James Horner’s score ties this film together flawlessly.  The music is solemn, tranquilizing, uplifting, and ominous, all which add to the emotions of the story.  Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” won the Academy Award for Best Song.  It also spent 10 weeks at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 Airplay chart.

Titanic is tied for the most Oscars wins at 11 with Ben-Hur and The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King.  It also garnered numerous nominations and wins at the Golden Globes, People’s Choice, Screen Actors Guild, MTV Movie Awards, and Kids’ Choice Awards.  This year, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.

Titanic was the first film where I truly became interested in the art of film-making.  I watched documentaries on the films creation, and I became enthralled by the behind the scenes goings-on.  It was then I realized just how much goes into to creating an epic masterpiece of film.

James Cameron directing Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio

Titanic is an enduring story of love, greed, class roles, gender roles, heroism, and tragedy.  There’s something for everyone in this film, making it a true modern day classic.

How many times have you seen Titanic?  What film made you love the art of cinema?