For some of us, we can’t quite believe that one of the most iconic James Cameron offerings, the mighty ‘Titanic’, is approaching its 25th anniversary. This year, just in time for Valentine’s Day, audiences around the world can experience the emotionally captivating blockbuster once more. Newly remastered in 4K, at a higher frame rate and with High Dynamic Range, ‘Titanic’ returns to the big screen in both 2D and 3D for a limited time beginning Feb. 10, 2023.

James Cameron and Jon Landau met up with the press in London recently to discuss the making of this beloved love story discussing everything from inspiration to the almost non-casting of Kate Winslet as our leading lady Rose and Leonardo DiCaprio’s hesitation to take on the role.

Titanic 3D

On the inspiration behind the movie.

“I was fascinated by Titanic from the time I started working with the people at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution who were doing all the robotics and stuff that I was interested in when I made The Abyss. But of course, they had gotten famous, those robotics had gotten famous for the finding and initial exploration of the Titanic by Robert Ballard. So then I watched A Night to Remember, the very famous black and white film from 1960 or ’61, can’t remember. I thought what an amazing backdrop for a love story that would make. We pitched it at 20th Century Fox; I went in with a big book of paintings of Titanic by Ken Marschall. I flipped it open to the centre fold, which was a big double truck image of Titanic, you know, sinking, the lifeboats rowing away, the rockets going off. I said to the head of 20th Century Fox at the time, I said Romeo and Juliet on that.”

© 1997 Twentieth Century Fox and Paramount Pictures.

On why the film still resonates with audiences today.

“What I think was really happening is that young women are at a point in their life in that kind of, post-adolescent period, mid-teens where they’re being told by society not to be who they are.  Not to be the amazing, unlimited people that they really are and they’re being told to sit down, shut up, pull in that corset, you know, and do what society expects.  Do what, a male-dominated society expects and all that.  And this was a movie about Rose, Kate Winslet’s character, and her fulfilment as a person. Yes, Jack was a catalyst for her, but she went on having survived Titanic, we see at the end of the movie, all those photos that show that she lived a full life.  She realized her full potential. I think that speaks to the female side of the audience, and men who care about such things, which I do as a father of daughters and so on.  So I think that’s part of it.  I think the heartbreak of the story, the sadness, and the beauty of the love story that culminates tragically. You can have a rom-com and they can kiss at the end and go off into the sunset.  But there’s something much more powerful about a love story that has loss in it.  That has separation in it.  And of course, there’s no separation more permanent than death.  And the end of the movie, the very ending of the movie shows them being reunited.”

On seeing the future potential of a young Leonardo DiCaprio

“Leo is who we know him to be at the time.  And I’d love to say I had a crystal ball and I’m so prescient that I could see that he would have this incredible career and multiple Academy Award nominations and all that.  What we knew at the time was he was a really, really strong actor, a really gifted actor.  And he seemed to have unlimited possibility.  Now, just because an actor has unlimited possibilities doesn’t mean that they will go on to realize that, which he has done. The same thing with Kate.  She has gone on to realize the promise of her early brilliance.  When we cast her in Titanic, she was 19.  Leonardo was, I think, 20 at the time.  And they were each a year older by the time we were done shooting.  And it didn’t take us a year to shoot, but they each had a birthday during the photography. They were young, but they were both already well on their way.  I also think it’s fair for us not to take credit for launching their careers.

“Leo initially wasn’t that interested in the part, it was misquoted lately that I said he thought it was boring.  He didn’t think the movie was boring.  He thought the movie was cool.  He thought his part, boring may be the wrong word, but was not challenging enough. He was looking for a challenge.  He wanted someone who was obviously developmentally challenged in some way.  He played a drug addict in Basketball Diaries.  He wanted to have a problem.  He wanted to have something to rage against. It wasn’t there on the page.  And I had to convince him that playing that guy that doesn’t have an obvious problem coming in, who is in fact the one who’s the more emotionally mature and adult of the two people.  So, the transfer of energy and the love story is from Jack to Rose.  And she grows as a result of it. I said that is gonna be a harder thing to do.  And it’s only when I convinced him of the challenge of his character that he became interested.”

On the almost non-casting of Kate Winslet

“Kate expressed a lot of interest and enthusiasm for the character.  She believed she could do it.  I wasn’t convinced.  And in fact, I was a little nervous about the fact that she had played in so many period dramas before that. She was getting a reputation of corset Kate.  And the last thing I wanted was corset Kate being in a movie where one of the most memorable scenes is her being put into a corset, which was obviously a visual symbol of her being restricted by society and by her family and all those things.  So, I kind of almost didn’t even want to see her at first.  But I met her.  She was spectacular.  She was Kate.  And so, we asked to do a screen test. We did a proper screen test like they did in the old days, with 35-millimetre camera. We built a set and all that sort of thing. We put her in wardrobe, did her hair, did everything.  And it was partly to see if she could sort of do a Mid-Atlantic, upper-crust American accent, as a British girl from a British working-class family, could she do that?  And secondly, it was partly training for myself to see how I would react as a director working in a kind of period idiom, which I had never done. We cast Kate, and then Kate was very generous with her time in working with our potential Jacks as they came along, including Leo.”

© 1997 Twentieth Century Fox and Paramount Pictures.

On the thematic sub-texture being relevant today

“We look at the rich and the poor, the haves and the have-nots, the people who survive and the people who die.  So the people in steerage, you know, in the third class, almost all the men died and about half of the women and children died.  Of the people in first class, about half of the men died and almost all of the women and children survived with only one or two exceptions. So you can see that there’s a strong disparity between how the poor are treated, what happens to them, their fate in a crisis and what happens to the rich.  Well, now here we’re facing another crisis called climate change.  We’ve been warned about it for years, we see it coming straight at us, and we cannot turn the ship.  It’s exactly like the freaking iceberg.  We’re gonna slam head-on into it and guess who’s gonna suffer the worst?  The poor.  Not the rich nations that caused it.  It was the rich people on Titanic, their impatience to get to New York, and the captain and the owner of the steamship line understanding that and responding to their rich client base that caused the wreck in the first place. It was the poor that suffered, numerically, and statistically suffered.  So now we got the same damn thing playing out on a global stage with climate change and all the other eco disasters that stand in front of us because rich people have got the pedal down to the metal on the ship of human civilization.  They’re going straight at that damn iceberg.  And when we hit it, it’s gonna be the poor nations that suffer, right?  And the rich will skate by because the rich always do, right?  So is the theme as relevant now as it was then?  I want to say it’s more relevant than it’s ever been.”