It takes a lot to convince JAMES CAMERON that he’s wrong. This visionary director is responsible for three of the top four highest-grossing films of all time, including the current blockbuster Avatar: The Way of Water, which has grossed over $2.1 billion and received an Oscar nomination for Best Picture despite the opinions of millions of internet trolls.
However, the raft theory continues to grate on his nerves. When the Titanic sank, Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Rose (Kate Winslet) were in steerage, although Jack’s pathetic ass could have fit on that floating plank of wood. James Cameron’s new hour-long special, Titanic: 25 Years Later, premieres on NatGeo on February 5.
In it, he attempts to “found out once and for all if Jack could’ve survived the sinking of Titanic” by recreating the raft scenario with two stuntpeople in a “controlled laboratory setting.” Cameron announces, “We released Titanic 25 years ago.”
This marks the beginning of a unique/experiment. However, despite our best efforts, viewers still refuse to believe that Jack would not have lived had he stepped onto the debris raft with Rose. (The movie didn’t officially come out until December of 1997).
Even though Titanic won 11 Academy Awards (including Best Picture and Best Director for Cameron), made nearly $2.2 billion at the box office (a record at the time), turned DiCaprio into a ’90s teen idol, and became a worldwide cultural phenomenon—even after my mother dragged our family to see it in theaters more than once—the “raft theory” has gained quite a bit of traction online.
Some people with a lot of free time, like the guys at MythBusters, have even done their experiments to “prove” that Jack could fit on that floating door thing. They lacked Cameron’s financial backing.
To determine if the Titanic indeed split in two behind the third funnel, as depicted in the film, Cameron and company first build a scale replica of the ship and place it in a tank, “mirroring the physics at work as best we can” (this is funny, by the way).
As Cameron puts it, they can only prove “what might have happened,” even though he has personally seen the Titanic debris at least a dozen times during deep submersible dives.
Cameron and his team of experts, which includes Naval data engineers and computer-model eggheads, calculate that the ship splits off at an angle between “20 and 30 degrees,” which is comparable to the 23 degrees depicted in the film and results in a vertical descent of the stern. In response to the news, Cameron opens his arms wide and declares, “TOUCHDOWN!”
Though he admits that the stern could “sink vertically” or “fall back with a large splash,” he emphasizes that “you can’t have both” and that “the film is inaccurate on one point or the other.” Cameron said they were only “half correct in the movie” with their depiction of the Titanic’s demise because of the faulty stern fall-back.
Before the significant event, we are shown a film of Cameron angrily using a pocketknife to cut through the rope holding down a lifeboat, much like some passengers did when they escaped the sinking ship.
Cameron traveled to Dr. Jim Cotter’s New Zealand laboratory, where he studied the effects of cold on the human body, to put the raft theory to the test using two stuntpeople who were the same height and weight as Jack and Rose. They built a prop surfboard with the same “degree of buoyancy you see in the picture,” then placed it and the stunt performers inside a massive tank.
Some stories are timeless. In celebration of the 25th anniversary, please join us in experiencing Titanic in remastered 4K 3D. Opening February 10th in theaters.https://t.co/qBvaj1crCn
— James Cameron (@JimCameron) January 10, 2023
The stunt performers had internal thermometers implanted, and their temperatures were lowered to 95 degrees Fahrenheit for the test, the threshold below which clinical hypothermia would set.
Jack would have died from clinical hypothermia if he had stayed in the water for more than twenty minutes, and because it took the rescue crew around two hours to discover Rose, he would have met his end just as he does in the film.
Then, Cameron and Dr. Cotter attempt to arrange their Jack and Rose on the grid. They can both fit on the raft; however, only their upper bodies are above the water while their legs are exposed to the frigid water. We can rule that out. This is a death sentence for them due to the cold.
Cameron then has their boat on the raft, periodically exchanging body heat, but this position proves too risky due to its instability. The two people manage to get into a place where their upper bodies are above the raft, and their lower legs are submerged.
At this point, Cameron and the crew conclude that Jack can survive for “a few hours,” long enough to be rescued. Let’s slow down a minute! Cameron says this “best case scenario” in which Jack survives is only a “dream” because, in his experiment, Jack and Rose didn’t experience “all the crap” that his characters did before reaching the raft.
Cameron has the stunt crew recreate the whole underwater scene from the film, including Jack hitting the man running for Rose’s life jacket and the two swimming to the raft. The only thing keeping Rose and Jack alive now is that they are balancing on the raft with only their lower legs submerged; if she had given Jack her life jacket at this point, they might have made it a few more hours.
With a wry grin, Cameron admits, “Final verdict: Jack might have lived, but there are many variables. He says we can’t replicate the fear, adrenaline, and everything else that would have worked against them in a well-lit trial in a test pool. “[Jack] didn’t get to try out plenty of variations to see which ones were most effective. For Jack to have survived, she may have had to pay the ultimate price.
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