Compare and contrast how the directors of ‘Titanic’ and ‘A Night to Remember’ portray the sinking of the Titanic
Using the factual accounts of the sinking of the Titanic, compare and contrast how the directors of ‘Titanic’ and ‘A Night to Remember’ portray the events that occurred. On Monday April the 14th 1912, brought an event which was to change thousands of lives and change the course of history. The ‘unsinkable’ Titanic – the pride of the White Star fleet struck an iceberg and sank within hours causing a massive loss of life. This disaster has caught the imagination of many generations and has provided the source of many books and films both fact and fiction. The Titanic was on its maiden voyage to New York.
It was the largest and greatest ship of its age, it was said to be like a floating city that carried 332 first class passengers in absolute luxury, 276 second class passengers and approximately 708 Steerage class or lower class passengers that suffered most casualties over the hours Titanic sank. The most famous films of the events surrounding the sinking of the Titanic are ‘A Night to Remember’ by Roy Baker in 1958 which was based on the true story of Titanic, and most recently the 11 Academy award winning film ‘Titanic’ by James Cameron in 1997 which is one of the most successful films of recent times.
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A Night to Remember’ and ‘Titanic’ approach the telling of the story in totally different ways, but have very similar themes running throughout. ‘A Night to Remember’ is based on the book also called ‘A night to Remember’ by Walter Lord. The film follows a chronological order of events with the central character of Lightholler the 2nd officer who survived the disaster. It focuses on him from when he boards the ship to when the ship is sinking.
He is portrayed as a calm well respected leader, this is showed even more so when he shows courage and intelligence through his actions in keeping control of events and helping save lives. He plays a huge role in bringing the film together as he is someone who the watcher can focus on. The film highlights some of the mistakes that contributed to the disaster. It spends a large proportion of the time focusing on the radio room and how the operators where spending more time sending passengers personal business messages than listening to vital warnings from other ships of the danger of floating icebergs in the area.
Throughout ‘A Night to Remember’ the development of characters is very limited and many of them are focused on to show general scenes of passengers and crew and how they react to the events in different ways. In the opening scenes of ‘A Night to Remember’ Baker, combines real footage of the launching of the titanic with acted scenes, he accomplishes this as he was so committed to telling the true story. However Cameron uses fake footage of the people waving goodbye to their loved ones, he fools us into believing it is real footage by changing the color contrast to a yellow to make it look old and historic.
There are many stereotypes in the film, particularly the portrayal of the wealthy classes in first class, who appear to spend most of the film dressed in evening dress enjoying the splendor and luxury of the state rooms, and not realizing the severity of the situation when the ship strikes the iceberg. Many of them show little respect for the crew when asked to move to the lifeboats, and many resent having to wear life jackets. As the situation develops, and it becomes more apparent that the ships is really sinking then the mood changes and many develop an attitude of self protection.
This is particularly shown by the Chairman of the White Star Line – Mr. Ismay who sneaks onto a lifeboat before many of the women and children have had a chance to leave the ship. This is noticed by Lightholler whose look of disgust shows his feelings towards his boss. Women in ‘A Night to Remember’ are portrayed as thick and stupid as they make comments such as ‘You won’t get back on board tomorrow without a pass’ when the ship is about to sink to the bottom of the Atlantic.
Throughout the film, a lot is shown of the class difference between the first class passengers, living in luxury, and the steerage class passengers who are accommodated in very basic accommodation below the waterline, with many sharing overcrowded rooms. Many of the gangways are locked during the sinking to prevent them getting on deck to have a chance of survival, as the crew know that the ship does not have enough lifeboats for everyone, and priority is being given to the first class passengers. Most of these steerage class passengers appear to be foreign immigrants to the USA, and thus of less value than the wealthy First Class passengers.
Throughout the film the crew are shown to be professional and polite throughout, especially Lightholler, as the developing scenes of the film increase and when there is a rising tide of panic amongst the passengers and crew, Lightholler leadership qualities still stand out, as he is able to think in a calm and logical way, and overcoming many difficulties. However in ‘titanic’ Cameron portrays him as a crew member who can only keep order by using weapons and treats ‘Order, order or I will shoot you all like dogs. ‘
The Captain of the Titanic, Captain Smith is portrayed in both films as a very stereotypical captain, with his white beard, and powerful presence, at no time during either film is it suggested that he is responsible for the disaster. In ‘Titanic’ at the beginning he is shown as a dream maker and when the ship is sinking he is portrayed as lost and not in control. However in ‘A night to Remember’ he is shown to be in control even when the ship is sinking as he gives the orders and in ‘Titanic’ they are suggested to him by the crew.
A Night to Remember’ unlike ‘Titanic’, spends some time on the two other ships in the area – The California which is only ten miles away, and could have reached the sinking Titanic quickly enough to save many of the passengers, but instead with its Captain asleep and the incompetent crew ignoring the frantic distress flare from the sinking ship, and turning off its radios. The Carpathia on the other hand is some sixty miles away when it hears the calls for help, and immediately starts racing towards the scene.
The Captain is portrayed as efficient, and concerned in the way he prepares his ships to receive the casualties. The Titanic film makes no reference to the California, and The Carpathia only appears in the closing scenes of the film. The final scenes of ‘A Night to Remember’, when the ship finally begins to sink beneath the surface is dramatic but without the benefit of computer graphics and animation available to Cameron, baker cannot possibly compete in terms of the drama that Cameron achieves in his modern film.
In Cameron’s film the ship is shown as breaking in two, with the stern rising vertically in the water before plummeting to the bottom. This was what actually happened according to eye witness accounts, but it is not portrayed like this in Bakers film. The sinking scenes in Cameron’s film are some of the most dramatic and realistic in modern cinema. Cameron’s ‘Titanic’ makes a totally different approach to telling the story as it is based on fictional characters which are developed over a long period of time. It is basically a dramatic love story interwoven with the story of Titanic.
The story develops between Rose, a rich girl who is forced into engagement to a multimillionaire steel baron – Cal Hockley. She feels trapped inside her own world causing her to feel like death is the only way out. However she is saved by Jack, a 3rd class passenger who makes a living out of pencil drawings. They soon fall into forbidden love as Rose’s fianci??e and her mother try to separate them several times. It uses flash backs from current times to the events in April 1912 through the eyes of a survivor of the disaster.
The opening scenes of Titanic shows a salvage squad looking for a precious diamond that would be worth millions of pounds today. They finally find the safe which they believed it was kept in but they soon find out that the safe is empty apart from a drawing of a beautiful young girl wearing the diamond. This leads to a report on television which is seen by Rose who is now 104 years old as she recognises herself as the girl in the drawing. The salvage squad determined to find the diamond fly Rose out to the site where she recounts the events that lead to the sinking of Titanic.
Throughout Titanic Cameron uses many different methods to represent the different classes by showing the contrast by focusing on the higher class to the middle class then to the lower class. In the opening scene Cameron focuses on the higher classes when the ship is being loaded with all the expensive cars, paintings and possessions and luggage. They are all dressed very smartly and are well presented. He then shows the different contrast between classes when moves the camera to show all the 3rd class passengers waiting to board.
Many of them are in old ragged clothes with all there possessions in just one or two bags. He also shows how the lower classes are getting checked for fleas and lice before they board the ship. It is quite evident that many of the third class passengers are immigrants, heading for a new life in America. This class divide is repeatedly shown throughout the film, and it is more striking in Cameron’s film than Baker’s. After Jack talks Rose out of jumping overboard, Jack is invited to eat with Rose, her fianci??, and the rest of their party, this is supposed to be a reward for saving Rose’s life.
It is a very grand dinner, in the first class dining room, and Cal and the rest of his party try to humiliate Jack, because he comes from a poor background and has no money ‘Mr. Dawson, well its amazing you can almost pass as a gentlemen’. Jack however does not seem to be affected, and it is clear that Rose is attracted to Jack, and finds him far more interesting than her self-centered fianci??. Jack then leaves the dinner, shortly followed by Rose, and he takes her to ‘a real party’ in steerage. Here the third class passengers are having a fantastic party, with dancing, and singing.
Rose seems to be enjoying herself extremely as we also see her drinking pints of beer, which is a severe contrast to the expensive wine served from crystal classes, she has just had upstairs. It is clear that Rose is far more interested in Jack as a person, than Cal. This class divide is further shown when Rose and Jack, who by now are in love, are discovered by Cal and Cal’s personal assistant/bodyguard, in Cal’s state room. Jack has just done a pencil drawing of Rose lying down naked and wearing the expensive diamond that plays a large part of the film’s plot.
Jack and Rose run off, with Cal’s bodyguard running after them. They run from the luxury of the stateroom with its own private walkway deck, probably the most expensive accommodation on the ship, through different levels of accommodation, through steerage class, with its overcrowded accommodation. Cameron even takes them through the engine room, which is represented, almost as a hell, with sweaty stokers shoveling coal to feed the boilers that are driving the ship. There is noise, fire, steam, and oil which together creates an immense contrast to the wealth and luxury of the staterooms at the top of the ship.
Cameron’s film has spent over half the film developing the main characters of Jack, Rose, and Cal. It is over one hour and forty minutes before the ship strikes the iceberg. From this tragic moment, there are many similarities between the two films. Of course Cameron’s film, with its multimillion pound budget is far more effective, however the basic order of events remain the same, and it almost as though Cameron has made direct copies of some of the scenes from ‘A Night to Remember’. The scene when Mr.
Andrews, the ships designer, who is on board, relates to the Captain that the ship will unavoidably sink ‘that’s five compartments! She can stay afloat, with the first four compartments breached, but not five, not five, she will go down by the head and the water will spill over the tops of the baulk heads from one to the next’ This is what Mr. Andrews says in ‘Titanic’ and it is almost exactly identical to ‘A Night to remember’. There are many other examples of similarities from the point the ship strikes the iceberg.
We see how at first passengers are unaware of what has happened, and how some are told (in both films), that the shuddering that was heard was ‘a propeller blade’ being shed. We see in both films how the first class passengers are unwilling to follow the instructions of the crew to get into their life jackets. We see in both films how the third class passengers are locked down below decks, and the first class passengers are given priority in boarding the limited number of lifeboats. We see how there are examples of cowardice by men in both films, and how the chairman of the White Star Line, sneaks aboard a lifeboat before his turn.
We also see how Cal tries bribing the crew to allow him aboard the lifeboat, when this fails he even uses child. This scene is not shown in Bakers film because Cal Hockley is a fictional character; however it does show how heartless Cal is and how men may have behaved during the event. In both films, even during the rising disaster, there are elements of humour, but these are very different in both films. In Baker’s film we keep returning to a chef who is getting more and more drunk, as he drinks a whole bottle of whisky, not that amusing today, but forty years ago, it would have been.
There is also a scene when some bell boys are told off for smoking in a public room, which is quite incredible when you think about the events unfolding around them. There is also another scene that is similar in both films, when the panicking third class passengers break down a barrier, and are accused of damaging ‘White Star property! ‘ This is said when the whole ship is about to sink to the bottom of the Atlantic! Cameron however is slightly more subtle with his humour. This is shown in the scene where Jack has been handcuffed to a pipe, and the only way that he can escape is if Rose can chop through the chain with a fire axe.
As he is concerned that she might miss he asks her to practice on a cupboard, by hitting the cupboard, and then trying to hit the same spot for a second time, she misses by several feet, but as the situation is now frantic Jack urges her to chop through the chain. She manages it successfully, and they escape. Another example of humor is represented in the scene where the ship has sunk and jack says to Rose ‘I don’t know about you, but I intend to write a strongly worded letter to the White Star fleet about all this. Cameron uses this comment to lighten the mood of the audience after witnessing such tragedy. Both films follow the same basic factual accounts of the sinking, and portray them in a similar way: the separation of children and women from their fathers; lack of life boats; priority given to 1st class passengers over 3rd class passengers to board the life boats; acts of cowardice, and the fact that the life boats did not return to help those in need.
The main differences between the two representations are that ‘Titanic’ follows a forbidden love story, and a ‘Night to Remember’ focuses purely on the factual side of events. As ‘A Night to Remember’ is presented in a way that it frequently fools us into thinking that it’s a documentary, I believe this makes the story less interesting. In my opinion as a film ‘Titanic’ is overall more successful in capturing the attention of the audience due to advantages of modern day special effects and the added striking love story.