Fifteen years after “Titanic,” James Cameron says he’s finally ready to move on. He never really had been that much of a Titanic enthusiast; he said he was just looking for a new project, after such films as “Terminator” and “Aliens,” when he ran across a copy of “A Night to Remember,” the 1958 film about the sinking of the great ship.
The rest, as they say, is history — plus a couple of star-crossed lovers, 11 Academy Awards and worldwide gross earnings of something more than $2 billion.
“I think I’m in the process of letting go of it now, but it’s been a 17-year journey that started with great interest and became an obsession,” said Cameron when we sat down with him for an ABC News/Yahoo! News Newsmakers interview.
“And the fascination, I think, is not just the human story, but there’s also the forensic analysis of the wreck. What can we learn from that twisted steel at the bottom of the ocean that — we can work backwards, like an airplane crash, and figure out, can we find the iceberg damage? What happened when it broke up? What happened when it sank to the bottom, and so on?”
Cameron has, of course, done other things since “Titanic” premiered in 1997 (you may have seen a little project of his called “Avatar” — the only other film in history ever to gross more than $2 billion). But the Titanic’s sinking kept pulling him back in.
There was “Titanic,” the documentary to mark the centennial of the ship’s sinking. There was “Titanic,” the re-release in 3-D. There’s now been “Titanic,” the 3-D release on Blu-ray disc. And there’s — well, there won’t be “Titanic 2,” despite some elaborate spoofs you can find online.
Cameron says he’s satisfied he knows what there is to know about the 1912 tragedy. He’s been down to the wreck himself 33 times; he’s done computer simulations of how it came apart as it went to the bottom on that cold April night in 1912.
“And I think we’re able to tell that story quite clearly now, but it’s taken 15 years of investigation to do it,” he said.
He talked about the link he sees between filmmaking and exploration. Having succeeded at the former, he’s done his share of the latter. In April he rode a submersible to the bottom of the Challenger Deep in the South Pacific, the deepest spot in the world’s oceans.
It is an explorer’s obligation, he said, to bring back experiences for the rest of us to share. “Maybe it’s a filmmaker’s impulse,” he said. “To me, to go and explore without taking high-quality imagery — it’s a tree falling in the forest. The job of the explorer, partially, is to be a storyteller, to bring the story back. And what better way to do it than in 3-D HD, which is why, when I went to the bottom of the Challenger Deep, I made sure we had 3-D cameras on the sub.”
He described himself as a one-time aspiring scientist, though his math grades weren’t good enough. He’s contented himself with science fiction. His childhood heroes included deep-sea explorers and astronauts. He said, when asked, that he’d love to go to Mars, though with five children to think about, he may leave it to others.
“I think you have to send people,” he said, though he applauds the imagery sent from the Martian surface by NASA’s Curiosity rover. “The robots are good, they bring back good data, good science, but they don’t captivate the public imagination the same way as a human being going out there at the vanguard of human experience.”