Some thoughts on how Titanic helped me get acquainted with the Internet, and some words on the new 3D release

Collide With Destiny

Titanic’s original promotional campaign image and tagline, prior to the fall of 1997.

I still remember that slogan plastered on a Titanic cardboard standee, popcorn bags, and cups in the concession stand of the (now-closed) Grove 9 in San Diego, CA. That was the film’s original slogan, when it was supposed to be released on July 2, 1997.

1997 was an interesting year for film, and James Cameron’s Titanic soon began to creep into the news more and more as numerous ‘problems’ began to befall the film. Editing and visual effects issues caused the film to fall behind schedule, nixing its planned Summer release date. The budget ballooned to $200 million, and its re-scheduled December 19, 1997 release date made it the whipping boy for the news media. After all, who was going to see a love story at Christmas time, that took place aboard a ship that everyone knows is going to sink?

Titanic was the first film to shoot at Fox’s Baja Studios outlet just south of San Diego and the Mexican Border. The giant water tank would later be used for productions like “Pearl Harbor,” and “Master and Commander.”

But, shortly after the beginning of 1998, many of those same persons were eating crow, when Cameron’s film took off in ways that noone could have possibly imagined. It took hold of the whole world, breaking box-office records everywhere, and wracking up awards and accolades left and right.

Though like most phenomenons, it soon grew tiresome. Pretty soon, we were all tired of Celine Dion’s voice in our radios, and quotes from the film that were newly-discovered soon turned into humorous catchphrases. Entertainment Weekly released a flash-based game showing Steven Spielberg firing cannonballs at the Titanic cast (his film Amistad came out that same fall, and quickly sank from view), and word was that Leslie Nielsen would be starring in a parody film called Titanic Too: It Missed the Iceberg (the film never surfaced on screens).

The cover of the book my childhood friend Aaron Block showed me, that began my introduction and fascination with the ship Titanic.

I saw the film 6 times in theaters during its run, and was thoroughly fascinated by the visual effects, and the recreation of the ship. I had first been mesmerized when my childhood friend Aaron Block showed me a book he had received about Robert Ballard’s discovery of the wreck of the Titanic in 1986.  It was fascinating to go through the book, and see what had once been a regal and brand-new ship, now torn in two and decomposing deep in the Atlantic, but noone had really brought the ship to life in a way that made it seem real, until Cameron’s film.

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How Titanic helped me discover the communal internet, and its potential

Up until the fall of 1997, the internet was still a very strange entity. People had said it was the place to find information, and I’d often find myself at the Public Library, using the Netscape Navigator, and hanging up/redialing into the 56k modem only to hear that voice say: “Wel-come…you’ve got mail.”

As for Titanic, I hadn’t given it a second thought since seeing the only information I was getting about it came from Entertainment Weekly, who kept releasing information as if they were egging the film on to die an early death. However, they did report of one person who did have faith in the film: Tim Doyle. A fan of Cameron’s work, Tim was eagerly anticipating this film, despite a lot of the media backlash. He was so enthused, that he started a fansite for his enthusiasm, dubbed Countdown to Titanic.

Thanks to the Internet Archives’ Wayback Machine, I present the (skeletal) internet remains of Countdown to Titanic, as she was originally formatted in 1998 (RIP).

With a clock ticking down the time, Tim’s page became a one-stop portal for information regarding the release. I soon found myself checking out the site daily on my lunch breaks in high school. I had visited many other pages on a whim, but Tim’s was the first that I really gravitated towards, and I was enthralled by the layout work (at the time, I was just discovering the graphics power of Adobe Photoshop). I still remember going to the library the Monday after the film came out, and the main graphic had been changed to a portal showing the ship about to leave Southampton, with ‘C2T’ photoshopped on the side of the hull, and the proclamation, “Titanic Has Arrived!”

(Left) Lincoln’s original C2T logo; (Right) The revised logo once the film was released.

Pretty soon, a community began to grow around the C2T site. We were using the site’s messageboards, and meeting at the chatroom that became known as “The Clock” (a reference to the clock at the foot of the ship’s Grand Staircase). When we got the internet at my house, many a late night was spent chatting for hours at “The Clock,” and many of us were in there as the television rattled off the award show wins over the early months of 1998. But we weren’t all tethered to the site, and some of us then moved over to the messenger program ICQ, when we weren’t able to all get to “The Clock” on time.

Eventually, Tim would parlay Countdown to Titanic into something even grander. After starting a line outside Mann’s Chinese Theater in 1999 for eventual release of The Phantom Menace, Countdown to Titanic was re-imagined (with the help of Lincoln Gasking) as Countingdown.com, a site that would have separate pages for many new films, and give fans of those films a place of their own to count down to their anticipated releases (almost as a tribute, the Countdown To Titanic section was embedded, with the clock now counting off into infinity). I eventually crossed paths with Tim and Lincoln in the summer of 2002 online, when I noticed there was a Countdown to Spirited Away page, but next to nothing about the film. They allowed me on as a page editor for that section of the site, and I attempted to do pretty much what Tim had done with Titanic in the fall of 1997: put my fandom up online and alert people to what would be a great cinematic experience.

Thanks to the Internet Archives’ Wayback Machine, I was able to find an image of the Countdown to Spirited Away page that I had a hand in editing for Countingdown.com.

Sadly, in the last few years, Countingdown.com has sank beneath the surface of the internet. To this day, I often wonder about many of the people I encountered on the original Countdown to Titanic site (I did a watercolor portrait for one girl I met on there). Wherever they’ve gone, I wonder if they also may have a special place for Countdown to Titanic somewhere in their memory.

To those who were part of Countdown to Titanic, this Photoshopped image is for you…from me.

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The Re-Release (in 3-D)

Over the years, many wondered if Cameron would re-release Titanic to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the ship’s doomed maiden voyage. We soon received a yes, and like any major studio re-release (these days), it was to be reformatted into 3-D.

When it was announced that there would be a sneak preview screening on April 3rd, I decided to attend. Why? The truth is, I knew that if I saw the film over the weekend, I was sure to get a bunch of idiots laughing at inopportune moments, kids talking/texting on their cellphones, and plenty of other people just looking to blow $9 on a weekend matinee. Normally, the people who really want to see the film will come out for the very first showing.

The crowd I was with (though we didn’t pack the house full), was a crowd that took me back to those that I remembered from 1997/early 1998. They laughed at the right moments, murmured worriedly when Spicer Lovejoy (David Warner) framed Jack, and some even winced in pain when the one guy smacked into the propeller. However, if the audience was just what I wanted, the 3-D image made the experience less than stellar.

Now, it’s not like I saw bad 3-D conversion like some claimed with Clash of the Titans, or pitch-black 3-D night scenes like some claimed with Pirates of the Caribbean 4. The 3-D was decent enough, but what killed the experience, was when I began to question the whiteness of the Titanic’s walls and paint.During the scene where Jack and Rose stroll along the First Class deck, I decided to do a little test. Here’s how the brightness of the scene looked with my 3D glasses on:

And, here’s how it looked when I pulled off my 3D glasses:

I was surprised just how bright the image really was! Putting the glasses back on, made me feel like I had wandered into the theater on a hot summer day, and forgotten to take off my sunglasses. I know that a lot of people say that theaters should be sure that the brightness settings on the projectors should be turned up to compensate for the glasses, but I really don’t think that does much. Having been a projectionist myself once, the low-light look of the 3D scenes soon got a little distracting, and for a good portion of the film, I found myself watching certain parts with the glasses off. I did wonder if the 3D dims the bright whites of a film like this so much, one has to wonder what it did to the candy-colored Truffula Trees in The Lorax.

It is sad that 3-D is the only option to see Titanic, as I would have preferred to see it digitally projected without the gimmick of 3-D. In truth, James Cameron’s films are those that are made to be seen on a big-screen. I still recall when the (now-closed) Sony Store on Michigan Ave had numerous flat-screen TV’s for sale, and was running Titanic on all of them. Even in sizes from 40-65 inches, the ship just didn’t look that impressive. Titanic truly is a film that was made for the theater. To hear the groans of the ship coming from the speakers, taking in the helicopter-like shots that fly all over the ship’s exterior. I can’t highly recommend the 3-D release as a must-see, but if you are willing to go for the experience, it is something to see (though I just hope your audiences aren’t too annoying).

Seeing it return to the screen reminded me of another film that was too big to be contained on a TV screen, and that was Star Wars. It still was amazing to take in those images I had scene on my family’s living room TV, and then see them in projected on a screen in a room of with over 500 people.

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In Conclusion

To this day, I still can’t buy the theories that teenage girls were the main reason behind the success of Titanic (Twilight yes, Titanic no). It’s not just a chick-flick, even though Cameron did pitch the concept to Twentieth Century Fox as “Romeo and Juliet on the Titanic.” It plays out far better than what constitutes romance movies these days. Of course, one thing success will do is breed imitators, and one that I remember well was 2001’s Pearl Harbor, another doomed romance amid a major tragedy.

I still recall seeing making-of footage where some of the crew were joking that they were going to do what Titanic did, and beat the film’s record. Well, once Pearl Harbor came out, I saw it once, and swore off not falling for another film-trap by Michael Bay (that was, until he got ahold of Transformers, so I ended up going cold-turkey for only 6 years). Bay simply proved that he could do cool war and explosion scenes (all anyone would talk about was the 45 minute attack on the harbor), but the emotions of the film never stuck.

That was where Cameron succeeded with Titanic in my eyes. Though Jack and Rose are fictional characters, they take us all over the ship. We get to know enough about the people aboard, so that when the tragedy occurs, you actually feel something for the 2,200 people aboard the ship. Maybe that’s why I cannot seem to dismiss Cameron’s film amid the internet rabble, and the many who warble like Celine Dion whenever they hear My Heart Will Go On.

Proof that Filmmakers have a sense of humor, George Lucas had this piece put in the Entertainment magazine Variety in the Spring of 1998, when Titanic surpassed Star Wars’ U.S. Box Office gross.

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About MWH1980

Growing up in the state of Iowa, one would assume I'd be enamored with pigs and corn. Well, I wasn't. Instead, I grew fascinated by many things that were entertainment-related. Things like movies, animation, toys, books, and many more kept my attention. This blog I hope to use to express myself regarding my varied obsessions. (P.S. There's no Photoshop involved in that Gravatar-I really am holding an Oscar)

6 responses to “Some thoughts on how Titanic helped me get acquainted with the Internet, and some words on the new 3D release”

  1. melbo says :

    I was one of the people in the original Titanic movie chatroom, started by a guy named Tim from Canada. Most of the regulars were enthusiasts for Titanic the ship, as well as the film. I joined at the end of 1997 and was a regular in the chatroom until mid 1999. During that period, the site was kind of “taken over” by Gasking and later became Countdown to Titanic.

    We probably do know each other. =)

    Like

    • MWH1980 says :

      Your name definitely rings a bell, Melbo. I went by the moniker of ThomasAndrews, and My sister I believe was known as Maddy.

      I even remember a user named Nightcaller (mainly because if he was still on, I’d go “Maintain speed and heading, Mr Nightcaller”).

      Like

      • melbo says :

        I remember you and your sister! As you can see, I’ve kept my alias all these years.

        Like

      • MWH1980 says :

        Definitely made it easier to recall you.

        At the time I found The Clock, I was still trying to come up with a witty Internet identity, which explains why I chose Thomas’ name just for the chat room purposes.

        Like

  2. Tim Doyle (@timdoy) says :

    Hey bud, i happened upon this great post a while looking for screencaps of C2T. I started Countdown to Titanic back in early 1997, and did it all from beginning to end. I met Lincoln via the site and we partnered with another guy to form CountingDown.com, which generated the Star Wars line etc. I still remember those ICQ chats fondly. The Titanic site was me, the stuff afterward was a partnership. Site was built via NetObjects Fusion and Microsoft Image Composer (IIRC). Got to visit Lightstorm in Santa Monica, and managed to spin a Web career out of it. CountingDown.com continued until mid 2004. Haven’t seen Lincoln since. Really glad you liked the site. =)

    Like

    • MWH1980 says :

      TitanicTim! First Melbo resurfaced, and now you!

      Yes, C2T was definitely an amazing introduction to full-on internet in 97/98, when my family got our own connection during my Senior Year. I think it also ties into why I still find Titanic such a memorable film (and the only one I ever saw more than 6 times in theaters during its first-run).

      If it wasn’t ICQ, it was always ‘Meeting at The Clock.’ Even to this day, if I find myself in a quiet chatroom, I call out, ‘Is there anyone alive out there? Can anyone hear me?”

      Thanks for the clarification as well. I’ve updated my Blog’s information regarding your contributions. Still wish I could have gotten a decent screenshot of the site with all the graphics filled in.

      Like

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