By Christopher Campbell | Spout April 15, 2011 at 7:06AM
99 years ago today, the Titanic sunk after striking an iceberg the night before. It was a terrible tragedy that took the lives of 1,517 people. But you wouldn't know its seriousness from the century of bad portrayals, jokes and exploitations of the incident, including the awful idea for a 3D re-release of James Cameron's "Titanic," which is set to open exactly one year from now for the centennial (celebration?). I'm curious what the worst sort of capitalization of the catastrophe was, though, and if Cameron is simply following an acceptable line of action. The following are some of the examples, mainly cinematic, that I might find a tad disrespectful if I were one of the victims of one of the worst disasters in history.
"Saved from the Titanic" (1912) and "In Nacht und Eis" ("In Night and Ice," 1912)
The "too soon" factor comes into play with these two shorts from 1912, each released very soon after the tragedy occurred. "Saved," which no longer exists, might at least be thought of as a kind of news story. It's basically a documentary about Dorothy Gibson, a survivor whose story on the ship is re-enacted as a flashback sequence. It's also apparently already, a month after the sinking, the first film involving forbidden love on the Titanic. The German film came out later that summer and is more of the type of disaster blockbuster we'd see today save for at least a couple years following the true tragedy. It was also thought lost until just after Cameron's film was released (not that I'm saying he hid it from us until his version could be seen, of course). You can watch the thing in full on YouTube, and I've embedded the first part after the jump.
After a few other portrayals of the ship's sinking in films like 1913's "Atlantis" (which, only a year later, also drew "too soon!" criticisms) and 1929's "Atlantic," both of which changed the name of the liner, and 1933's "Cavalcade," which was a more epic story in which the Titanic tragedy is only one of many events, the Nazis made the first true feature about the disaster. And it was its own kind of disaster. The tragedy is exploited for propaganda purposes with a plot in which the hero is German First Officer Herr Petersen. And it is disregard of his calls for a slower speed that leads to the crash, of course. It was mostly an anti-British affair, but in the end Goebbels banned it because of its focus on death and destruction. There are more than a few parallels between this and Cameron's film, by the way, such as its costliness and much of its plot. But fortunately Cameron didn't wind up hanged in jail (whether suicide or not) like original "Titanic" director Herbert Selpin. You can also watch this film on YouTube, all in one (hopefully not illegal) video:
"Voyagers!" Season 1, Episode 15: "Voyagers of the Titanic" (1983)
Time travel series and films love to involve the Titanic, when they can (sadly "Quantum Leap" could not by its own rules), with the '60s show "Time Tunnel" using the tragedy for a major plot point and "Time Bandits" humorously exploiting the sinking with tons of ignorable inaccuracies. Yet they always make up some excuse for why the disaster can't be averted or why no passengers can be saved through the benefit of foreknowledge. Actually in "Time Tunnel," it's a matter of nobody believing the characters in spite of their possession of a newspaper article reporting the incident. Later, in an episode of "Voyagers!," Phineas and Jeff end up on the ship but are only allowed to save one thing: the Mona Lisa. Now, I'm a lover of art, but putting a painting over 1500 lives is pretty depressing. The episode is on YouTube, beginning with this video:
"Titanic: The Legend Goes On" (2001)
Cartoons have dealt with or made reference to the disaster for decades, but this animated feature from Italy goes way too far. It's not that such a story is inappropriate for children, many of whom went to see the Cameron version anyway. It's mainly that it's so terribly written and drawn that it's offensive to the Titanic's memory. Also, the actual sinking is complete with crying Dalmatians, sappy music and slide whistle sound effects when people slip to their doom. And dolphins! Because dolphins are always found in the coldest waters, right? I won't burden you with any more than the best/worst part of its YouTube presentation:
The Titanic Adventure Slide
Not a movie or TV show, of course, the Titanic Adventure Slide is just an inflatable ride available from Party USA that lets you experience what it was like to fall from one end of the Titanic to your death. But it's perfectly safe -- except from criticism, of course. In fact, it's been banned in some places for being in poor taste. But you can call the number and get one for yourself (Burger King logos included?) this weekend for your very own Titanic remembrance occasion. I love that the entrance notes that only First Class people are allowed to have so much fun. Here's a video of the slide in use:
"Titanic II" (2010)
Last year, direct-to-video legends The Asylum got a lot of attention for the release of this "sequel," the very idea of which had been a joke since Cameron's film became the highest grossing picture of all time. But this film doesn't necessarily follow the events of any first "Titanic" movie, except that they're all based somewhat on a true story. Instead it's an exploitation inside of an exploitation with the plot involving a 100th anniversary voyage of a new ship called, yes, Titanic II. And wouldn't you know it, this one suffers a terrible disaster, too, only with a tsunami more fitting to the "Poseidon Adventure." It's not just a matter of coincidence or history repeating itself, though. It's Global Warming that causes this tragedy. Ugh. "Titanic II" can also be watched in full on YouTube, but I don't think legally. So here's the trailer, which is all you really need to see:
Titanic slide photo was grabbed from travel blog Where are Sue and Mike? Hopefully they don't mind.