FOCUS Narrative Conventions and the New Hollywood Blockbuster

Titanic is probably most famous for its reputed budget in excess of $200 million, requiring it to gross $350 million to break even. In fact, the spiralling costs became part of the marketing campaign -with its 550 computer-generated shots, it was the most expensive film ever made - irrespective of content, a spectacle in itself. It broke all box-office records around the world to become the highest grossing film to date, taking in excess of $1 billion and equalling the record set by Ben-Hur (Wyler, USA, 1959) for winning the most Oscars. So wherein lies the secret of such success? An obvious and important answer would look at the promotion and distribution of the film, but for the moment let us look at the film itself.

It is a generally accepted fact by cinema-goers and critics alike that when we go to see a genre picture we know what to expect. With a film like Titanic we have more than expectations: we have foreknowledge. (There cannot have been many viewers who wondered whether the ship would sink or not, although anyone with a more detailed knowledge of the facts would have been in for a few surprises.)

So, if we know what is going to happen, why go and see it? The answer has to lie in the spectacular action sequences and special effects upon which the success of the New Hollywood blockbuster appears to be predicated (see Star Wars, chapter 28; Raiders of the Lost Ark, chapter 31; Jurassic Park, chapter 36; The Matrix, chapter 49). Cinema is a voyeuristic art form - what better subject than the most famous sinking in history? But spectacle alone is not enough. We want a story. As D. W. Griffith himself realised (see chapter 1), we want the spectacle to be personalised.

The first hour or so of the film is devoted to this end - first by presenting the story as an extended flashback (the personal account of a survivor) and then, through her, introducing us to various characters whose fate and reactions we follow as the film progresses. In the first few scenes of the flashback Cameron sets out the themes he is going to explore, primarily through the mise en scène.

Our first glimpses of the young Rose (Winslet) are a detail shot of her gloved hand filmed from above as she emerges from a car obscured by the brim of an enormous hat. Notice how the choice

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