When Rose is threatening to kill herself on the front of the Titanic, Jack decides to tell her a story. He speaks of a lake near Chippewa Falls that he went ice fishing on, Lake Wissota. This is a really interesting story because it makes no sense. At least, it didn’t make sense in 1912 when the Titanic was on the water. You see, Lake Wissota is a man-made lake that was created after the Chippewa River was dammed. That didn’t happen until 1918, a full six years after the Titanic sunk. So, either Jack Dawson is a time traveler, or he’s making up a baloney story to dissuade this pretty girl from killing herself. Come to think of it, both explanations are pretty reasonable.
Throughout the entire film, there are several shots of crewmen visible, but we want to focus in on the most obvious of these. The scene comes when Jack is greeted in first class. We travel toward the door, apparently in Jack’s shoes, but, as we approach the glass door, we can clearly see that we are not Jack at all. We’re really a dopey cameraman lugging a massive camera. When the door opens and Jack is the one greeted, we realize that we’ve been duped. We never want to say an editor did a poor job, especially on a film of Titanic’s ilk, but whoever did this block of footage clearly wasn’t paying attention and did a horrible job.
Since we know the path of the real Titanic, the angle of the sun in the film says a lot about the attention to detail of the filmmakers. For the most part, they were on the money. However, there are some scenes, such as the disgusting deck-spitting scene, that tells a much different story. In this scene, it’s before dinner, and Jack and Rose are spitting over the deck like neanderthals. We know they’re on the port side of the ship and we can see the sun setting, pretty much directly in front of them. This means that the ship is traveling northwest, which is strange because the real Titanic was traveling southwest.
Of all the errors in Titanic, this is the one that gets the most attention. That’s probably because it’s the most obvious of mistakes, other than the massive door that Rose hogged up all to herself. The error comes when Rose breaks the glass to get the fireman’s axe. She takes care to remove all of the glass from the frame after breaking it. But then, when she grabs the axe, we see that most of the glass is back. It’s a simple oversight but one that many viewers have clung to and mocked.
When Rose is being clever and speaking to Bruce Ismay, the managing director of the Titanic, she asks him if he’s familiar with Freud. She then tells him that he may be interested in Freud’s work on the male’s preoccupation with size. Now, if you didn’t catch this, Rose is basically telling this poor guy that building a ship as large as the Titanic is the making-up for what she assumes is his small manhood. Rude and also strange given the time period. Sigmund Freud had some of these concepts floating around, but they weren’t published until 1919, and they weren’t popularized until 1920-21. Just in case you’re bad a math scientist or whatever they’re called, this means that Rose is discussing a theory that wasn’t written down for another seven years.
The task of the stuntman is one of the most under-appreciated on a film set. What they do takes incredible courage and an amazing amount of mechanical ingenuity to the setup. The odd time in films, again, especially when the film is slowed down or watched frame by frame, it is possible to see how certain stunts are accomplished. When the ship is sinking in Titanic, there is a particular scene that has some men pulled into a hole on deck. The stunt is visible in the wires or lines attached to one of these men. The wire pulls the man into the hole and illusion is gone. We hope you didn’t actually believe you were watching a man die and we just ruined it for you.
Several of the mistakes in Titanic were the result of flipping the camera image in order to have the ship pointed in the right direction. Because we know where the Titanic sailed from and the direction it was heading, James Cameron wanted to have it right. To achieve this, some of the shots were inverted, but this caused other issues. The changing of Rose’s beauty mark was a big one. Another is this magical left-handed crank camera we see. In 1912, crank cameras were all the rage, but there were none that were cranked on the left side. Since most photographers are right-handed, it made sense to cater to the majority. Perhaps an even bigger mistake is that this crowd, when we get another shot of the ship’s exterior from inside a nearby building, has completely vanished shortly after this shot.
For a film of this scale, Cameron used a surprising amount of practical effects. Most of the closeup shots are done in this way to ensure that the film stood up in the future, as it does now, 20 years later. There are some issues that are noticeable, however, when you look closely at the film. One of the most noticeable goofs is seen in a capstan, one of the revolving cylinders used to wind rope or cable. When the ship tilts vertically prior to going under, we get a closeup of a passenger hitting one of these massive capstans. For obvious safety reasons, these weren’t metal on set as they would be in real life. Instead, they appear to be foam, as we can see the thing crinkle and wrinkle as it’s hit.
Even though this is a list about mistakes, we would like to point out that one of the biggest alleged mistakes in the film is actually not a mistake at all. Plenty of contemporary boaters watched Titanic and snickered to themselves when the ship is about to hit the iceberg. To try and miss the iceberg, an officer tells the helmsman, “hard to starboard,” and afterward, “hard to port.” After both orders, the helmsman does the opposite of what we believe is correct. Today, port is to the left and starboard is to the right. While Titanic appears to have goofed this up, they really nailed it on the head. In 1912, port was right and starboard was left. The reason they changed this was because boaters of the 1900’s were raised driving automobiles, so boats made the change to conform.
When the Captain watches as the waters crash through the glass and into the bridge, it’s a very dramatic moment. The filmmakers knew this, so they shot in from various angles. The problem with this type of camera work is that, to make the scene flawless, the water has to break through in the same way every time the scene is reshot. That’s not what happens in Titanic. In the shot, we see four windows on the front. There’s also a clock in between the second and third windows. When the water first crashes through, the windows break in order—one, two, three, four. Right as the fourth window breaks, the angle changes and we watch the water come through again. This time, however, there is no clock, and the order of windows breaking is different, one, two, four, three. Ta-ta Cameron!
Movie makers have a slew of tricks to use to make fights and action seem realistic. In real time, these tricks work like a charm, especially in big budget films. Sometimes, however, particularly when aided by frame-by-frame analysis, these tricks are exposed. That’s what happened here in Titanic when Rose sucker-punches the crewman trying to pull her to safety. Now, in Rose’s defense, this guy was a total idiot. Sure, we get that the levity of situation might make people do strange things, but listen to this guy. Rose is telling him that someone is trapped and he keeps saying, “It’s okay. It’s alright,” just repeating it over and over again. So, Rose socking this guy to free herself is more than justified. But right after she punches him, the camera shows this moron and he’s got blood on his hands, none on his face. He then wipes his face with the bloody hand to make it appear as if his nose is bleeding. Nice try, man. We weren’t born yesterday.
We know that kids are strange beasts and they can be unpredictable to say the least, but what happens aboard the Titanic in Titanic with one mystery child is beyond reason. While the ship is going down and the bottom decks are flooding, the crew decided to lock some of the gates keeping the lower-class passengers from escaping up to the top decks. This is obviously distressing for almost everyone, but in the panic, amidst all the third-class passengers freaking out, is one smiling child. We can pretend that this kid may not know what’s going on, but if you’ve ever seen a child around adults who are losing their minds, you’d know that kids freak out doubly in these situations. They become overwhelmed and they scream and cry. But, not this little guy. This kid looks at the camera dead in the eye and gives it a smile. He says with this look, Look how awesome I am. I’m in a movie right now.
When Rose is getting on the lifeboats, we’re confronted with a few curious things. The first is when Cal agrees with Jack and tells Rose, “get on the boat.” In the background, we see two red flashing lights. Since the ocean is an odd place for towers with red lights, we have to assume these are TV towers. The next curious thing is just a continuity error, but a funny one, nevertheless. Jack and Cal watch as Rose is lowered in a lifeboat. The boat gets down to a certain point, let’s say 10 feet below where she started. The camera then trains on Jack and Cal as they talk. This conversation lasts for 40 seconds, and all the while, we hear the lifeboat being lowered. When the camera goes back to Rose in the boat, she’s actually been raised since the last time we saw her. Now, she’s only about 5 feet down.
It’s Sunday morning aboard the Titanic and Jack is greeted with a beautiful song. The tune is a Navy Hymn called “Eternal Father.” What is interesting about this particular song is the version that’s being sung. In this version is the verse that says, “O Spirit, whom the Father sent; To spread abroad the firmament; O Wind of heaven, by thy might; Save all who dare the eagle’s flight, And keep them by thy watchful care; From every peril in the air.” Now, while the reasons for the Navy singing this verse about the Air Force have been debated, the timelines are not debatable. Sure, The Wright Brothers flew a plane prior to the Titanic sinking, but this verse didn’t exist until 1937. Hell, the first American aviation unit, the 1st Aero Squadron, wasn’t even deployed until the year after the Titanic sunk, 1913.
Plenty of people like to point out the wardrobe malfunction in this scene, but we’re going a different route. The scene in question is when Jack is cuffed to the pipe and he asks Rose to chop the cuff chain with an axe. Yeah, Jack’s suspenders mysteriously disappear during this shot too, but that’s boring. Watch Rose swing the axe. First of all, she closes her damn eyes. With a bit of movie magic, this trick works. But, if you look closely, Rose actually crushes Jack’s wrist with the axe. If it wasn’t a prop axe, she would have taken his hand clean off. In hindsight, that would also be an effective way of freeing the guy, but it would be a much more painful route.
In the shot of Rose arriving in New York, she does what all people would do in her spot. She looks up at the beautiful Statue of Liberty. Now, even though it’s raining, we can see that the color of the statue is its well-known green color and the flame is golden. Today, this all makes perfect sense, but back in 1912, when the Titanic was on the waters, the Statue of Liberty was much closer to the original brown color. After the Statue of Liberty was placed in 1886, it took more than 35 years to change color to the green we see today. In 1912, it had only been up for 26 years. Also, the golden flame we see was only put up in 1986 for the 100th anniversary. The original flame lit up from within.