‘Titanic’ at 25: No, Jack didn’t survive, but the movie sure did

As the $2 billion hit returns to theaters for its anniversary, here’s some flotsam and jetsam about James Cameron’s epic.

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The brief romance of Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Rose (Kate Winslet) comes to a tragic end in “Titanic.”

Paramount Pictures

When we talk “Titanic,” the discussion inevitably leads to the 25-year debate about whether there was enough room on that floating piece of debris for both Rose and Jack, and we’ll get to that in a moment.

But first I’d like to talk about the five-card draw poker game in which Jack Dawson’s full house beat Sven Gunderson’s two pair, thus netting Jack and his best pal Fabrizio De Rossi two third-class tickets aboard the RMS Titanic, along with a pocket knife (which comes in handy later), some cash and a pocket watch.

What an incredible victory for Jack and Fabrizio! What a devastating setback for Sven and Olaf! “We’re the luckiest sons of bitches in the world, do you know that?” Jack exclaims to Fabrizio as they race to catch the ship.

Ah, but flash forward to a couple of days later, with Olaf probably still simmering mad at Sven — until he picks up the newspaper and reads about the sinking of the Titanic. Turns out that was the luckiest hand ever for ol’ Sven and Olaf. Just saying.

With James Cameron’s “Titanic” set to sail back onto the big screen for a 25th anniversary re-release on Friday, here are a few notations about the 1997 historical romantic disaster epic that has grossed more than $2 billion, won 11 Academy Awards and to this day remains one of the most beloved (by many) and loathed (by more than a few) blockbusters of all time. (Having re-watched “Titanic” for this piece, I remain firmly in the former category; to be sure, the script is brimming with corny dialogue and many of the supporting characters are broad caricatures, but young Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet are movie stars in the making and the combination of practical and visual effects is still breathtaking.)

Room Enough for Two?

In the newly updated National Geographic special “Titanic: 25 Years Later,” Cameron notes, “We released ‘Titanic’ 25 years ago, but despite all our efforts to make the film as accurate as possible, there’s one thing some fans just can’t accept. They insist Jack could have survived if he climbed onto that floating piece of debris with Rose.”

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“Titanic” director James Cameron works with stunt performers to test various scenarios on the movie’s makeshift raft on “Titanic: 25 Years Later.”

National Geographic

In an effort to definitively settle the debate, Cameron and a team of scientists re-created the scene in a tank in New Zealand with stunt performers the same size as DiCaprio and Winslet — repeatedly plunging them into 28-degree waters and trying a number of approaches, including placing “Rose’s” life jacket under the piece of wood, having “Jack” and “Rose” on their knees and embracing each other, and having each of them partially submerged while keeping their upper cores above water. Let’s just say there’s a good chance they both would have died had Jack tried to join Rose on the makeshift raft, but Cameron does acknowledge, “Based on what I know today, I would have made the raft smaller.”

Also, it should be noted “Titanic” was essentially “Romeo and Juliet” on a doomed ship, and it was dramatically much more impactful for Jack to die than for both of them to survive, only to wind up in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, or wherever, wondering what the hell they had signed up for.

Jack Can See the Future

When Jack tells Rose about the Santa Monica Pier, he promises he’ll take her there: “We’ll drink cheap beer, we’ll ride on the rollercoaster till we throw up. Then we’ll ride horses on the beach …”

At the end of the film, we see Rose’s collection of photos includes a shot of her riding a horse on the beach, with the Santa Monica Pier rollercoaster in the background. She made it!

One thing though: Jack tells Rose about the rollercoaster in 1912, but the first rollercoaster on the Santa Monica Pier wasn’t built until a few years later. Then again, the lake in Wisconsin that Jack talks about didn’t exist at that time, nor did the Freudian theories Rose discusses. It’s a great big giant sprawling movie. Mistakes are gonna happen. Poetic license can be taken.

Foreshadowing

After Rose and Jack make love in the Renault Type CB Coupé de Ville — reportedly the only car in real life that was aboard the Titanic — Rose says to Jack, “You’re trembling,” to which Jack replies, “Don’t worry, I’ll be all right.”

Uh-oh.

The Hilarious Molly Brown

My favorite line in the movie comes from Kathy Bates’ Molly Brown, who instantly sizes up the tension between Billy Zane’s arrogant Cal and his betrothed Rose when Cal orders dinner: “We’ll both have the lamb, rare with very little mint sauce. You like lamb, don’t you sweet pea?” to which Molly cracks, “You gonna cut her meat for her too there, Cal?” Perfect.

Unsinkable at the Box Office

One of the most remarkable elements of the box office for “Titanic” is the staying power of the film over many months. It was No. 1 at the box office for 17 straight weeks — and was still in the Top 10 domestically some six months after premiering. In this era of the shortened (and in some cases nonexistent) window between theatrical and home video release, we’ll never see that kind of box office staying power again.

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