James Cameron Returns to Titanic for TV Special (Exclusive)

5:00 AM PST 12/07/2011 by Marisa Guthrie

The director will headline a two-hour documentary about the doomed ocean liner as part of a major programming initiative for National Geographic Channel timed to the ship’s 100th anniversary in April.

James Cameron’s obsession with the Titanic is showing no signs of sinking.

The director of the $2 billion-grossing epic has made more than 30 dives to the legendary wreck off the coast of Newfoundland. Now he’s teaming with National Geographic Channel on Titanic: Final Word with James Cameron, set to air in April timed to the 100th anniversary of the luxury liner’s demise.

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Bob Ballard’s Save the Titanic, a new film that looks at the human and natural threats to the wreckage, will share the spotlight with Cameron’s two-hour documentary.  

For Final Word, Cameron assembled engineers, architects and historians to examine why the Titanic sank, using new technology that has come to light since Cameron’s 1997 film.

“He is a freak about the Titanic,” says Michael Cascio, executive vp of programming for National Geographic Channel. “He is obsessed with trying to find out why exactly it sank. He’s actually comparing his research with his film to see what we’ve learned since then and what can advance the story.”

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Cameron had the 40-foot model of the Titanic made for the movie reconstructed at MBS Media Campus – the Manhattan Beach studios where Cameron and Lightstorm Entertainment partner John Landau will shoot the next two Avatar films. And last month, Cameron and his group of experts convened there over two days for a deconstruction of the science behind Titanic which was filmed for the documentary.

Cascio won’t tip his hand about any specific revelations, but he teased that some could alter the accepted facts about why the “unsinkable” ship sank.

For Save the Titanic, Ballard – who was part of the original team that discovered the Titanic site in 1985 – traces the ocean liner's beginnings in the shipyards of Northern Ireland and looks at efforts to preserve the sunken ship for future generations. 

The Titanic is a story that still resonates in the popular imagination a century later. And while Cameron’s involvement lends the NatGeo initiative a little Hollywood stardust, the story of the doomed ship is perfectly tailored to the network’s mission of exploration, says Cascio.

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“This re-enforces our reputation as a leading institution for exploration. And that’s important to us. It’s important to the audience. It’s important to the National Geographic Society.”

Both Cameron and Ballard’s films are currently in production; and NatGeo has yet to set an exact airdate. The Titanic initiative also will include myriad multiplatform extensions: a dedicated web site with games, apps and maps; an eBook; and a DVD box set that includes the new programming as well as Ballard’s 1986 documentary for NatGeo Secrets of the Titanic.

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Cameron, who was named a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence this past June, also will write a personal essay for the April edition of National Geographic magazine, which will feature a cover story about the Titanic. The NatGeo initiative also will coincide with 3D re-release of Cameron’s Titanic, which is scheduled to hit IMAX theaters on April 6.

“To have a guy who has made some of the biggest movies of all time working at National Geographic is definitely a cool thing,” says Cascio. “But Cameron is also so dedicated to the exploration part of his life. So he’s definitely the real deal.”

Email: Marisa.Guthrie@thr.com

Twitter: @MarisaGuthrie

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