Twelve years ago, James Cameron made the world’s most expensive movie, which turned out to be the world’s highest grossing movie (unless you adjust for inflation, of course). A vast majority of its colossal budget went to the painstaking detail of historical authenticity; custom carpets woven by the same companies that outfitted the real Titanic, handmade mahogany furniture built from 1911 blueprints, and costumes fit for the wives of turn-of-the-century rail barons.
Unfortunately, Cameron then populated these precisely replicated sets with 1990s characters speaking lines from his 1990s worldview. True stories of romance and heroism were ignored so that a fictional tale of forbidden love in a fabricated class war could be told. Needing more villains for his melodramatic conclusion, Cameron rewrote the historic words and actions of real White Star crew members seemingly at random, erasing or misrepresenting their legacies.
Despite all that, or perhaps because of it, Titanic went on become a global phenomenon, which teenage girls would buy tickets to see again and again. The tremendous scale of Cameron’s artistic vision overshadowed his flat characters and cheesy dialog to create an overwhelming spectacle. These same strengths and weaknesses are also apparent in Avatar, but with more of a videogame feel.