Titanic is a film telling the story of the sinking of the eponymous ship, the RMS Titanic, directed by James Cameron in 1997. Most people are entranced by Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet’s excellent acting, the cutting-edge special effects and the waves of emotions that it projects to the audience, but there is another component that is just as amazing.
Most films and television shows tend to sacrifice science in the name of drama. Thus, science fiction movies are ironically quite inaccurate in even the most basic scientific facts. However, Titanic is strangely true to science despite being a drama film.
To start with, we can take the scene where Rose, embraced by Jack from behind, spreads her arms wide open like wings while on top of the stern of the Titanic. Here, Rose is seen standing so high that she is above the rails from the thighs up. In this position, even a slight push would cause her to lose balance and make her fall, causing the movie to end prematurely. But on closer inspection, it can be seen how Jack has his arms wrapping under the cables. To be so attentive to detail even in the moment of heated passion – Jack is surely a calm, cool-headed man.
In the scene where the Titanic is sailing, it takes 25 seconds for the ship to completely pass a point. Considering that the ship was 269m in length, this comes to a cruising speed of 38km per hour. This is 21 knots when converted – almost identical to the actual cruising speed of the Titanic which was 22 knots.
The movie is accurate in even finer details. Let us study the climactic scene of the sinking. When the ship is tilting at its highest point, a person took 4.3 seconds to fall and hit the water. This equates to a height of 91m, which can be achieved by a 269m ship tilting at about 40 degrees.
When Jack is bound by handcuffs, Rose bravely cuts the chain with an axe. But can a fair 18-year old girl summon such strength? If the chain is the thickness of two 5mm diameter metal rings, then the blade requires 49 Joules of energy to cut the chain. To achieve this, a 3kg axe must be swung at the speed of 20km/h, which is the same as dropping the axe from a height of 1.6m. Ergo, Rose can create enough energy simply by adding a little more strength to the axe as she swings it down from above her head.
Lastly, in the tragic scene where Jack sinks away, he disappears in 6.4 seconds. If by a rough estimate he sank about 2m, then it suggests that he descended at about 1/100 strength of free falling. This means Jack’s body density is about 1% greater than sea water. As the density of sea water is 1.04g per 1cm3, this is perfectly reasonable assuming that Jack is big-boned.
A film focussing on such fine scientific detail can certainly be called a masterpiece of the century. If only Rose’s voice did not echo in the final scene…