Titanic Star Field Corrected for 100th Anniversary Release

Neil deGrasse TysonI first read this story on April 1st and thought it might possibly be an April Fool’s prank. It turns out it wasn’t.

Director James Cameron is re-releasing his 1997 film Titanic, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of that “unsinkable” ship’s sinking. He intends to change very little from the 1997 release but there is one change being made that makes reporting it fit the theme of this blog: when watching the movie at the theatre during its original release, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson noticed that the star field in the background of one of the scenes wasn’t accurate. But, instead of just filing that inaccuracy on the shelf with all of the other thousands of scientific errors you’ll find in popular movies and moving on, Neil deGrasse Tyson couldn’t let it go, and on more than one occasion allegedly attempted to alert Mr. Cameron of the error.

Here’s a 2009 video of Tyson describing noticing the mistake in Titanic and his attempts to make Cameron aware of the error (reload page if video doesn’t appear):

Apparently, James Cameron finally got Tyson’s message and told Tyson that if he got him the correct star field, he would include it in the anniversial re-release; Cameron told the UK magazine Culture:

Oh, there is one shot that I fixed. It’s because Neil deGrasse Tyson, who is one of the U.S.’ leading astronomers, sent me quite a snarky email saying that, at that time of year, in that position in the Atlantic in 1912, when Rose is lying on the piece of driftwood and staring up at the stars, that is not the star field she would have seen, and with my reputation as a perfectionist, I should have known that and I should have put the right star field in.

So I said, ‘All right, you son of a b****, send me the right stars for the exact time, 4:20 a.m. on April 15, 1912, and I’ll put it in the movie.’ So that’s the one shot that has been changed.

Neil deGrasse Tyson responded to a question posed by Alan Boyle of the Cosmic Log, who asked him if he Cameron might put his name in the credits:

“If he does, that’s fine,” Tyson told me. “I’m a servant of the public interest and the public’s appetite for information about the universe. I get these calls all the time. … The mere fact that an artist cares about getting the science right, and thereby transmitting that science literacy to the consumers of that art — that’s enough reward for me.”

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