'It's interesting what this trip to [Belfast] has become. It's a moment of closure. This is the end of the journey, which is cool but bittersweet.'
Filmmaker James Cameron was characteristically informal when visiting Titanic Belfast for the first time last week, but the king of the box office couldn't help but display a measure of emotion – even while flogging the new Blue-ray version of his 1997 Oscar-winning movie.
It was no surprise. A life-long 'Titanorak', Cameron's fascination with the doomed White Star liner is well documented. He has personally visited the wreck 33 times, produced a ground-breaking 3D documentary about the ship, Ghosts of the Abyss, and broke all box office records with his epic film starring Leonardo Di Caprio and Kate Winslet.
The son of an engineer, Cameron has always been as interested in the minutiae of the ship's construction as he is in the lives of Titanic's ill-fated passengers. So while his visit to Belfast signalled the end of his creative involvement with the Titanic story, it also provided Cameron with an opportunity to learn more about the people who created the ship.
'As Titanic Belfast reminds us... Titanic still exists,' said Cameron. 'It’s no longer in our surface world, but it still exists as a time capsule down there on the sea floor, and the images we were able to bring back from the interior are really a tribute to the fine workmanship here in Belfast.
'I believe firmly that [the workers] are the unsung heroes of Titanic, they kept that ship upright… There were heroes on board the ship and they were Belfast men. Ironically, here, where Titanic was given birth, is kind of the end of a journey for me.'
Of course Cameron – the businessman, the production company owner – had travelled to Northern Ireland with the bottom line in mind, but you can forgive him that for the props he has temporarily donated to Titanic Belfast, and which will be on display until February 2013. Watch the video above for a commentary from Titanic Belfast media relations executive, Alex McGreevy.
Now, once visitors to the £77m visitor centre have finished touring the various exhibits that make up the six-story building, they can take a closer look at the dress that Kate Winslet wore when her character almost drowned at the end of the film, or the corduroy trousers that Di Caprio sported when woeing Winslet on the upper deck.
Fans of the film will 'lap it up', as they say in Cameron's new favourite city – even if the movie memorabilia exhibition is, size wise at least, slightly underwhelming. Nevertheless, it is a noteworthy addition to the Titanic Belfast experience. But what did the highest-grossing film director of all time make of Belfast's latest tourist attraction?
'It’s really quite phenomenal,' beamed the eternal history nerd in Cameron. 'It’s a magnificent, dramatic building. I didn’t really know what to expect... what I thought was remarkable about it was not only that it honors the history and legacy of Titanic itself, and Belfast’s part in the creation of the ship, but it’s also a celebration of Belfast’s contribution to building so many fine ships.
'It’s a celebration of the city and the people. This is something we tried to do in our own small way in the film. The film is three-hours and 15 minutes long without dealing with the origin of the ship, but we wanted to get that bit of the soul of the ship, which is an Irish soul, that helps pull on the heartstrings and makes the emotion of that tragic story more powerful for the Irish.'