Neil DeGrasse Tyson Explains The Real Problem With That 'Titanic' Debate

The "StarTalk" host can't let this slide.

In the 20 years since “Titanic” premiered, our hearts have gone on, and so has one giant debate from the movie.

Did Jack really have to die?

In the 1997 film, we see Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) seemingly sacrifice himself to the freezing cold water so that Rose (Kate Winslet) can stay afloat on a door and subsequently survive. For two decades, fans have have wondered if Jack could’ve fit on the door, too. In fact, “MythBusters” may have proven that it was possible for them both to survive atop the board.

But it turns out some critics have been focusing on the wrong aspect of the infamous scene all long. For “StarTalk” host Neil deGrasse Tyson, he’s less concerned with whether Jack could’ve fit on the door, and more focused on why the character gave up trying to get on the door after only one attempt.

“Whether or not he could’ve been successful, I would’ve tried more than once. You try once. ‘Oh, this is not gonna work. I will just freeze to death in the water.’ No, excuse me. No!” deGrasse Tyson told HuffPost. “The survival instinct is way stronger than that in everybody, especially in that character. He’s a survivor, right? He gets through. He gets by.”

He continued, “And I’ll tell you this, if that character was Matt Damon from ‘The Martian,’ he would’ve made an outboard motor and saved everybody. This is how science can help you!”

The “StarTalk” host actually has “Titanic” director James Cameron coming up on the new season of his show, as well as a ton of other high profile guests. In our discussion, deGrasse Tyson told us about what to expect from the new season, if Katy Perry’s song “E.T” is about having sex with an alien, and his recent tweets calling out a few errors on “Game of Thrones.”

James Cameron is coming to your show, and you actually have a history with him, right? Didn’t you send him an email about a problem with “Titanic”?

Don’t get me started on that.

So what happened there?

Yeah, he had the wrong sky over the sinking ship, and we know where it sank and what time. [...] We know there was no moon interfering with he sky. So we knew this. He sinks the ship in the movie and ... the sky wasn’t even just the wrong part of the sky, it was a made-up sky. And worse than that, the left side of the sky was a mirror reflection of the right side of the sky, so there’s just no excuse for that.

By the way, had he not cared about other historical details then why should I care about the sky? But that movie was marketed based on how precise and accurate the details ― the rivets on the side of the ship and the wall sconces and the china patterns and the staterooms were recreated to exquisite detail. And then he just pisses on the sky. So we didn’t go there. We didn’t go there. That’s water under the bridge.

You didn’t get into “Titanic”?

Oh, no. We talked about his interest in exploration. I caught up with him at National Geographic Society in Washington, where I think he was getting honored or there for some exploration festival. That’s where I interviewed him, so that was kind of his mood for the moment. We talked a bit about “Avatar” and his imagination, how that imagination was informed by his undersea research. It was an exploration of his life ― how science has touched his curiosity, and how that curiosity has informed his creativity. It’s like an ideal arc for a “StarTalk” episode.

You also have Katy Perry coming on the show. She has a song called “E.T.” Did you talk about aliens with Katy Perry?

I did ask her about the song. If you see the lyrics, it’s a little creepy. Does she really want to have sex with the aliens? And you might ask that. That’s if you sort of bluntly look at the words. Maybe they’re deep metaphor and things, but I couldn’t let that fly. And you’ll have to watch it to find out.

Well, good, because that’s what we need to know.

[Laughs] Did she really want to bone an alien?

What was the most unexpected moment you had with a guest?

It was with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.


Yeah. We know he’s been in a couple of movies with cameos. He was in “Airplane” as one of the pilots. He was also in a Bruce Lee movie. I think it was Lee’s last film. But I didn’t know until he told me in that interview that he actually wanted to be an actor. And I’m thinking, “Dude, you’re 10 feet tall. What do you mean you want to be an actor?” So I said, “What role are you thinking?” He said, “I always wanted to be Chewbacca.” Of course! Of course, he’d be Chewbacca. He’d be everybody’s choice for Chewbacca, right? Yeah, that would be a trivial thing to make happen. So I was delighted in that use of a geek underbelly that often is revealed in celebrities that you didn’t otherwise think had a geek underbelly.

You recently tweeted about “Game of Thrones.” You weren’t totally down with the physics of the chains pulling a dragon out of a lake.

If you look at how they were doing it, the chain went above a small hill, down, and then back up. They’re all pulling. No. No! Try that with a string. Put a string over a little rise, down, and then back up, and try to pull something from the other side. It doesn’t work. The whole string is gonna go tight before that happens, so they just did not think that through. I’m sorry.

Plus, I thought the frozen guys couldn’t swim. How did they tie a chain around?

I know! That’s something I wanted to ask you about ― if you had a solution for how they did that.

I’m thinking you just sacrifice them.


I go down, hold my breath, tie the chain around them, and then die. So I got that. But the question is: where do you get the chains? And I just figure they apparently have access to a lot of resources, so I didn’t question where they got the chains. Because by the way, where they got the chains is not a matter of whether the physics is right. Sourcing the chains is not a matter of the laws of physics, however improbable that possession might be. Whereas, having bends in the chains where they’d be pulling on it is not gonna happen. No.

New episodes of “StarTalk” air Sundays at 11 p.m. ET on the National Geographic Channel.

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