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Star-Ship Enterprise

Propelled by Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On,” the TITANIC score has become a titanic chart hit. It’s just the latest example of Hollywood’s romance (read: $$$) with movie music.

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In decades to come, the lore of James Cameron’s Titanic — the enormous budget, the lengthy shooting schedule, the crew’s PCP-spiked lobster chowder — will surely include the saga of ”My Heart Will Go On,” the sweeping ballad that plays over the movie’s closing credits. The story is thus:

When Cameron hired composer James Horner to score his film, the director had two demands: no standard orchestration and no pop songs. Feeling Titanic still needed something to sum up Rose’s feelings at film’s end, Horner secretly commissioned lyricist Will Jennings to compose words for the movie’s love theme, sang the song for his friend Celine Dion, invited Dion to record it, and then presented the tape to Cameron. Voila: a fitting climax for the film and another Dion movie-pegged smash.

But as Dion tells it, this Titanic tale was even more of a, uh, period piece than anyone imagined. In May 1997, Dion, Horner, and what the composer describes bemusedly as ”12 to 15 of Celine’s closest Sony friends” — along with her husband and manager, Rene Angelil, 56 — assembled at New York City’s Hit Factory to record a demo of the song. Dion was already nervous, thanks to a combination of the stealth-style session and the fact that she hadn’t been in a studio for months. She then made the fateful mistake of drinking two cups of coffee instead of her usual water, and it was also…well, let her explain.

”I couldn’t control my voice,” the 29-year-old songstress recalls in a New York hotel room three days before she’ll sing the song at the Grammys. ”I was shaking and sweating; I could hear my knees. First day of the month, also.” That emotional and physical state, she says, went into her performance that May evening. ”I was glad I felt that way, because look what happened.”

Dion is obviously not the only one satisfied with the result. Hit films often spawn hit albums, even (in the case of Immortal Beloved and Shine) ones featuring classical music or an orchestral score. But much like the embattled movie itself (which to date has grossed more than $1 billion internationally), the Titanic album has surpassed any vaguely realistic expectations. ”My Heart Will Go On” entered Billboard‘s singles chart at No. 1 when it was released last month. Even more dramatic, Titanic: Music From the Motion Picture has held down the No. 1 slot on the pop album chart for eight straight weeks, warding off everyone from Dion herself to Pearl Jam, while surpassing Chariots of Fire as the best-selling instrumental film score of all time. Among its other accomplishments: The album has hit No. 1 in 14 countries (from France to Malaysia), has set a Billboard record of selling more than 500,000 units for six consecutive weeks in the U.S., and is already certified eight-times platinum domestically. Worldwide shipments have topped 15 million. Sony Classical, which secured the rights to the soundtrack before Dion’s involvement and is accustomed to selling fewer than 500 copies a week of standard-repertoire works, has found itself in happy, if frenetic, overdrive. ”The attitude around here is like Lay’s potato chips: ‘Don’t worry, we’ll make more,”’ cracks U.S. marketing VP Alexander Miller. Label president Peter Gelb won’t say how many tens of millions Sony Classical stands to make, but the Titanic score will certainly gross more than the label’s entire catalog did in 1997.