DIR/WRI: James Cameron • PRO: James Cameron, Jon Landau • DOP: Russell Carpenter • ED: Conrad Buff IV, James Cameron, Richard A. Harris • Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet
According to my calculations, with a worldwide gross of $1.8 billion and home video/DVD sales of several million units, if you’re reading this then you’ve probably already seen this film. But despite claims that director James Cameron and Fox are just after the money with this re-release, it is hard to complain about it being back on the big screen, as the world commemorates the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic (ooooooh… did I just give the end away?). Indeed, you would hope that All Quiet on the Western Front will be back in cinemas between 2014 and 2018. How could we not return to Saving Private Ryan in June 2044?
The question therefore is should it have been re-released in 3D. Indeed, it’s been a struggle for most critics to not use this film’s resurgence to argue for or against 3D – sure what does it matter what we think about the film at this stage?!
Well you’re going to find now anyway. Let’s start at the beginning… In a 20 minute prologue that is arguably more interesting than the rest of the film, oceanographer Bill Paxton searches the wreckage of the ill-fated liner for a magnificent diamond that by all historical records and archaeological morality deserves to be in a museum in France. A clue leads him to centenarian Rose (Gloria Stuart), who was aboard the Titanic and owned the diamond. She proceeds to tell a very lengthy story about the ship’s sinking which features a surprising number of scenes that she was not present for and could therefore have no means of recounting them accurately.
Over the next three hours, posh Rose (Kate Winslet) meets poor Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio), they fall in love, plan to run away together, and then the ship sinks. Various minor characters insist on stealing scenes from the leads.
Revisiting Titanic after more than 10 years, a number of things strike you. How baby-faced Leo looks. How glowing Winslet was back then (it’s a very different glow to the one she has now). How truly godawful the dialogue is (it’s not that the “something Picasso” line is bad, it’s that it takes three more uncomfortable lines to explain the joke). How delightfully hammy Billy Zane is as the jilted fiancé. How much more Victor Garber resembles Enda Kenny when he does an Irish lilt.
Most shocking however is how well spread out the film is. It is extremely long, but like the best epics it never feels particularly boring. Indeed, the Titanic strikes the iceberg a little over 90 minutes into the film, barely halfway through proceedings! This leaves a huge amount of time for the admittedly spectacular, perfectly drawn-out sinking of the colossal ship. Say what you will about James Cameron (suggestions include: ‘His dialogue is laughable’, ‘His messages are delivered ham-fistedly’), but he can do grand spectacle like few others.
So, now that you’ve been reminded why you loved or hated the film originally, let’s deal with this 3D issue. A lot is riding on the reception of Titanic in 3D. Cameron created the current appetite for 3D amongst the masses – an appetite perceived by Hollywood as being perhaps bigger than it actually is – with Avatar, another film you probably saw. Desperate to jump on the bandwagon after Avatar, Hollywood pumped out a number of 3D films that were digitally made 3D in post-production, a method referred to as retro-fitting. 2010’s Clash of the Titans was the first of these films to emerge, and was slated for its cardboard pop-out look. While its sequel Wrath of the Titans is now being praised for being shot in 3D, it seems little has improved in the world of retro-fitting, even with the master of 3D James Cameron in charge.
Titanic 3D is flat and ugly. The characters stand out from the background like marionette puppets, but without any of the definition and depth that creates a real three-dimensional face. Worse still, the film makes regular use of focus pulls and depth-of-field trickery, causing 3D blurs to clutter up the imagery. This is most noticeable near the film’s beginning, as the Titanic leaves port at Southampton and throngs of out-of-focus people pass by the camera as Rose and Jack make their ways aboard. The 3D creates the illusion that these dashing blurs are closer to you, naturally causing your eye to attempt to focus (in vain) on them and drawing your gaze away from the action and principal characters.
Fans of 3D action will be similarly disappointed. The collapsing of the ship happens mostly side-on, so there is very little cause to duck or dodge objects ‘coming right at you’. Worse still, in the wide shots of the ship, the 3D causes the digital persons walking on the decks to stand out, revealing them more clearly as dated computer creations. Titanic’s seams are showing.
In the end, it is what it is, a brilliantly produced movie based on a clumsy, patronising screenplay. You already know if you like it or not, but the 3D will take away from that either way.