When it released in theaters back in 1998, people either desperately loved Titanic or pretended to hate it. It was impossible to genuinely dislike the movie because it was an immensely stunning technical triumph, so far ahead in terms of visual grandeur that one could not look away from the screen. The eye-roll inducing love story might now seem like a rejected Mills & Boon novel, but even to this date the chemistry between stars Leo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet has not been replicated in Hollywood. It was easy to be won over by the $200 million kitsch, and it was clear that director James Cameron had brought a turning point in modern cinema history, for the third time in his career.
So what better way to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the second highest grossing movie of all time? Re-releasing the film worldwide in post-Avatar 3D, of course. Avatar recently went on to become the biggest money spinner of all time, and thanks to that 3D rehash of Pocahontas, there are now far more 3D movies being catapulted into theaters than we ever received from Hollywood. More and more studios are converting their films into 3D and asking audiences to pay a premium ticket price. Most big animation movies are being rendered in 3D as well. The 3D hasn’t exactly taken the industry by storm, because for every Avatar or Tintin, there is a Clash of the Titans or The Last Airbender. Ninety nine percent of the current crop of 3D films are buoyed by Hollywood’s greed, and are either disappointing or downright torture to the eyes. These are ‘fake 3D’ movies, shot in 2D and post converted to 3D – it’s Hollywood hustling the public because the resultant picture quality is dim and/or out of focus. Then there are movies like Resident Evil: Afterlife which are shot in 3D but feature a lousy story and are unbearably ugly to look at. 3D hasn’t transformed the movies, it has made them gimmicky.
So how does the 3D rendition of Titanic fare here? For one, Cameron has gone on record saying that he wanted to get the 3D done right – close to $20 million and 50 long weeks have been spent in carefully enhancing the seminal movie into 3D. He went so far ahead as to re-edit the astral pattern of a scene featuring the night sky to make it more scientifically accurate. The good news is that in some parts, the 3D works brilliantly, and we still get the visual and aural epic that we hoped for. Russel Carpenter’s camera and James Horner’s gorgeous music glide you through a breeze of fresh air and the practical sets rather than the digital claustrophobia of Avatar. The 3D becomes more apparent only during the wide shots of the ship, but the interiors shots are a joy because they almost make you feel like you’re strolling about the ship along with the characters. Unlike in Avatar, where the 3D cinematography was used to overtly define the landscape, there’s a lot more subtle shifting in Titanic 3D.
Apart from the marginally dim colors, the gaffes of Titanic 3D are still the clunky dialogue and Billy Zane’s unintentionally amusing turn, and most of the plot contrivances become more jarring in the current era of sophisticated audiences. The 3D does add more visual depth to the final hour where the ship sinks, but whether or not it adds to any intimacy you share with the story or the characters is moot. That said, sometimes you need to let nostalgia get the better of you - despite being a film that is fifteen years old and available on your DVD shelf, Titanic miraculously again becomes the best movie to see in theaters this weekend. Watch it with the people you love, because nothing compares with watching grand cinema on a huge screen with a big crowd. Just don’t let anyone catch you secretly listening to that Celine Dion song on your iPod afterwards.
(First published in Mid Day)