We Preview the 'Titanic 3D' Conversion and the Verdict Is...

We Preview the 'Titanic 3D' Conversion and the Verdict Is...

Oct 11, 2011

TitanicI wasn’t blown away by the 3D-converted footage I just saw of Titanic, and I think that’s a good thing. A great thing, actually. I also believe James Cameron, who presented 17 minutes of the re-release material to press this morning, would agree to a certain extent. Financially, the $18 million spent on the conversion process is reason for at least Fox and Paramount to want us to be wowed by the added effect. But there’s no reason to consider it wasted money if we don’t think about the 3D while watching it. Not only will people flock to the upgraded Best Picture winner, they’ll find the conversion to be an incredible experience, albeit more familiar than new.

That’s what I found it to be, and I am grateful, mainly because this endeavor is not all for the sake of added razzle-dazzle. As Cameron stated after the preview, it’s not about “Titanic 3D.” It’s about Titanic being back on the big screen -- which now just happens to be available in 3D. And in 2D, and in 2D IMAX, all from a 4K digital master produced for a general return to cinemas. “If I had my druthers,” he told us, “people would only see my movies in the theater.”

Of course, the money and the more than a year’s time and the 300 artists going over every last detail -- every last hair on Kate Winslet’s head, as Cameron remarked -- is all up there in the conversion. We watched eight key scenes pulled from the three hour epic, including Rose’s arrival at the Southampton port, her iconic “flight” with Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) on the bow of the ship and the tense moment the Titanic is upright, plunging into the sea. And it all looks amazing, with everyone particularly impressed with how all the water looks in 3D, since that’s a typically difficult task.

I was also quite satisfied with how the film stays so crisp and perfectly rendered whenever either the camera or the action, or both, speeds up, such as in the scene where Rose and Jack move quickly about through the third class dance party. And this perfection is what kept me from being stunned as much as it kept me from being frustrated. For me, 3D can be a spectacle, but here there’s no need or allowance for in-your-face reminders. There are actually a surprising amount of shots where even a heightened depth effect is not possible. In the bow scene, for instance, Jack and Rose are often just standing in front of an empty blue sky.

So, at first I kept looking for the 3D, naturally, and it was neat that our first glimpse was a shot of a car being craned towards us. But I couldn’t help but keep becoming immersed and lost in the picture, instead. That is wonderful. Because if you’re just going to spend three hours thinking about the effect, Cameron might as well have also added in some new CGI characters and other enhancements and “fixes” to look out for. Not that the director wasn’t tempted to go the George Lucas route.

“I had to resist the impulse to correct things,” he admitted, regarding improvements that could have been made with not only the technology available 14 years later but also the knowledge. He says that since he’s explored the actual Titanic so many times for his undersea documentary work, which he hadn’t done before making the movie, he’s now familiar with and has captured every room and hall on the ship, inside and out, and so he now knows a lot of places where he got it all wrong. But fixing that stuff “would take the film out of its time,” he said. “Every film is a snapshot of its time, and we should be satisfied with what effects we were capable of at the time.”

TitanicNever mind how that statement contradicts with the whole process of re-releasing the film converted to 3D. Cameron claims that part of the reasoning for doing so is that if he made Titanic today, he would shoot it in 3D. Yes, but he also would have gotten the ship’s layout correct, too, and he probably would have used more computer effects than he did back then. It’s a tricky thing, because I think they’ve done a great job on the conversion. I just wonder if he should be a tad more consistent and honest about what he’s doing here.

He wants to assure everyone (and he was mentioning this last night at the Breakthrough Awards, too) that he hasn’t really changed a frame of the film. But technically he is, because he’s adding minor special effects to get pipe smoke just right, and for everything rendered three-dimensionally there is some filling in going on to “round out” the people and objects. He stated this all to us, in fact, only without conceding to the fact that he’s slightly altering the movie from what it was before.

Producer Jon Landau also made an interesting remark at the presentation regarding why only library titles should be converted into 3D. “You wouldn’t now shoot a film in black and white and then colorize it,” he argued as a comparison. But that analogy means Titanic re-released in 3D is akin to Casablanca re-released in color, which I don’t think was his intention.

I don’t think it’s their intention, either, to entirely sell the Titanic re-release as primarily a revisiting of the film we saw over and over again back in ’97 and ’98, nor as a totally fresh experience. Cameron says the trailer will involve a lot of “memory cueing,” but obviously it will also feature a new sensation, just not one that will overpower the nostalgia. It’s an appreciated balance act. From what I felt in those 17 minutes, the 3D version of Titanic whisks you away much more than it blows.

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