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Titanic 3D: another cash cow for Cameron?

22nd March 2012

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This April will see Jack Dawson and Rose DeWitt Bukater returning to our silver screens in their roles as class-crossed lovers aboard the most famously ill-fated ocean liner in the world. This time, though, their doomed romance has been given the 3D treatment.

A wealth of insults have been thrown at 3D cinema by those in the know: legendary director Francis Ford Coppola has called it “tiresome”, Brit actor James McAvoy believes it to be a “waste of time and money”, and Christopher Nolan, responsible for films including The Dark Knight and Inception, refuses to use it in his work.

Despite James Cameron and Martin Scorsese speaking out in its favour (3D technology is “here to stay”, Scorsese says), opinion in the film world is still clearly divided.

And of course, Titanic is one of the best known stories of all time (probably). We all know the tale of the ‘unsinkable’ ship and its maiden voyage and how it grazed an iceberg 375 miles off the coast of Newfoundland on the freezing night of the 14th of April 1912. What happened next has passed into our collective history, largely thanks to James Cameron and the talents of Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet.

Cameron, of course, has defended the updating of his film and 3D technology in general. “I think it’s perfectly valid,” he says. “It just felt right in the centenary of the sinking of the Titanic to bring this back out for fans who either are fans of the movie but have never had the widescreen experience or are fans of the movie who remember it from back then.”

The debate is on, though, over whether the re-release is anything but a cynical money making exercise.

In 1997, Titanic was the most expensive film ever made. It also spent thirteen years as the most lucrative, until it was overtaken by Avatar (another brainchild of Cameron) in 2010. Do we know anyone who hasn’t seen it? And do we really need to see it again, re-released in cinemas, just because new technology might make it look a little bit better?

I went to the screening fully expecting no to be the definitive answer. I was prepared to see little difference between the film I remembered and the remastered version in front of me on the screen; I thought it would be a foregone conclusion.

And I hate to disagree with James McAvoy, because he’s probably right when he questions the validity of 3D with regards to how much it costs. But, right from the slightly haunting opening credits that showed doomed passengers waving from the top deck as the ship pulled away, blissfully unaware, it became clear to me that this 3D retelling was going to offer something new.

The opening scenes, as the search crew’s underwater camera roves through Titanic’s mossy remains, is afforded a dreamlike quality that I can’t remember ever noticing before. The specks of sea dust feel like they are millimetres away from the viewer’s face. It is all extremely ghostly, and the depth added by the 3D no doubt plays a huge part in this.

The parts that might be expected to benefit the most from 3D mastery, i.e. the sinking, don’t seem to fare quite as well – although there are moments, like when the funnel cracks, plummeting into the water and killing poor old third class Fabrizio, that do stand out.

So, did it work? Yes. Was the 3D treatment enough to warrant its $18million price tag? Debatable. I’ll leave this one open.There is no question that it’s a different experience, though, for someone who grew up with the film, to see it on all-encompassing widescreen, in 3D, rather than on the living room TV. I expect fans of the film who like me were too young to benefit from  the big screen Titanic experience the first time round will enjoy being able to see it in this way now. And this, as Cameron pointed out, is exactly the point.

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