The only question looming over Titanic 3D, really, is: Does the 3D get in the way? The ever-canny James Cameron has wisely resisted the temptation to tweak the film’s Oscar-winning special effects — one of the 11 Academy Awards the movie won in 1998 — or update the CGI shots of the doomed ship (which, by contemporary standards, occasionally look a little hokey) or add previously deleted footage to slap on a “Director’s Cut” subtitle that would guarantee to sell a few extra tickets.
No, this is exactly Titanic as you remember it — or, more accurately, the Titanic you’ve probably forgotten. The secret weapon of Cameron’s monumental blockbuster — the reason why audiences kept going back to see the movie, eventually buying an astounding $1.8 billion worth of tickets — is that this was a picture truly made for the big screen. At home, on DVD, no matter how big your flatscreen or video projector are, Titanic just isn’t the same: It’s a souvenir of the experience you had at the theater, when the enormity of Cameron’s vision was given its proper due, and where your stomach felt a twinge of vertigo as Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet clung from the ship’s railing, people beneath them falling to their deaths, as the boat began its final plunge into icy, deadly waters.
Cameron, who spent a year and $18 million retrofitting Titanic into 3D, knows how to use the technology as expertly as Spielberg and Scorsese. Most of the effects — especially during the first, pre-iceberg half — are used to augment spatiality and dimension. The interior of the ship looks more magnificent. The gold ornamentation on the dinner plates looks real enough to touch. DiCaprio looks impossibly, incredibly young (while you’re watching the movie, you can’t help but think about how the actor’s life changed after its release). Winslet is more beautiful and radiant than you remembered.
Unlike many 3D post-conversions, where the image is darkened by the use of the glasses, Titanic doesn’t look any duller than before: If anything, the image seems crisper and cleaner, the way Blu-rays look better than DVDs. Particular standouts are the shots in the bowels of the ships, where the churning turbines seem larger than before, and scenes in which the characters try to outrun floods of seawater after the boat has started to sink. Unlike the recent 3D re-release of The Phantom Menace, in which technology was used primarily for gee-whiz effect, Cameron uses 3D to deepen everything you already loved about the movie. There wasn’t a single scene in the film where I found myself wishing I could watch it in plain old 2D (and the film’s final shot, one of my favorites of any movie, works even better now). Did Titanic need to be in 3D? Of course not. If I had a choice, would I prefer to watch it in 2D? Yes.
But that is not an option, and the ability to be able to see this spectacle in theaters again — and share the experience with sons, daughters, nieces and nephews who have never seen it — is worth the hassle of wearing those glasses for three hours. I know a lot of people who hate Titanic for its ten-cent script, for its awful dialogue, for its paper-thin characterizations and for its multitude of plot holes. I recognize all those problems. And yet none of them matters. This is an exceedingly rare example of a director’s vision overriding his talents as a writer: Titanic remains a stirring, awe-inspiring, enthralling entertainment, and judging by the amount of nose-blowing at a recent preview screening, it also remains an irresistible tearjerker. Here is a rare opportunity to revisit a movie that I’m willing to bet you don’t remember nearly as well as you think you do. Here is a rare opportunity to return to something you once loved, and discover it still holds up, no apologies necessary.
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Billy Zane, Kathy Bates, Frances Fisher, Gloria Stuart.
Writer-director: James Cameron.
Producers: James Cameron, Jon Landau. A Paramount Pictures release. Running time: 194 minutes. Brief violence, adult themes. Playing at: area theaters.