Review: Titanic 3D

Titanic 3D

Not content with sweeping the box office and Oscars 15 years ago, James Cameron is determined to be the only man to submerse the unsinkable twice. Spoilers: it still sinks.

Titanic 3D (1997/2012)

Titanic 3D poster

Director: James Cameron

Writer(s)James Cameron

Runtime:  194 minutes

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Billy Zane, Frances Fisher, Gloria Stuart, Bill Paxton, Kathy Bates

Distributor: Fox

Country: US

Rating: Wait for the Blu-ray (?)

More info

Back in 1997, director James Cameron broke all sorts of records, not to mention crockery, in bringing Titanic to the big screen. Winner of 11 Academy Awards from 14 nominations, the film was the first film to make over $1 billion worldwide, almost doubling that figure by the time it ended its theatrical run. Indeed, the only film to break that record was Cameron’s own Avatar fourteen years later. With that usurper of a film, Cameron almost single-handedly ushered in a new age in 3D cinema. Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, and the inevitable Avatar sequel still years away, Cameron has dusted off his second biggest enterprise and post-converted it to 3D.

The story of Titanic will be well familiar to most movie audiences whether they’ve seen it or not. Treasure hunter Brock Lovett (Bill Paxton) seeks a very special jewel buried in the wreckage of the RMS Titanic. What he finds instead is a sketch of a naked woman wearing the treasure, and an elderly woman named Rose Dawson Calvert (Gloria Stuart) who comes forward to declare herself to be the rightful owner. She tells of how she boarded the doomed Titanic as an aristocratic 17-year-old (Kate Winslet) in first class, betrothed to the wealthy Cal (Billy Zane). Ultimately, she falls in love with a poor steerage passenger, artist Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio).

The decade and a half since its release hasn’t changed many of the essential flaws in Titanic, a film built more around spectacle than story. The original release was a prime example of the excesses of the late 1990s, ones that can only be matched by Michael Bay’s films of the last few years. Cameron was spending money to make money, investing heavily in dishes that were authentic to the original voyage, only to be seen briefly as it was toppled and smashed during the final act. It certainly makes for an impressive sight, and remains a tense final hour of film. However, it is those bits in between that now seem to drag with a heavy sense of inevitability. The impossibly young DiCaprio and the curvier Winslet (oh, how times change!)  give it their all, but the material is slender. The film now seems less about the heart of the ocean than it does the surface level sheen, at at three hours this can only take one so far.

Titanic 3D (1997/2012)

Technically, the film is still an amazing feat in special effects history. The climactic scene involved tilting a full sized set, and this is still is knuckle-whitening in its tension. Some of the digital effects are starting to show their age, but Cameron’s insistence on going to such great lengths to achieve realism has resulted in a great number of practical effects that have stood the test of time. However, the real reason behind the re-issue is the chance to see Titanic in 3D, Cameron bringing his greatest 21st century to his most successful film of the last.

This is perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the re-release, with the $18 million spent on the post-conversion seemingly lost at the bottom of the ocean with the final product looking fairly flat. At worse, the conversion simply emphasises the artificiality of some of the digital trickery. Yet this also gives a whole generation a chance to see one of the biggest films of the last two decades on the big screen, and that might be reason enough to fork out some more dollars while waiting for Avatar 2 or the imminent Blu-ray release.

Titanic 3D is released in Australia on 5 April 2012 from Fox.

  • f_alcon

    Completely disagree with the 3D, and some plot aspects.  Best 3D I’ve seen after CAVE OF FORGOTTEN DREAMS, then AVATAR.  TITANIC 3D shows how to turn films shot in 2D into 3D: Mr Lucas, please take note for I could hardly spot ANY 3D in your STAR WARS ep1 3D reissue.

    As for the plot, this was the first time I saw the film EVER.  Whilst NOT the greatest film ever made, I can easily see why it won the Best Picture Oscar for that year; a decision at the time I thought was pandering and wrong, but I can admit my error after finally watching the film (on the BIG screen, in 3D, at a special Valentine’s Day screening).  To digress regarding the big screen, this is one of those films that can only be fully enjoyed/experienced on the big screen: that coal-fired engine bay is truly appreciated in its true scale (as is the ship), and made me realise how HUGE it was as I saw it in 3D and at the cinema; definitely lived up to the film’s name.

    Back to the characters’ plot, I enjoyed and appreciated what this film represents for the protagonists.  Can’t say more without spoiling it for anyone (only a few left?) who haven’t seen it, but it fit with the thinking of the early 1910s, a chance at something new, at what the USA represented back then, and the reason those ships were so packed.  Perhaps a subtle point for some, but the meaning of the film is still always fresh: It still happens today as the headlines constantly remind us of (though forgetting why).

    Agree that some of the CGI FX have aged a bit, but the other FX are great still, as are the protagonists’ chemistry and acting (which helps the film enormously).  I scored it 4/5.

    • Thanks for the great counter-review, f_alcon! Really interesting to hear a perspective from someone who didn’t go through the experience the first time as I did. 

      When I first saw it back in 1997, like everybody else I was wowed by the spectacle and the sheer technical achievement of the film. Completely agree that if you haven’t seen the film before, this is an excellent opportunity to see the move as it was (more or less) intended. I also had the distinct honour of seeing selected 3D footage with special effects guru Jon Landau, who took time to explain why he was still excited about the release.

      I “get” it, but perhaps the ship has just sailed for me. 🙂