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.
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.
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.