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Should you board the Titanic?

20 Aug 2012
It's back, in 3D, but is it still worth a trip to the cinema?
It’s had been a, frankly remarkably, 15 years since Titanic first hit cinemas. Now it’s back, with some extra 3D frills and the promise of more millions to be made at the box office. But should you step aboard once more?Titanic was a massive Christmas release back in 1997, arriving in North American cinemas on the 19th of December and taking a healthy $29 million at the box office. That’s far off the highest opening weekends of all time, less than half what Jurassic Park 2 pulled in on its release in May of the same year, but the most amazing thing about Titanic was its longevity. It pushed its way to the number one slot and held there up to three months after release, taking advantage of the slow early months of 1998 to dominate all comers. Officially, the film ran in theatres in the states for a full 10 months before closing in October 1998. As such, Titanic was already a phenomenon when it arrived in cinemas in Ireland on the 24th of January 1998 – just one step in the global release that would help it earn $1.8 billion worldwide. But it was also, for a rather younger me, something more significant – a new film from James Cameron. It would also be the first Cameron film I would get the chance to see at cinemas and his first for three years – since True Lies. I was immensely excited but also apprehensive about the genre about-face Cameron seemed to have taken. I needn’t have worried. For all the romantic elements of Titanic, it’s really no less a sci-fi epic than his previous films – albeit set in a fabulously realised recreation of reality. The camera swoops and luxuriates in a stunningly resurrected version of the famous ship, while state of the art CG helps us transition from one timeline to the next and sells the awesome scale of the vessel herself. And anyone who doubted the director’s commitment to action set pieces couldn’t help but be blown away by over an hour of chaos and destruction which tops off the rather obvious love story.
Titanic sails into its last sunset
Titanic sails into its last sunset
Now, Titanic is back in cinemas – with the Avatar director attempting to tease a few more millions from audiences via a re-release that not only adds the extra dimension of 3D but also coincides with the 100 year anniversary of the sinking itself – which took place on the 15th of April. It is, perhaps, a little macabre to commemorate the death of over 1500 people by re-releasing a blockbuster vision of their harrowing demise but that’s Hollywood for you. The 3D is a more significant feature and Titanic is an important release for the format. The arguments against post conversion are many and warranted, with even brand new films that undergo the process looking dull and often out of focus. But Titanic comes from the brain of Cameron – the man who almost single handedly forced the 3D changeover with the arrival of Avatar in December 2010. It seemed beyond the realms of possibility that the same man, with a well known commitment to perfection, would release a substandard product. So how does the 3D hold up? Pretty brilliantly. The post conversion was undertaken at the same time as a 4K restoration process – no doubt in anticipation of a glitzy blu-ray release – and took over a year at a cost of $18 million dollars. Costly and time consuming yes but the results speak for themselves. There’s a sense of depth to Titanic which rivals that of true shot-for-3D movies and Cameron’s shooting style seems ideally suited to the form, with plenty of foreground objects and slick camera movements. Better still, regardless of the dimensionality of the shot, great pains have been taken to keep some elements in razor sharp focus rather than the blurred image we’ve become used to in 3D movies.
Jack and Rose
Jack and Rose
On that note, my screening began with an interesting moment where the focus points were misaligned – causing the image to be blurred with or without glasses. After waiting for minute or two to see if anyone else would notice, I mentioned it to a member of staff. It seems audiences have become so used to the smeared visuals of current 3D that they simply didn’t notice the difference. So much for going to the cinema to see the best possible presentation of the film.Cameron’s new version of Titanic also manages to retain better colour detail than most 3D films and creates a few genuinely impressive moments. But its biggest feat is not assaulting the audience and being genial enough on the eyeballs to sustain audiences for the lengthy runtime without mass migraines. The film itself remains the same it always was – incredibly long, ridiculously overwritten and sometimes poorly performed. The scale remains impressive but some of the effects have aged rather poorly – there’s a mixture of CG and scale models which sit uncomfortably with each other and some of the digital stuntmen betray their age with stiff animations. And one effects sequence which I remember noting back in 1997 for its jarringly poor quality remains here in all its glory – as Jack and Rose flee a wall of water down a sodden corridor, the actors faces have been pasted onto stunt performs. Coupled with water and strobe lighting, it’s an incredibly shoddy and rather creepy moment – and seems like something Cameron would be loathe to include today. But, despite its many flaws, Titanic remains an immense piece of work, a blockbuster that strives for its entire running time to entertain as many different demographics as often as possible. It may hit its emotional beats with a suitably massively sized sledgehammer but it does hit them and the scale of the reconstruction, coupled with the blossoming romance and some solid performances gives the audience plenty to digest while they wait for the still impressive end game. Beyond the 3D additions, there’s another reason to catch Titanic in cinemas – the simple fact that it seems at home there. I haven’t managed to sit through the entire film a second time in the last 14 and a half years but, in a dark and crowded room, the length didn’t feel like a chore and the emotional strains of the story seemed fitting. It’s an epic piece of filmmaking and well worth a visit if, like me, it’s been more than decade since you seen it. And for those few who, somehow, have never experienced Cameron’s homage to the ill-fated ship, you may find yourself swept away by the sheer bombast of the thing.Titanic is in cinemas everywhere, in 3D, from the 6th of April.
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