What you want to know about ‘Titanic 3D’

James Cameron’s behemoth resurfaces in theaters in time for the RMS Titanic’s 100th

THE MONEY SHOT. Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet get busy making viewers swoon.

MANILA, Philippines – Next week marks the centenary of the RMS Titanic, the colossal vessel that set sail on April 10, 1912, from Southampton, England, only to fatally hit an iceberg on its way to New York.

Yet when one hears the name “Titanic,” what has immediately come to mind in the last 14 years is not necessarily the ill-fated ship but the 3.15-hour drama about ill-fated lovers that filmmaker James Cameron and cohorts unleashed to the world on Dec 19, 1997.

It was then inevitable that Hollywood would cash in on the milestone by reissuing Cameron’s Titanic, only this time employing 3D technology—all the better to lure in old fans as well as entice new viewers who, just like Facebook, had not yet existed back in the late ’90s.

It might help to, well, dive into a review of Titanic 3D via a question-and-answer frame. So here we go…

How long has it been?

It’s been close to a full century since the Titanic sank into icy waters in the North Atlantic Ocean. And it’s been over a decade since the eponymous film broke box-office records, the first to earn over a billion dollars worldwide, even sweeping the 1998 Academy Awards — with Cameron’s ego on full display as he bagged the Best Director Oscar.

Much has happened in the last 14 years. Lead actors Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet have had formidable careers, with the winsome Winslet bagging an Oscar in 2008.

Cameron, for his part, stayed true to his “King of the World” stance by creating another bloated cash cow, Avatar, a less involving diversion, despite its visual splendor. He has continued to dive, literally, into the world’s deepest depths (before we know it, he could be in Middle Earth).

And on a sad note, actress Gloria Stuart, who plays Titanic’s elder “Rose,” passed away in 2010, at age 100.

It’s also interesting to note that technology has improved exponentially since Titanic’s debut, though not in entirely positive ways. While 3D continues to develop, now to the alarming point that every new blockbuster will tend to hold viewers hostage to the format, innovations in home video and the Internet have so empowered moviegoers they can now choose to stay away from moviehouses.

Case in point: When Titanic first came out locally, it was January ’98, some 3 weeks after the US breakdate due to the Metro Manila Film Festival. And it made a killing at our tills, such that nearly every screening for the 1st week or so was packed with viewers, even at the aisles.

Now, with the advent of democratized, far more affordable video copying and file sharing, the sight of a mall theater teeming with viewers is not as likely — which is a pity since movies with a vast visual canvas such as Titanic are best enjoyed on the big screen, no matter how big-ass one’s TV might be.

Has it aged well?

Titanic’s narrative time frame tethers between its late-’90s outer story, of the search for treasure within the ship’s ruins, and the inner story’s 1912 period-cum-extensive flashback that alternates between real details and the fictitious, largely symbolic love story between co-passengers Jack and Rose.

To its credit, Titanic as viewed now shows no difference compared to when we saw it during the Ramos presidency. It may very well pass for a freshly made flick, if not for the fact that DiCaprio no longer looks as boyish and gangly.

This is in contrast to, say, Ioan Gruffud, who plays the real-life Fifth Officer Harold Lowe, who leads an immediate rescue effort and memorably yells “Come about!” upon hearing a survivor among the floating corpses. Gruffud looks practically the same here as he does as Mr. Fantastic in the two Fantastic Four movies of the mid-2000s.

Any cringe that Titanic may induce would be in some of its dialogue, with Cameron, who wrote the screenplay, showing a less deft hand at penning lines that sing than at utilizing hardware and visual effects that swing.

And Cameron’s point, via Titanic’s fictitious characters — of dramatizing man’s incessant hunger for the elusive, and of the perpetual conflict between one’s dissatisfaction and contentment — along with suggesting that the big ship symbolized both hopeful opportunity and fatal hubris, are commendable. 

Yet he also saddles viewers with some plaintive stereotyping: that wealthy businessmen, as epitomized by actor Billy Zane’s Cal Hockley character, tend to be a dastardly, uncreative lot, whereas poor boys, such as DiCaprio’s Jack Dawson, are endowed with creativity and a free spirit.

How’s the 3D?

The employment of 3D for Titanic is largely middle-of-the-road: neither bad nor spectacular. In the best moments, such as in one scene where Jack is looking up at a starlit sky, the heightened vividness is apparent. But in several instances, such as in several crowd shots, the technology is hardly discernible, unfairly suggesting that only select scenes were subjected to the reformatting.

We do get spared from the general penchant of 3D movies to feature unreal, coming-at-ya shots, with just underwater debris coming towards the camera as the closest thing Titanic has to a “Look out!” experience.

Even the shot of the pivotal scene when the ship’s right side gets scraped by an iceberg, is tense but not in-your-face tense.

(Hollywood, here’s a suggestion: While you’re on this 3D streak, how about reissuing something that truly deserves it, say Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner?)

Any new scenes or alterations?

Say what we will about James Cameron but, thankfully, he does not have the George Lucas itch to fix what ain’t broke. He did not bother to reinsert any deleted scene just to, say, add more bang for your 3D buck. Discriminating viewers, however, might be put off by the needless slow motion employed in certain scenes. And there’s this odd bit where Jack and Rose elude a torrent of water — the scene clearly fake, thanks to green-screen technology, but also hinting that DiCaprio’s and Winslet’s faces had to be digitally altered.

Cameron did, however, reportedly make one minor, otherwise negligible alteration, due to the prodding of an exacting astrophysicist, as reported here. As a bonus for the thoroughly obsessed viewer: If you look closely within the hour-long climax, you just might spot director Cameron himself in a random cameo among the praying passengers.

The scene depicts real-life Fr Thomas Byles leading a prayer as the ship goes down, the film’s one fleeting acknowledgment of the hand of God (coincidentally fitting for the movie’s Easter time opening in the Philippines).

Check it out or ship out?

Titanic has had its share of critics, who would sooner point to A Night to Remember by director Roy Baker as the definitive, more accurate depiction of the sunken ship’s tragedy —notwithstanding the 1958 movie’s datedness a la, say, an LVN picture. (Not necessarily a bad thing, true.)

The bottom line is, if you never liked Titanic back in the ’90s, the 2012 reissue won’t make you a convert. But if you did dig it back then, this 3D’d rerelease can provide some pricey reinforcement. – Rappler.com

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