Re-release – Titanic (in 3D)

In mid-February I was lucky enough to attend a screening of  Titanic, which is re-released in 3D in UK cinemas on Friday.  James Cameron’s hugely ambitious film, which cost more to put together than the actual 1912 ship did, ended up earning $1.8 billion at the box office.  Being far too young to have watched it when it first came out, I lapped up the opportunity to see Titanic on the big screen, where surely it belongs, where multiple viewings of the film were very common amongst cinemagoers in 1997. I had only actually seen it once beforehand a couple of years ago. I ended up being quite affected by the film (despite knowing the ending) and didn’t view it again for a long time afterwards. It was therefore with tentative steps that I ascended the escalator to the cinema; with unbearable trepidation that I took my seat; and with shaking fingers that I put my 3D glasses on.

I wasn’t sure how I would react. The technical brilliance of Cameron’s film was something to behold on the initial viewing and I was astonished at the quality of the special effects (though Kate Winslet was just as dazzling). But I had grown up since then. Would this 3D conversion do Titanic justice? Would I be as moved as last time? In the course of just over three hours, I would find out.

I certainly approached the film from a more analytical point of view, and was more keen to point out its flaws. The dialogue, as with a lot of Cameron movies, is often throwaway, which is a little disappointing given the film’s stark difference to the Terminator films (and others). The love story between upper class Rose and lower class Jack, supposedly the backbone of the plot, feels clunky, clichéd and shallow in comparison to the film’s gigantic setpiece, the sinking of the Titanic itself, of which the most time and effort was spent on, and of which under masterful direction from Cameron is no doubt one of the most astonishing things ever committed to celluloid. It is a shame – you really want to care for the two protagonists, you want to empathise with them, but Rose and Jack’s affair is clumsily executed, with strange casting (Winslet is too old; DiCaprio too young) and seen-it-all-before plot elements. As a self-styled film critic who has certainly matured since the first viewing, I found it utterly exasperating – I simply could not distract myself from the artificiality of ‘Jack, I’m flying!’, or Winslet’s humorously ironic final statement whilst in the water.

So why, for days following the screening, did I feel extremely sad? Why, when I felt so annoyed with the love story, did I spend hours contemplating the film? It’s simply because of the way it is shot. The cinematography of Titanic is some of the most rich and visually stunning ever seen in cinema. The incredible sequence while the strings are playing “Nearer my God to Thee”, in which we see third-class passengers preparing for their deaths, as well as the ship’s Captain silently mourning his ship, is perhaps the best and most gripping scene in the film. It is seamlessly edited together with breathtaking technical proficiency. Those images of people floating, freezing, in the water really stay with you long after viewing. Despite my reservations with the plot, which felt like it was all over the place, I will admit that watching Titanic is a truly draining experience. Many who I spoke to about it admitted they have rarely watched it all the way through because of its apparent potency. I initially laughed at most of these people at their inability to sit still, but eventually I understood what they meant. The scope and scale of Cameron’s film, its stunning visuals, its emotion (which is NOT down to the love story) are all truly breathtaking, and it is definitely made better on the big screen. Cameron, while not the greatest storyteller, is certainly a visual master.

While flawed, there's no denying that Cameron's Titanic is visually stunning.

So what about the 3D? Well, it’s rubbish. Don’t let anyone tell you different – the only remotely impressive scenes are those set in the modern day, with the underwater scenes of the wreck of the Titanic. Cameron may be a pioneer of 3D but this film, made 15 years ago when the format meant little more than a 1950s fad, benefits little – maybe is even worsened – by the conversion. It’s fantastic to see Titanic in the cinema, don’t get me wrong, but this is just superfluous. Sitting for three hours with those silly glasses on rewards you with… what? A headache, and most frustratingly, a darkened picture, which is particularly eye-straining in the second half of the film. I implore you – see this film, but see it in 2D.

So, there we go. Less of a review than a personal critic’s journey into a film which certainly has problems but is still a compelling experience. I’ve found that with Titanic some of its proven historical details are far more engrossing than the fictional parts; an officer really did shoot himself on deck, they really kept non-first-class travellers locked down in the ship, and boats really went out half full. Revelations like these remain as profound today as when they were first widespread and this only increases the Titanic’s legacy, making it still a majorly filmable subject, as exemplified by all the films that preceded Cameron’s vision as well as the recent ITV series. Will this re-release push the film’s gross up to $2 billion? Only time will tell.

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