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.


Jurassic Park re-release – 2011

The first time I watched Steven Spielberg’s 1993 classic Jurassic Park must have been on a VHS cassette when I was a small child. I was captivated by its stunning visual effects and instantly elected the Tyrannosaurus Rex as my favourite dinosaur in the film. Consequently, it’s rather easy to imagine my frenzied delight when I heard that (coinciding with the blu-ray release) Jurassic Park would be re-released in cinemas across the UK.

The classic poster for 1993’s Jurassic Park

This was not just an opportunity. This was an unmissable necessity, an undoubted must to see this film on the big screen in all its glory. Why is that, you ask? Well, there are several reasons of which I shall mention only a few:

1. John William’s majestic score in surround sound, enveloping you in your cinema seat.

2. The Tyrannosaurus Rex. Not only does its roar scream at you in its ultimate loudness, but on the big screen it looms over you in its proper height (well, it did at the cinema I went to).

3. In 1993 it became the highest-grossing Spielberg-directed film of all time (excluding inflation) and made more money than any other in that year.

4. It’s a landmark in the use of computer-generated imagery. The film still looks brilliant after eighteen years and stands as a better piece of storytelling than Avatar.

5. Samuel L. Jackson is so damn cool as the Head Technician of Jurassic Park that even in a minor role he needs a whole screen to stomach his awesomeness.

So I ventured down on the afternoon of Saturday the 24th September to the BFI IMAX where I watched the film for the first time in a number of years. It was astonishing. I had forgotten how undeniably impressive the computer-generated T-Rex was (as reflected humorously in the mirror of the jeep in which Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum and Bob Peck make their escape) as well as the savagely intelligent velociraptors. The first dinosaur attack around the T-Rex paddock still kept me on the edge of my seat (it’s one of my favourite scenes) and I was able for once to notice a lot more subtleties as well as grasp more of the plot  – don’t you always find that happens with films from your childhood?

Wayne Knight, an incredibly underrated actor, brought a necessary wave of human antagonism beyond the various escaped dinosaurs as Dennis Nedry, the vile and greedy technician who you can somehow feel sympathy for. Richard Attenborough, in his first acting role for fifteen years, is very convincing as the kindly scientist who only too late understands the reality of his elaborate theme park. He exists as a sharp deviation from the character written in the Michael Crichton novel, who is described as “arrogant, deceptive, disrespectful and rude”. It’s particularly emotional in the film when we see Hammond sitting on his own in the restaurant, slowly eating spoonfuls of ice cream to which he has “spared no expense”, gradually coming to realisation of what he has done with his Jurassic Park.

The film just works so well and is so incredibly entertaining that it’s vastly difficult not to ramble on about it. The CGI and animatronic dinosaurs co-ordinated by Stan Winston are an incredible sight to behold and the characters truly have depth. Yes, it has its flaws, many of them technical (where does that steep drop in the T-Rex paddock come from?) but it’s a supreme slice of Spielbergian entertainment that was perhaps the defining piece of effects cinema of the early 1990s.

I stayed until the end credits with my friends after jokingly hearing a member of the audience shouting “Let’s wait for the dino outtakes!” All in all, it was an experience to remember: a rediscovery of one of my favourite childhood films in a high definition print on the biggest screen in England. Maybe I’ll end up seeing it again, just perhaps not at the BFI IMAX. £11.50 is a hell of a lot of money for a cinema ticket.