It stood to reason that if anyone was going to figure out how to effectively convert standard 35mm to 3D, it would be James Cameron.
Cameron, whose Avatar is singlehandedly responsible for creating the current 3D frenzy, has spent more than a year and $18M to go back 15 years and transfer his 1997 blockbuster TITANIC to 3 dimensions. The result is, in many ways, a smashing success–certainly the best-looking transfer we’ve seen so far.
The suppleness and texture of Titanic 3D is remarkable for a film not conceived in that format. Some of the vertiginous shots of Cameron’s camera hurtling through long flooding hallways, or the earlier majestic pans of the stately decks and public rooms of the ship, have an immediacy that adds to their impact. Unlike most transfers, which simply pull a foreground shape in front of an otherwise flat background, Titanic‘s shots place objects in the correct perspective of depth. Cameron also doesn’t push the technology too hard: there are some sequences that are only barely dimensionalized to avoid gimmickiness, and the effects are saved for where they’ll really count.
It must be said that not even Cameron has been able to solve the problem of 3D glasses that inevitably dim the image. It appears that he’s brightened the film frame to compensate for that to some extent, but there are still subtleties to Russell Carpenter’s color palette that are simply lost because they’re faded into darkness. Still, Titanic looks about as good as any conventional movie transferred to 3D is likely to get.
As for the movie itself, 15 years later? It’s quite a sturdy piece of entertainment, with hugely charismatic movie-star performances from Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. If Cameron will always be coupled with George Lucas as the 2 most technically innovative commercial filmmakers of their era, Cameron is by far the more gifted–but alas, the 2 do share a tin ear for dialogue. (Billy Zane’s sneering “Something Picasso–he won’t amount to a thing,” is a line Cameron will never live down.) And Cameron’s taste for melodramatic plotting–poor Zane again, stalking Leo with a pistol even as the ship is flipping over–works better in the sci-fi/fantasy genre than in a story rooted in real-life history.
A new look at Titanic also provides a lesson in how far CG has come in 15 years. Some of the digital people in long shots of the ship look as synthetic as they are, and scenes that blend models with CG backdrops don’t ‘always work. It is nice, though, to see massive practical sets used instead of simply relying on CG for all visual effects–there’s still more mass and believable weight to images created that way.
Titanic was never a perfect movie, but it worked. And now, thanks to Cameron’s continued wizardry, it works in 3D.
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