Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Carl's Post on Titanic 3D

100 years ago last week the "unsinkable" Titanic departed on its ill-fated maiden voyage to America. Four days later it lay at an enormous depth at the bottom of the frigid ocean, a tragic reminder of the power of nature and the folly of human pride. Though the tragedy was certainly not forgotten over the last century, the magnitude of the wreck of the Titanic came home in a very real way after Robert Ballard discovered the location of the lost ship in 1985. Ballard's documentary footage of the famous lady lying crushed at the bottom of the sea brought the reality home to everyone. Seeing the remains is both sad and alarming. More than 1500 people lost their lives, the real catastrophe being that it did not have to happen that way.

Fifteen years ago my wife and I sat in a theater in Tulsa, OK on opening weekend to see Titanic, the film that became bigger than even writer/director James Cameron probably would have ever dreamed. I remember tears rolling down my cheeks during the scenes of the bodies floating in the water. It was gut-wrenching despite my knowing that it was but a pale imagining of how truly horrific those last few hours of life must have been for those unfortunate people. For some Titanic was movie-making as it should be, full of spectacle and heart. For others it was as bloated and over-hyped as the "unsinkable" ship at its center. Whether you loved it or whether your "heart [couldn't] go on" hearing any more about it, Titanic did succeed in giving viewers an up front view of what it might have been like on that fateful night in 1912.

To commemorate the anniversary of the sailing of the Titanic, James Cameron dusted off the film, gave it the 3D treatment, and re-released it to theaters for a new audience, and for those who couldn't resist seeing it on the big screen one more time. There was no doubt in my mind that my wife and I would see it again. The tragedy is one that draws me in and we found ourselves there on opening night enjoying the spectacle all over again.

When I posted a review of this re-release on my site one of the more frequent comments had to do with a lack of desire to see the film in 3D. I'll be the first to admit that I was over the 3D phenomenon before it ever began in earnest. While 3D visuals in some films, like Avatar for example, cannot help but wow even a cynical movie-goer, the majority of 3D effects seem to be done merely as an excuse to charge higher ticket prices. Titanic 3D is certainly guilty of that. To Cameron's credit the additional three dimensional effects are minimal and don't do anything to disrupt or distract from the movie itself. That being the case, one can easily see how unnecessary it was to give Titanic the 3D treatment. On the plus side the addition of three dimensional material (almost entirely foreground shots added to give the illusion of depth) meant that the film was also remastered and it was visually stunning in its color and clarity up on the big screen. Wow!

I remember not long after the film's initial release being so glad that I had seen it before it's hype got out of control because I found it to be a beautiful film. I felt that it was unfortunate that the theme song got so much airplay, which I believe was instrumental (pardon the pun) in making the public so very sick of hearing about the film. Even if you liked the song at the time (and I did), you eventually got sick of hearing it. I remember hitting a saturation point and didn't listen to it for decades. I just couldn't take it. But that did not diminish my fondness for the film. And sitting there watching it unfold again the other night, I realized that it stands the test of time, it is still a very beautiful film.

Regardless of what one thinks of it, watching the film objectively you have to admit that there is some talented film making going on. Scenes absent of soundtrack music, and often absent of sound of any kind, are placed throughout the film and they make quite an impact. Scenes in which the shot is high above and far away from the ship that are devoid of sound are chilling in their ominous foreshadowing of just how helpless and alone the passenger are. The scene in which Jack (DiCaprio) draws a sketch of Rose (Winslet) is sensuous not because of the nudity but because of the lighting, because of the way the camera plays across both actors' faces, concentrating on the eyes. The scene where the camera zooms in on Winslet's eye that fades into the older version of Rose (Gloria Stuart) is so well done and so moving. James Cameron has creative skills and the evidence of that is profuse.

It can certainly be argued that Titanic is overly sentimental, but I am an overly sentimental guy and thus it finds its audience with me. Given the subject matter I don't mind the sentiment. I remember thinking that Kate Winslet was an unconventional beauty and that opinion was reaffirmed on seeing the film again. I also found myself remembering just why I enjoyed Leonardo DiCaprio so much. I had gotten tired of him for awhile but more recent roles have renewed my interest and it was fun to see some of his early work again.

In the end though the thing that drew me back, and would keep drawing me back if they re-released this every decade, is the awesome nature of the tragedy that befell this marvelous ship and the people who were unlucky enough to be sailing upon her. It is hard to imagine just how scary, how truly terrifying, that entire event must have been. It remains fascinating all these years later.

If you never had a chance to see this movie on the big screen I would highly encourage you to do so. Don't let the prospect of 3D effects put you off, they are not present in any great quantity. And if you happen to be a silly romantic like yours truly, it definitely makes for a great date night film. I don't expect to ever truly understand what it must have been like for those present on the Titanic that night. I doubt anyone could. But Titanic the film succeeds in that it allows the viewer to feel some portion of empathy and understanding that might not have been possible otherwise. And to me that is worth experiencing again.

Carl blogs at Stainless Steel Droppings. Be sure to stop by!


  1. Thanks for posting - I enjoyed reading your thoughts on re-watching Titanic in the theatre.

    I was 16 when it came out and saw it twice in the theatre. Since that time, I've seen it at least 20-30 times on DVD. I went to the 3D version this past Saturday and felt the same way about the conversion - it really didn't add anything to the film.

    However, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it - particularly for a movie I've practically memorized! The pacing was good and I was never bored. The characters and the gorgeous visuals drew me right back in. Even the special effects held up surprisingly well.

    I sat next to two teenage girls (probably around 15 or 16 years old) and it seemed like they were seeing Titanic for the first time. They laughed at a lot of the hokey lines and started texting on their iPhones once Titanic hit the iceberg. It was a bit strange to see a different generation watching Titanic and reacting so differently than I did at the same age!

    Needless to say, I'm glad I spent the money and saw it on the big screen. It was very much worth the money and three hours to once again feel that big sense of adventure, romance and emotion that movies just don't seem to have nowadays!

  2. I didn't think I was going to see it until I saw the preview while at the theatre a few weeks ago... Made me cry just from those few captured moments! The hubby and I are planning on checking it out this weekend.

  3. Thanks so much for sharing this, Carl! I have been back and forth on whether I want to see this or not. When I saw the movie for the first time I did enjoy it, but I was more interested in the historical aspects. And, I think the recent attention brought to how people honestly thought it was JUST a movie and it is not historically accurate, I am bothered. I wish they hadn't changed things. I mean, not so much the love story, but the background. I remember being in the theatre and my jaw dropped when First Officer Murdoch shot himself. I had never heard of that before and it turns out it isn't true... Just stuff like that. They were real people and many people statistically do not read, so yep, it bugs me they gave a false impression.

  4. I was so excited to see this again in the theatre. It didn't matter so much to me that it was in 3D, I'm not a huge fan of 3D to begin with, but I just had to have the experience of seeing it on the big screen. While the 3D did add a little bit in a couple of places (like when the ship is vertical and we are staring down the length of the ship) overall it would have been fine without it. When we went there were so many people in the theatre from young to old and everyone started clapping at the end. It was a wonderful thing to see again.