Earlier this week, ComingSoon.net had a chance to watch roughly 18 minutes, essentially 8 key scenes, from James Cameron’s Oscar-winning 1997 film Titanic, which has been converted into 3D for the film’s rerelease in April 2012 to coincide with the 100th Anniversary of its sinking. The footage was followed by a short Q&A session with the filmmaker and his producer Jon Landau to talk about the conversion process as well as the reasoning that went into doing this rerelease.
In his introduction, Cameron stressed that he wouldn’t be changing a single frame of the original movie, but unlike other 3D post-production conversions, they’re spending over a year working with 300 artists to go through every shot and pixel of the movie and do what’s necessary to make the new theatrical experience as relevant and memorable as the original. Cameron’s intentions are to use the conversion process to create a movie that has the same depth of field it might have if he had been able to shoot the movie in 3D originally, using the decade of experience he’s had with 3D photography and filmmaking to make sure every scene looks as good as it possibly can.
The clips shown were taken from different points in the three-hour film, beginning with a scene of the boarding of the Titanic from the opening of the movie, an absolutely stunning shot in 3D where you can see the throngs of people on the docks stretching for hundreds of yards with the Titanic looming above them, as Kate Winslet’s Rose arrives to board. The next scene took place much later in the movie, and it involved Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jack meeting Rose on the stairs, so we could see what the added dimension does to bring to life the interior sets that were built for the movie, followed by a scene of Rose down in steerage dancing with Jack, before being found and brought back upstairs for an awkward breakfast with her fiancé (It’s impressive how much younger both actors look in 3D!)
The most impressive shot was the tracking shot of the bow of the boat when Jack and Rose are on there and she’s pretending to fly, because the 3D really gives you a feel of how high the ship was from the water, and watching the camera pan so fluidly across the bow with the water shimmering below shows what sort of care is being put into making the movie look just as good in 3D. This isn’t the typical converted movie that seems to have very obvious layers between foreground and background.
They also showed four scenes from the actual crash and sinking of the boat, beginning with the spotting of the iceberg and the moments leading up to the crash. The longest sequence we watched shows Rose going below decks to look for Jack, who has been handcuffed to a pipe by her boyfriend’s guard, and after finding him, she frantically tries to get help in order to rescue him as the ship sinks deeper and deeper. This was another good example of how good the water looks in 3D, because there are many scenes in this sequence of Rose looking down one hallway or another which stretches into the distance. We also watched the scene with everyone clamoring to board the lifeboats and cutting them free as the water started reaching the decks, then the final scene had Jack and Rose back on the railing of the boat, but this time as the ship jutted straight out of the water before its final plunge.
The footage had real depth and dimension but the 3D was never distracting, and it did add a lot to seeing these scenes, especially having not seen the film in over ten years and on a big screen in even longer. Although Cameron mentioned they’re really pushing how far they could take the 3D depth of field with the process, it didn’t seem to be as noticeable in these later scenes, maybe because the more activity on screen warranted less 3D tinkering. Cameron and Landau looked at this process as a creative visual FX process rather than a technical one, and we were surprised to learn that doing this post-conversion process didn’t require bringing back the original film’s DP Russell Carpenter or the original FX team, since the original movie was more model-based, so there weren’t hard drives full of computer data that could be used to make the process easier. Cameron said, “I consider that a part of the process of conversion which is all visual FX, where every single shot, no matter how simple it was–like an insert shot of somebody picking up a fork–is now a visual FX shot with 20 artists working on it.”
“While many movies take six weeks for the whole process, we’re taking sixty weeks,” Landau added. “You can’t do justice to water, you can’t do justice to smoke, you can’t do justice to a close-up in six weeks. You’re just jamming it together and a lot of times the director’s not even there for that process.” Cameron feels that much of the problems that have led to the backlash against 3D comes from studios forcing their filmmakers to release their movies in 3D, which often relies on a decision by the accountants to convert rather than shoot in 3D because it’s cheaper, even though the results aren’t the same.
Cameron also reflected on the success of the original movie 14 years ago and why it warranted this sort of rerelease. “I was trying to account for what was similar between the ‘Titanic’ phenomenon and the ‘Avatar’ phenomenon, which proved very similar in a way. Even though the movies were completely different and didn’t even always necessarily play to the same segments of the audience. I think it was that decision to see the film on the big screen and I think the 3D part of that gives people a reason to go to the movie theater. But I think there’s a lot more going on with it than just that.”
He gave a couple examples of this. “There are younger kids we’re going to have to sell it to that don’t know the movie. There’s going to be a teenage audience that only knows the movie from video, and the question is whether they know that just from peer-to-peer or is it passed on from watching it with their family, their parents? There’s social aspects to it we can’t understand. I’ve always thought of the watching of this film in theaters as being a social phenomenon where parents could take their children or a teenager would go with his Mom where people would actually make their social appointments to go, and that’s why the film was still cranking strong in the 10th, 12th and 16th week, because it takes people time to get that all worked out. ‘I’m definitely going to see it in a theatre. I’m not going to see some pirated cheesy download. I’ve made that decision, now I have to figure out who I’m going to go with.’ Very often, there was a lot of repeat viewing, but I don’t think it was people going back solo and watching it over and over having the same experience. I think it was people communicating what they experienced with someone else.”
“The way both Fox and Paramount are approaching this is as a new release,” Landau added. “I think you’ll see the campaigns that are very aggressive to a new audience, just like would be on any new release.”
“They’re marketing it with the energy of a new tentpole release,” Cameron agreed, “but you can’t sell it the way you would sell a franchise movie in the marketplace, because you’re not going to take the time to tell people the story. You’re going to make the assumption they know the story, but we kind of made that assumption the first time around, because the over-arching story of Titanic is so well known. We’re not trying to tell the story in the trailer, and we’re really happy with the trailer, because actually it’s more of a memory-skewing device to remind you of how the film worked, that it wasn’t this sappy romance, that there was real jeopardy and the threat of hideous death for these people that overshadowed these light romantic moments. That juxtaposition of love and death that made the film powerful and poignant.”
When asked whether the rerelease is being done merely to push the gross of Titanic over that of its record-breaking follow-up Avatar, he joked, “Because we’re just greedy motherf*ckers, and we didn’t make enough the first time around. It just felt right in the centenary of the sinking of Titanic to bring this back out for fans who either are fans of the movie but have never had the widescreen experience or are fans of the movie who remember it from back then and want to re-experience that. I think it’s perfectly valid.”
“Let’s remind ourselves – Hollywood is a business, and there’s nothing wrong with that,” he continued. “I personally am interested in fostering and promoting 3D as a viable business, and not only for the cinema, but the home market as well, so having a successful film in 3D is a good thing. Whether I’m involved with it or not, I’m happy. It doesn’t matter what that 3D title is, because it helps the business.”
When asked about making changes in the movie, Cameron joked that he’ll let George Lucas be the filmmaker who goes back to his earlier work and changes things. “That’s an example of what I don’t want to do,” he quipped, then added. “That’s not a slam. I think he considers his movies a perpetual work in progress. For me, the problem is when you pull that thread, it all unravels because where do you stop? For example, I’ve done three expeditions to the Titanic, I’ve done literally hundreds of hours of exploration of the interior of the wreck, always photographing all the stairwells, so I know the places where the film is wrong.” In other words, Cameron has been able to learn a lot more information about the interiors of the Titanic than he had when he made the movie, but he knows that going back to fix those things would be very time-consuming.
One of the surprising things we learned is that those who may be adverse to 3D will also have a chance to see Titanic in a pristine new digital 2D and 2D IMAX version coming off the new 4K Master created in the process. Both Cameron and Landau thought that far too much emphasis of the story was put on the 3D of Avatar and how that contributed to its record-breaking box office. Similarly, he feels that too much of the media are to blame for the idea that 3D is losing ground at the box office just because it may be accounting for smaller percentages of a movie’s take, and he’s not worried about it affecting the rerelease either.
“Look, I think there’s a trick to how you play the 3D card in the marketing of this,” Cameron stated while stressing that the focus of the rerelease is to give those who loved the movie another chance to have the theatrical experience. “The 3D is interesting and it does galvanize the experience and ratchet it up to a new level, but it’s still ‘Titanic’ in a movie theater which a lot of people have never seen, so from my perspective, I’d like that to be the lead line, that it’s ‘Titanic’ being released after 14 years away on the 100th Anniversary of the Titanic itself to a new generation that’s never seen it in theatres… and it’s in 3D!”
Cameron isn’t ruling out the idea of someday rereleasing some of his other popular movies like T2 in this manner, but for now, the filmmakers are going to be off-the-grid making the sequels to Avatar, and it was only the time they had between to see how this experiment of converting and rereleasing might work with Landau considering Titanic a “no-brainer” for this sort of re-release.
Cameron concluded with his thought on this. “We’ve seen one 3D rerelease so far that’s been successful (The Lion King), and we’re about to see another one right after the first of the year with Star Wars and then we’ll be the third one, and then after that, I think we’ll have a sense of whether people consider that valid. Maybe with the changing way people consume media, the idea of these favorite, beloved movies actually do have a place back in the cinema.”
Titanic will get its rerelease into 3D, 2D and 3D IMAX theatres on April 6, 2012.