“Titanic 3D”

Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet

Directed by James Cameron

It was one of the biggest gambles in Hollywood history.  It went over budget, costing a then-record $200 million to make.  It went way over schedule, bumping its release date from the summer to the Holidays.  Just about every aspect of its troubled production was documented by the press, which seemed to relish in the prospect of exposing the faults of its egomaniacal director – a director responsible for some mighty big hits, like 1984’s “The Terminator,” 1986’s “Aliens,” 1991’s “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” and 1994’s “True Lies.”

It had every reason to fail, but when “Titanic” finally set sail on December 19, 1997, James Cameron proved them wrong, and in a very big way.  By the time its maiden voyage was complete, “Titanic” grossed more than $1.8 billion worldwide, making it the highest-grossing movie of all time – a record it held until Cameron himself topped it with 2009’s game-changing 3D spectacular, “Avatar” (worldwide gross: $2.7 billion).  Looking back on Oscar night in 1998, when “Titanic” won 11 Academy Awards (including Best Picture), who can blame Cameron for feeling like “the king of the world?”

But after being very critical of hastily-converted 3D movies – like “Clash of the Titans” and “The Last Airbender,” both of which followed in the wake of “Avatar” (done by the studios in an effort to take advantage of higher 3D ticket prices) – Cameron has gone back and done something that might seem hypocritical for someone so outspoken of the conversion process: he converted “Titanic” to 3D, and just in time for the 100th anniversary of the real ship’s actual sinking (on April 15, 1912).

Now, if anyone was going to convert “Titanic” to 3D, it had to be James Cameron.  But what’s amazing is that for a movie that was shot in 2D, “Titanic” looks amazing in 3D – almost like it was meant to be in 3D all along.  The added dimension takes the film up a notch on a visual level, especially during the present day underwater sequences and, of course, after the doomed ship strikes the iceberg and starts its tragic descent to the bottom of the Atlantic.

But as for whether or not the 3D makes “Titanic” a better movie on an emotional level, the answer is that it doesn’t.  For one thing, the 3D effect, while noticeable at first, wears off after about 30 minutes.  Think of it as turning on the lights in the morning.  At first, you squint, because you’re not used to the brightness.  But then you get used to it, and it’s not a big deal anymore.  It’s the same way with 3D.  At first, the effect is stunning, but after a while (and especially during a 3 hours and 15 minute movie like “Titanic”), the effect fails to sustain itself, and the glasses just seem to get heavier.

Besides, “Titanic” was already a great movie to begin with, so if you’re going to see it in 3D, see it for the sole pleasure of seeing a grand epic like this back on the big screen, where it obviously belongs.  What’s amazing is that in the 15 years since its debut, “Titanic” retains all of the magic and the splendor that made it such a huge phenomenon in the first place: the incredible special effects, James Horner’s rousing musical score, Celine Dion’s stirring performance of “My Heart Will Go On” and the irresistible chemistry between Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio.

But more noticeable now than it was back then: the corny dialogue, which elicited quite a few laughs at the screening I attended – so perhaps it’s no wonder that out of the 14 Oscars for which it was nominated, Best Original Screenplay was not one of them.  But on every other level, “Titanic” is still a spectacular cinematic experience that, if nothing else, will remind moviegoers why they fell in love with it in the first place – which is why that even after 15 years, our hearts still go on and on.

-Scott Mantz