There’s no denying that “Titanic” was a genuine cultural phenomenon when it hit theaters, spending a staggering 15 weeks at the top of the box office, and setting records left and right. Even so, it’s a film that our generation didn’t really get a chance to see in theaters. My first memory of the film was watching it in a hotel room with my parents and really only paying attention to the part where the ship goes down. For that reason alone, re-releasing “Titanic” is a solid idea to show the landmark cinematic event to a new generation of youngsters, even if the film’s 3D reconversion is a mostly perfunctory excuse to get it into theaters again.
“Titanic” is an epic of the highest caliber, and James Cameron directs it with a real elegance, treating the story’s inherent tragedy respectfully while also making it massively entertaining in its own way. The story of Jack and Rose has been parodied and referenced so much that one might think it’s become diluted at this point. Thankfully, it’s still sweeping and genuinely romantic, mostly thanks to the pitch-perfect casting of Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet.
Both of these actors had solid careers up to this point, but nothing like this, and going back to “Titanic,” they both look so young and eager to please. There’s an honesty and heart to their performances that’s surprising. DiCaprio in particular has aged into a very different kind of performer, full of hard edges and aggressive characters, but here, he’s full of infectious joy for everything life throws at him, and the chemistry he has with Winslet is a huge reason why the film works.
A lot of us (myself included) grew up watching the film in a two tape VHS box set, and that makes it even easier to detect when the film shifts from charming romance to epic tragedy, right around the time Jack sketches Rose in one of many famous scenes. Cameron handles both halves of the film wonderfully, and his staging of the Titanic’s demise is disaster filmmaking at its absolute best. Tales of the grueling, six month shoot have become notorious, but this is Cameron showing mastery of his craft. Even as this unimaginably massive ship goes into the ocean, Cameron excels at finding the small, human moments, and he gives each member of his enormous supporting cast a chance to stand out.
But that’s enough about “Titanic.” Let’s talk about the 3D. Obviously, the huge draw for this re-release was the 3D conversion, and while that will certainly translate into healthy box office numbers, it’s completely inessential. Sure, the 3D is impressive enough, but watching “Titanic” in a third dimension doesn’t add anything to the film. In fact, with such a lengthy film, 3D can almost be a detriment, as the human eye can only take so much 3D before it starts to wear out, a boundary that “Titanic” comes dangerously close to crossing. It would have been enough to put “Titanic” back into theaters on the 100th anniversary of the ship’s sinking, and people still would have come out in droves to see DiCaprio and Winslet on the big screen once again.
The chance to see these huge, culture-defining films on the big screen is undeniably appealing. Films like “Titanic” and “Star Wars” are cornerstones of pop culture for a reason, and 1997 sure was a long time ago. Scenes like Jack and Rose’s moment on the ship’s bow or the ship’s final, hellish descent into the water lose some of their impact when viewed on a television, and that irritatingly catchy Celine Dion song is even more effective at drilling its way into your psyche on the big screen. But even more than that, the theatrical experience is unquestionably the best way to watch a film, and that alone makes these re-releases a valiant effort.
As useless as 3D is, I almost hope this trend of re-releasing classic films continues, with or without a post-conversion. I would jump at the chance to see something like “Goodfellas” or “Raiders of the Lost Ark” in theaters, and if I have to shell out a few extra dollars for some glasses that don’t really enhance the film that much, that’s a price I’m willing to pay.
Printed on Friday, April 6, 2012 as: Titanic deserves cinema re-watching despite 3D excess