DIRECTOR: James Cameron
May Contain Spoilers!
101 years ago today, at approximately 2:20 am, The R.M.S. Titanic sunk with the loss of over 1,500 lives and was set become the most notorious maritime disaster in history. It was also to become a prolific subject for movie-makers almost from day one, with James Cameron’s 1997 epic, ranking as the most well-known, if not necessarily for all the right reasons. Cameron, who had made his name with the Tech Noir thriller The Terminator (1984) and Aliens (1986), was about to set sail in the choppy waters of making one of cinema history’s most expensive epics, with Heaven’s Gate (1980), the notorious flop which is wrongly held as the reason that United Artist’s fell in the early 1980’s, springing to mind.
But he pulled it off, delivering a fairy-tale romance set amongst the real and tragic events of that April night in 1912. The story was dismissed as lazy, over the top and sloppy, with baby-faced Leonardo DiCaprio and relative newcomer Kate Winslet, who’s biggest accolade so far was to be nominated for Best Supporting Actress for Ang Lee’s Sense And Sensability (1996), leading the way as the start crossed lovers on the doomed liner. Their characters were fictional, but served a much more important purpose in the film than just filler.
They are the heart of the film, offering an avenue into both First Class and Steerage (3rd) Class environments, cemented together with the crew as they breath life into the historic liner, crafting, with a tight screenplay, a series of cues for us to see the death of the character which was Titanic herself. For example; this was served by showing the Screws (propellers) as the ship leaves Southampton, again when the ship set sail from coast of Ireland, later as the ship hits the Iceberg and finally as the stern rises out of the water to reveal their true size and scale. This method was applied throughout to create a full and real world only to it destroy later, deepening the impact.
Jack (DiCaprio) and Rose (Winslet) serve as cyphers and guides to the world of 1912 and the ship herself, allowing us to watch them highlight the class inequality and their fantastical ways of dealing with it, in order to take the grand tour of the Titanic. Then, right on cue, everything is paid off, with few loose ends. To me, this screenplay gets a bum rap, when people make out that there’s nothing here but nonsense and sentimentality. It’s a classic love story, whilst not really plausible as it’s executed, it’s what the audience wants and with its tragic end, it delivers a few tears into the bargain.
The 3D Version
As for the 2012 3D post-conversion; I found that the depth of field, originally calibrated for the 2D presentation back in 1997/1998, didn’t help here. When shooting a modern 3D film well, it helps to use the shallow depth of field which in a 2D movie, helps to convey depth and distance, but with 3D, a much deeper DOF is favourable, in order to show off 3D, with the foreground object is as sharply focus as the background. But since this film was never intended to be shown anything other than 2D, there are many scenes which have a soft background and a large amount of soft foreground and this can render over half the image blurred. In turn, we have a blurred mass in the way of the action, which is very distracting.
But other than that the conversion was very good, offering some difference but for NO real reason for converting it and it offers little improvement to the final film. And since this has been reformatted for IMAX 3D, the aspect ratio is now 1.85:1 rather than its theatrical 2.30:1 so we now have a loss of image to go with our distracting DOF issues. So overall, whilst well converted to an extent, the film was shot well enough in 1997 and didn’t need this bastardisation, which is a kin to the horrendous process of colourisation.
So, technically adequate but artistically flawed as a 3D film, but the 2D version changed the face of the modern epic in late 1990’s and is still a great movie, if not still misunderstood by some. And the less said about Celine Dion the better!