James Cameron

Review

In this film image released by Paramount Pictures, Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, left, are shown in a scene from the 3-D version of James Cameron’s romantic epic “Titanic.” (Photo courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox)

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

The 1997 film “Titanic” is being rereleased today as “Titanic 3D” in theaters and IMAX. The movie became a cultural zenith upon release and was for over a decade the highest grossing film of all time. (Photo courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox)

Standing 882 feet long and 175 feet tall and holding over 2,000 passengers, the RMS Titanic certainly fit its mythical billing as an unsinkable ship. Of course, it infamously and tragically sank due in part to the ego of the crew. Yet, the 1997 film “Titanic,” made by director, screenwriter and producer James Cameron whose hubris matched the ship, did not meet such a fate, as anyone who was breathing at the tail end of the decade can attest.

Instead, the film kept going on and on and on, just like Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On,” the film’s theme song. Now, “Titanic” will return to the big screen in a re-release today as “Titanic 3D,” just in time for the 100th anniversary of the ship’s sinking.

In a year when action films had just about completed their dominance of movie theaters, “Titanic,” a pure love story, filled the appetites for those looking for more than just fist fights and explosions. It became a truly word-of-mouth movie, grossing $28 million in its opening weekend and earning $20 million a week for nine more weeks. “Titanic” went on to become the highest grossing film of all time by a wide margin, until Cameron’s own “Avatar” usurped the title.

No boundaries existed for “Titanic’s” appeal; a love story wrapped in a discovery mission wrapped in huge film effects covered just about every demographic. When it finally hit home video, viewers could watch the film ad nauseam as long as they were to willing to switch VHS tapes in the middle of the three hour-plus movie.

In the months and years after its release, “Titanic” has been generally backlash immune, save for the usual parodies of cultural touch points. Few ever question its Oscar wins as they have with “Shakespeare in Love,” and cable channels still make it an event of sorts when showing the film (“Brought to you with limited commercials by ... ”). A decade on, there is still enough fervor and buzz over the re-release that “Titanic” may recapture its title as the biggest movie of all time.

Despite that and its long list of achievements, “Titanic” isn’t a terribly good film. Despite its bevy of quotable lines (“I’m the king of the world!”) and scenes (Who didn’t swoon when Rose [Kate Winslet] “flew” on the bow of the ship?), much of the film’s dialogue falls flat, saved only by the acting finesse of its stars. Many of the scenes are mere instruments for Cameron’s technical wizardry and don’t actually move the plot along. And the plot isn’t too much itself: the usual cliche of a love divided by social class.

Yet, watching it again, whether in IMAX 3-D on a re-release or on two 10-year-old videotapes, you cannot help feel a sense of awe when the ship lifts up in the ocean before its slow descent into the deep water. The film is made with such conviction by Cameron that bad lines and a wafer-thin plot fall by the wayside, and you become entranced by its epic scope.

“Titanic” was meant to be a Film with a capital F, and you wholeheartedly accept that while watching it. In an age of cynicism, there is something to be said for three hours of cinematic relief, thinking you would find a love like Jack and Rose’s, let that hand go, hold onto a blue jeweled necklace for decades and drop it when you’re 80 years old.

Much of the film’s significance and power now comes from its broader pop cultural context. You can yell out, “I’m the king of the world!” or hum the first few notes of “My Heart Will Go On” and people get it immediately. It’s almost as if millions upon millions of us were on the ship itself in seeing “Titanic.”

Even though “Titanic” had such mammoth success, movie studios have yet to try and repeat its formula in any major way. Instead of moving in the same vein as “Titanic,” movie studios have continued on with big action films, while independent films become grittier and smaller, both sides forgetting the universality and earnestness with which “Titanic” was made.

So it stands that even after 14 years, “Titanic” continues on as unsinkable as before.

Science Scene

Photo Credit: Anna Grainer | Daily Texan Staff

Director Journeys into The Abyss

Oscar-winning filmmaker James Cameron, who has directed some of the biggest movies of the past 25 years, including “Titanic” and “Avatar,” will be traveling deep under water into the Mariana Trench — something that hasn’t been attempted in more than 50 years. Using much more advanced technology than was available during the previous mission, Cameron hopes to uncover scientifically useful information using 3-D high definition cameras and huge 8-foot tall arrays of LED lights. The mission will be as dangerous as anything attempted by the heroes of his movies and will involve putting himself in a tiny one-seater submersible in near freezing water with pressures so strong that they’ll compress the craft by 2.5 inches.

Neutrinos Obey Speed Limit

Further tests at the Gran Sasso National Laboratory have shown that, despite recent reports, neutrinos do not travel faster than the speed of light and obey the laws of physics as we currently understand them. A report from the OPERA group at the same lab back in September had reported that the electrically neutral particles appeared to go faster than the universal speed limit and scientists have been hard at work trying to explain what went wrong. While this experiment, performed by the ICARUS group, doesn’t necessarily indicate where the previous one was in error, it does suggest that the conclusions may not be correct. Other groups are hard at work to replicate the results.

Russia and South Korea Work Together on Mammoth Project

Russian and South Korean scientists have agreed to join forces in order to bring the woolly mammoth back to life. The species, not seen on this planet for about 10,000 years, would be resurrected through advanced cloning technologies, which rely on finding well-preserved mammoth cells. These cells could be turned into an embryo, which would be implanted into a modern elephant (the mammoths’ closest living relative), who would then give birth to the creature. Other animals have been cloned using similar techniques, but this would be the first time that an extinct species could be brought back from the dead using modern science.

Fruit Flies Drown Sorrows in Alcohol

A recent experiment at the University of California, San Francisco, found that fruit flies that have recently had sexual encounters are less likely to eat food coated in alcohol than those who haven’t. The scientists think that this may be a result of how the brain handles pleasurable senses. At a certain point, the brain determines that the fly is happy enough and doesn’t need the alcohol to cheer up. Whether or not this kind of behavior applies to humans is a question for a
future study.

Man Prepares to Free Fall from Space

In an effort to push the limits of what is humanly possible, daredevil Felix Baumgartner plans to break the world record for highest free fall in history by more than 3 miles. Through the aid of a special suit — the air is much too thin and too cold for a human being to survive at that height — Baumgartner successfully and safely plunged 13 miles to Earth in a test run this past week. He is ready, if all goes according to plan, to break the sound barrier on his plunge from 23 miles up all the way back down to near the Earth’s surface before pulling the ripcord on his death-defying, record-breaking stunt.