Do you remember where you were when Titanic came out in '97? Now do you remember it breaking every record in movie history and the stories of all those lonelyhearts and teenage girls who went and saw the movie like twenty-five times while in its first run (one of the longest first runs in history)? There was no way this wasn't coming back to the big screen at some point. Appropriately coinciding with the one hundred year anniversary of the infamous vessel's sinking, Titanic is back on the big screen and, because why not, in 3D. If you want to give yourself an extra little enormity boost and your bank account an extra kick in the pants, it's also available on IMAX, which, let's be honest, if you're going to go, you might as well spend the extra scratch and go big.
I haven't seen Titanic in years. So many years in fact that I don't even remember how long it has been. One reason for that is that I saw it a number of times shortly after it came out on video and another reason is that I remember it as a cheesy love story with a great finale. Let's see if that assessment holds up:
Titanic starts off in the most perfect way the film can, by showing us footage of the crowds about to depart Southampton in 1912. The ghostly, haunting images are appropriately unsettling and lead us into an underwater robot pod ship thing with the guy from Big Love at the helm, as director James Cameron shows us real footage he took of the liner's carcass on the floor of the Atlantic. Talk about your haunting images. You half expect to see the transparent visage of a spectre peeking around a corner at the edge of the frame.
The crew is looking for 'The Heart of the Ocean,' a very large, rare diamond necklace rumoured to have been on board the liner when it went down. This leads them to Rose Calvert, an old as a tree trunk woman who claims to have been the owner of the rock, as well as the subject of a scandalous (for the time), nude drawing found inside a safe on the ship. Once affirmed legit, she recounts her time onboard and Cameron takes us on a voyage, pun intended, of love, loss and the 'unsinkable' Titanic.
I'm not against movie love stories, if they're done right. I think they can enhance a film and give it an emotional centre that will allow for a much richer experience, but they also have the power to muck up an otherwise wonderful movie. The greatest example of this is of course, Pearl Harbour. Titanic is a better example of a film that people actually liked though. Titanic starts great and ends great but suffers in the middle due to an abundance of cheese that's been left out too long. The progenitor of this gouda is easily the dialogue. Sappy nonsense delivered at the most obvious times creates a silly atmosphere and it's not until (spoiler alert) the ship begins to sink that we begin to take the movie seriously again. The second culprit is the acting. Aside from a few strong supporting performances, the acting's pretty dull and rarely convincing during this period of the film. Again, when all hell breaks loose, Winslet, DiCaprio, et all, rise to the demands and step up their game, but I didn't buy the rest often enough. The same could be said for all of Cameron's films though. The Terminator's, Aliens, The Abyss, all suffer from poor acting and ridonkulous dialogue. But you don't go to a Cameron movie for the acting and dialogue, you go for the spectacle. And the spectacle of Titanic is awesome. And yes, that spectacle is punctuated in 3D and punctuated further in IMAX. That's two punctuations, folks. That looks something like this '!!' The first '!' comes as soon as we descend into the rotting, silent halls and entrance ways of the real ship at the beginning of the film. The second comes at the end, when the giant bird strikes the giant 'berg. The size of the screen and the enhancement of the 3D is truly enveloping and does make you feel as though you're standing right there. I've never been a supporter or admirer of the use (overuse) of 3D these last couple years, but there have been a few exceptions. One was Avatar, it makes sense then that another one is Titanic. Something James Cameron gets about 3D that some other users and abusers of the medium do not, is that it works best if used for depth, rather than pure spectacle. I took my glasses off a few times during the movie and noticed that the blurred 3D enhanced areas of the image were always in the background, the foreground stuff was always as clear as a bell. What's the difference? Well, if the background images are 3D'd, when you're wearing the glasses, the image deepens, like in real life, if the foreground images are 3D'd, the images pop out at you in that very un-lifelike, cheesy 80's horror movie way. Another big part of it is knowing which background images to deepen and which not to, but all this to say that James Cameron knows what he's doing when it comes to 3D and as long as this fad is around, I will pay the extra coin to see his movies in this way.
There's a lot of powerful stuff towards the end of the film as the reality of this actually (mostly) having happened keeps you in a state of quiet disbelief and the images of desperate people falling off a giant manmade structure, especially when half the ship is bobbing on end in the calm ocean, disturbingly duplicates the images that were burned into our collective consciousness with 9/11. Not that Cameron could have known this in '97 of course, but the parallel is a sad one. Tragedy is tragedy and these are horrific things to behold. Cameron goes a little too far with shots of children in peril and dead babies frozen in their parents arms in the icy Atlantic waters bordering on bad taste, but it delivers its impact and gets the point across fairly strongly.
Titanic will go down, again, pun intended, as that movie. The one that made all that money and broke all those records and the one movie that if you asked almost any 10-100 year old in most places on earth in 1997, would be the one that they had all seen, probably more than once. It's a movie of giant visionary grandeur that few directors could pull off in such spectacular fashion, but that James Cameron did. And while I feel he borrowed more than a little from Roy Ward Baker's 1958 film A Night To Remember, I still applaud his achievement. The love story aspect of the film will never sit right with me, the dialogue and some of the acting will always rub me the wrong way, but I enjoyed the experience of it in IMAX 3D enough to recommend you catch it while you can, as your forty-some odd inch screen at home just isn't the same.
Plus, let's not forget, James Cameron is a struggling filmmaker just trying to pay the bills, he needs every bit of your money he can get. Right?
IMAX 3D experience: *****