Visuals in “Titanic” only enhanced by 3-D

04/05/2012 5:00 AM

04/05/2012 2:46 PM

The only question looming over “Titanic 3-D,” really, is: Does the 3-D get in the way? The ever-canny James Cameron has wisely resisted the temptation to tweak the film’s Oscar-winning special effects — one of the 11 Academy Awards the movie won in 1998 — or update the CGI shots of the doomed ship (which, by contemporary standards, occasionally look a little hokey) or add previously deleted footage to slap on a “Director’s Cut” subtitle that would guarantee to sell a few extra tickets.

No, this is exactly “Titanic” as you remember it — or, more accurately, the “Titanic” you’ve probably forgotten. The secret weapon of Cameron’s monumental blockbuster — the reason why audiences kept going back to see the movie, eventually buying an astounding $1.8 billion worth of tickets — is that this was a picture truly made for the big screen. At home, on DVD, no matter how big your flatscreen or video projector are, “Titanic” just isn’t the same: It’s a souvenir of the experience you had at the theater, when the enormity of Cameron’s vision was given its proper due, and where your stomach felt a twinge of vertigo as Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet clung from the ship’s railing, people beneath them falling to their deaths, as the boat began its final plunge into icy, deadly waters.

Cameron, who spent a year and $18 million retrofitting “Titanic” into 3-D, knows how to use the technology as expertly as Spielberg and Scorsese. Most of the effects — especially during the first, pre-iceberg half — are used to augment spatiality and dimension. The interior of the ship looks more magnificent. The gold ornamentation on the dinner plates looks real enough to touch. DiCaprio looks impossibly, incredibly young. Winslet is more beautiful and radiant than you remembered.

Unlike many 3-D post-conversions, where the image is darkened by the use of the glasses, “Titanic” doesn’t look any duller than before: If anything, the image seems crisper and cleaner, the way Blu-rays look better than DVDs. Particular standouts are the shots in the bowels of the ships, where the churning turbines seem larger than before, and scenes in which the characters try to outrun floods of seawater after the boat has started to sink.

Unlike the recent 3-D re-release of “The Phantom Menace,” in which technology was used primarily for gee-whiz effect, Cameron uses 3-D to deepen everything you already loved about the movie. There wasn’t a single scene in the film where I found myself wishing I could watch it in plain old 2-D (and the film’s final shot, one of my favorites of any movie, works even better now).

Did “Titanic” need to be in 3-D? Of course not. But the ability to be able to see this spectacle in theaters again — and share the experience with sons, daughters, nieces and nephews who have never seen it — is worth the hassle of wearing those glasses for three hours.

I know a lot of people who hate “Titanic” for its 10-cent script, for its awful dialogue, for its paper-thin characterizations and for its multitude of plot holes. I recognize all those problems. And yet none of them matter. This is an exceedingly rare example of a director’s vision overriding his talents as a writer: “Titanic” remains a stirring, awe-inspiring, enthralling entertainment, and judging by the amount of nose-blowing at a recent preview screening, it also remains an irresistible tearjerker.

Here is a rare opportunity to revisit a movie that I’m willing to bet you don’t remember nearly as well as you think you do. It’s also an opportunity to return to something you once loved, and discover it still holds up, with no apologies necessary.

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