'Titanic' in 3-D was carefully constructed by James Cameron
George Lucas has tweaked "Star Wars" on its various rereleases, including adding a scene of Han Solo chatting up Jabba the Hut. Steven Spielberg removed guns from the federal agents chasing the kids in the 2002 rerelease of "E.T."
James Cameron, however, is leaving his 1997 Oscar-winning best picture alone when the 3-D rerelease of "Titanic" sets sail Wednesday.
"There was an instant" when Cameron might have considered tweaking "Titanic," concedes its producer Jon Landau, in a telephone interview. "But very early on we shut the door on that, because we wanted people to experience 'Titanic' the way it was seen and not go and play a 'Where's Waldo?' game. Whatever quote 'imperfections' were there did not hurt the box office." And anyway, he figures, "If I'm going to go watch 'Star Wars,' I'm going to watch the original 'Star Wars.' "
Yet while Cameron didn't change a frame, Landau says, the film's writer, director and co-editor brought his trademark exactitude to the conversion from 2-D to 3-D -- an after-the-fact process that with some movies has produced results that look about as natural as colorized black-and-white.
"We tested about 15 facilities with one minute of film from five or six scenes, to see if we were comfortable creatively with what they could do," Landau says. They chose a company called Stereo D, "and we embarked on a 60-week process to convert the film. We spent over $18 million to convert it."
"I know this isn't just a transfer," says Bill Paxton, who plays salvage diver Brock Lovett in "Titanic." "Jim being Jim, he has got to go in there and make it right," he says of the technophile director, who has made pioneering strides in the use of morphing and other now-common cinematic tools.
Even without the story itself being tweaked, Frances Fisher, who plays the mother of Kate Winslet's character, Rose, says the film may resonate differently in 2012 simply because of society's changes in 15 years. Growing economic divides hark back to the first-class and steerage distinctions of "Titanic" and of the Gilded Age in general. "What's happening today, with all the established things that we took for granted breaking down -- the Wall Street collapse, the bailouts and a lot of people suffering -- I feel 'Titanic' shines a light on society on many levels," Fisher says, speaking from Baton Rouge, La., where she's filming the Stephenie Meyer adaptation "The Host."
And as for how she thinks the movie's 3-D will look, she offers an anecdote from the set.
"In the scene by the clock where Kate comes down the stairway and Leo is pretending to be a first-class passenger in his tuxedo and they're about to go to dinner, behind Leo were these black-and-white squares. The shot was all set up and suddenly Jim goes, 'Stop! Stop! There's a smudge on one of the white squares behind Leo's head!' And somebody said, 'Well, nobody's going to be looking at that.' And he goes, 'I don't want people to look at Leo in his close-up and see a smudge behind him,' even though it's out of focus.
"So everybody goes scurrying for a solvent to clean it up," Fisher says. "Who comes back with it first? Jim. He comes with a bucket and a rag and he's just wiping up the thing. No big deal, he's just doing it. And I walked over to him and said, 'Jim, you've got crew people to do that.' He goes, 'I've done every job on a movie set except act -- that's the one thing I don't know how to do. But I know how to do every other job here! OK, we're done, let's go!' "
If he's like that with a smudge, chances are "Titanic 3D" will look shipshape.
3-D or bot 3-D? That is the question
BY JOHN ANDERSON, Special to Newsday
Three-dimensional cinema may well be the future of movies. But it's also the past -- and not just because a lot of old-timers would pick "House of Wax" (1953) as their favorite 3-D film. Consider the situation at Disney:
"John Carter," the futuristic 3-D sci-fi extravaganza released March 9, cost $250 million (officially) to make, and is losing the company (officially) $200 million.
"The Lion King," a movie that dates back to 1994, made more than $94 million at the box office after its recent rerelease as a 3-D reboot that reportedly cost about $10 million.
It's not hard to do the math, or see where it leads.
This week, it leads to "Titanic" in 3-D, a likely landmark in the history of recycling. For many, a voyage aboard the James Cameron-directed Oscar winner and erstwhile box-office champ (later displaced by Cameron's 3-D "Avatar") will mean another ultraromantic journey into an enchanted, treacherous North Atlantic.
Either way, it will look spectacular, says David Keighley, chief quality officer at IMAX, the gold standard of big-screen exhibition. "Besides improving the picture, we also remastered the sound," he said. "You can feel the hull of the ship cracking."
But not all 3-D films are viewed under the stringent quality control of IMAX, or measure up dramatically to the likes of "Titanic." One of the lessons of recent events at the cinema is that 3-D can't make bad movies into good films. The "Star Wars" prequel "The Phantom Menace" -- reissued in February in 3-D -- remained largely unwatchable regardless of technical embellishments. "The Lion King," on the other hand, was still, after 17 years, a sturdy, well-made treat with music, especially for the kids who hadn't seen it and probably couldn't have cared less about the rather obligatory 3-D revamp.
" 'The Lion King' had a lot going for it," said Paul Dergarabedian, box-office analyst for Hollywood.com. "It had a built-in audience, kids who hadn't seen it, who weren't born when it first came out, and it was No. 1 its opening weekend with $30.1 million. A total winner.
"The thing is," he added, referring to reissues, "people are paying an upcharge on a movie they've already seen. They already know they like it. That's the thought process: You give people a thrill by bringing a movie they like back to the big screen and it's another way to exploit 3-D. Why not? Even if studios have to go to the vault to make audiences excited for 3-D, it might make them more excited about new movies in 3-D."
There will be no shortage of movies in 3-D coming soon, nor 3-D movies with something nostalgic about them. "Top Gun" and "Ghostbusters" are among the old movies scheduled for a technical upgrade. At Disney, a 3-D rerelease schedule has been in place for some time: "Finding Nemo" in September, "Monsters Inc." in January and "The Little Mermaid" in September 2013. The studio has, of course, the kind of past it can ride into a very lucrative future -- as was proved when "Beauty and the Beast" was rereleased in January. " 'Beauty and the Beast' made $17.7 million and was No. 2 its opening weekend," Dergarabedian said. "It ultimately earned $47.3 million, a very good result. Nobody minds another $40 million in the bank account."
And even if the movies themselves aren't old, the 3-D treatment is being delivered upon some very well-worn brands, which will combine the benefits of familiarity and freshness: "Men in Black," "Spider-Man," "Halloween" and "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" are a few of the franchises being brought into the world of 3-D.