By Sarah Sluis
"Are you ready to go back to Titanic?" In advance of the movie's spring re-release, director James Cameron and producer Jon Landau previewed eighteen minutes of 3D-converted footage in New York City today for journalists. Cameron is currently shepherding the film through a sixty-week, $18 million, 2D to 3D conversion process. Set to open April 7, 2012, the re-release will commemorate the hundred-year anniversary of Titanic's voyage and sinking (April 10th-14th, 2012). But what about the 3D? The answer may be that it's beside the point.
As the re-release of The Lion King in 3D has shown, audiences went to the theatres primarily to revisit a classic, beloved movie. The 3D was an afterthought, and a significant percentage of ticket-buyers opted for 2D. I think viewers will approach Titanic in 3D the same way. While I mostly enjoyed seeing the footage in 3D, what I most connected to was the movie itself. I had forgotten what an immersive, emotional experience the film was--and how much of a difference it makes to see it on the big screen. Cameron hopes the movie will be a success because of its "nostalgia component," people remembering who they saw it with at the time, "the relationships they were in," and otherwise connecting to where they were when the movie came out. He said that the teen girls who saw Titanic multiple times (that would include me and all the other girls in my 7th grade class) were in the minority, maybe "only $200 million" of the movie's $1.8 billion box office. If the movie played from "eight to eighty" the first time around, Titanic should have similar broad appeal in the re-release.
Cameron noted that increasingly, people are making choices about which movies they want to see in theatres and which ones they want to see on Netflix. It's a "contract with yourself" to see a movie in a theatre, because it means you're deciding that film deserves to be seen with your full attention and no multitasking. It's also a social experience. People saw Titanic twelve weeks in because they were making a point to see the movie with valued friends and family, and it "takes time" to coordinate schedules. I agree that Titanic played best in theatres. I myself bought the two-VHS box set but couldn't bring myself to rewatch the movie more than a few times. Each time I saw the future Oscar winner in theatres, once with a friend and a few weeks later with my Mom, the theatre was sold-out, packed with ooh-ing audiences. That kind of experience makes going to the theatre worthy.
Cameron, who has long been an advocate of 3D, also commented on the direction the medium has been taking. He was fine with Titanic queuing up behind a number of other re-releases. In early 2012, Disney tries its luck again with Beauty and the Beast 3D (Jan. 13) and George Lucas re-releases Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace (Feb. 10), all before Titanic's April re-release. Cameron's in favor of 3D re-releases of library titles--they're the "only reason" to choose conversion. He lambasted "Hollywood bean counters" who would opt for an $8 million conversion over the $10 million to shoot native 3D when the first would be only "half as good." He also gave a nod to director Martin Scorsese's upcoming 3D Hugo, citing it as an example of an "auteur" who sees 3D as just another color to paint with.
Will Titanic see the same success as The Lion King? I think the movie should do at least as well. We're talking about the #6 domestic movie of all time, using adjusted box office figures. The movie will be marketed with at least as much energy as a new release, according to Cameron and Landau. The campaign will also have to correct for the vagaries of people's memories. For example, he mentioned that a lot of people remember the movie as a sappy love story (I'll put myself in that category), but the marketing will remind people of how much was at stake: This is also a disaster movie in which people die terrible deaths, freezing and drowning in the icy waters. During the clips, I was reminded of just how suspenseful the original movie was. The scene where Rose frees Jack from his handcuffs as the icy waters rise, for example, had me on the edge of my seat. During other sequeneces, I had to hold back tears--from one-minute scenes! Cameron has heartstring-pulling down to a science.
The re-release of Titanic will definitely reignite nostalgia for the movie and introduce a whole new audience to the romance-disaster epic. Some of the effects may look dated, and Kate Winslet's black-undertoned dye job looks more 1990s than 1920s, but their performances show why they're still top actors today. If Lion King could do $80 million, it would be a tragedy if Titanic's re-release reaches port before earning at least $100 million.