Incredibly it’s been 15 years since James Cameron’s Titanic hauled its lumbering bulk onto cinema screens. But has its hull been improved by a lick of 3D paint or has it sunk to a watery grave with other such retrofitted calamities?
Well James Cameron’s running this ship and he’s not a man to do things by halves. He’s previously spoken out about post-production 3D conversion, insisting that Avatar’s policy of filming in 3D was the only way to go but if you’re going to go back on your word, then you might as well do it properly.
Appropriately, this isn’t the leprous, hunchbacked cut and shut job that dogged Clash Of The Titans but a painstaking and lovingly crafted revival, a testament to the fact that post-conversion 3D can look almost as impressive as its in-camera counterpart.
The sense of scale remains one of Titanic’s biggest draws but the devil’s in the detail. There’s no attempt to have your eye out with a spiky piece of ice. Instead it’s the gilded finery of the staterooms that really impress – the polished balustrades of the main staircase, the massive glittering chandeliers, the swathes of white tablecloth with ranks of polished silverware that seem to stretch on forever – unrestrained opulence of the highest order.
There’s a price to pay for 3D conversion though and it comes in the form of a darker colour palette which takes the edge of some of the refinement and visual effects that veer from “fine” to “decidedly ropey” at times, particularly in the crowded deck scenes where background passengers drift eerily like premature ghosts.
But these are small problems in a film which a decade and a half on still manages to impress. Really there’s still nothing like it, it’s a true cinematic experience and its final hour still has the capacity to thrill just as it did back then.
But what of the film itself? Well, shorn of the inescapable hype that surrounded the film at the time (not to mention the omnipresence of Celine Dion, something which is the auditory equivalent of a drill to the temple); it’s far less irritating that memory serves.
There are holes all over the place – everything from its framing device which means its half an hour before we even board the ship, to its dialogue (clangers in which characters reference their historical period by mentioning Freud and Monet are particularly cringe-worthy). Away from the grand romance of Jack and Rose, its supporting characters are thin – Bill Paxton sounds like he’s reading his lines off a cue card, Billy Zane’s toff rotter is cartoonish, Rose’s mother flares her nostrils in snobbish disapproval.
And because it’s a story that being told to an audience in the present day, that famous steamy love scene is akin to an elderly woman narrating erotic fan fiction about herself, which is more than a little creepy if it’s given any thought.
But miraculously, despite its faults, it holds water. There’s no substitute for chemistry and clunky dialogue aside DiCaprio and Winslet have it in spades. Three and a quarter hours whizz by without once causing you to look at your watch. It’s tightly plotted, its pacing is absolutely spot-on and that’s one of the marks of a great storyteller – that ability to keep you completely and utterly absorbed.