Saturday, March 31, 2012

My coverage of Titanic's 3D Re-release

Titanic makes nostalgic return in 3D
By Raymond de Asis Lo, L.A. Correspondent (The Philippine Star) Updated March 31, 2012 12:00 AM Comments (0) View comments

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The film, which launched the careers of relative unknowns Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet (inset photo), resurfaces 15 years later — in time for the centennial of the sinking of the famous ship that inspired it.
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MANILA, Philippines - Sometime in November last year, this writer was invited by Fox Studios to an exclusive preview of the newly re-mastered version of Titanic, one of the biggest and most popular movies of all time, which Fox was planning to release to coincide with the centennial of the sinking of the famous ship on April 10 this year.

The screening was held inside the sprawling Fox lot in Century City. Everyone was excited that day because JamesCameron, the visionary director behind the movie, was going to be present to introduce the 3D version of Titanic before the screening and he was to hold a 40-minute Q&A afterwards with those who were in attendance. (The movie will also be released in traditional 2D, IMAX and Digital IMAX — any fan will have a choice of what version to watch.)

Journalists huddled a bit in the lobby before we were handed special 3D vision glasses and invited to take our seats inside the theater. I made a mistake when I dashed to the front of the theater thinking more of getting the best seat when James does his Q&A after the screening rather than considering the proximity of my seat to the screen. But I made my choice so I stuck with it.

As the clock approached the appointed screening time, James and his co-producer Jon Landau were ushered into an elevated platform next to the giant screen and welcomed us. He was like a gracious host welcoming us to his home. He thanked us for accepting their invitation. He spoke extensively about the movie, why they decided to make the movie in 1995 and the challenges they faced during the filming of the movie — he still couldn’t shake his disappointment about how harsh the US press were in treating his movie initially, particularly Variety and its famous “Glub, glub, glub” headline predicting that Titanic would be a colossal failure even before they’ve seen a single footage.

Initially predicted by the US press as a colossal failure, Titanic went on to become the biggest film of all time
The massive production cost of the movie, all $200M of it and the recent failure of Kevin Costner’s costly and ambitious flop Waterworld, were some of the reasons why the press were skeptical of the movie’s potential success. If they had the gift of enormous foresight, they would have sung hallelujahs every day outside James’ house because Titanic would later become a global phenomenon and would become the biggest movie of all time — a feat that would only be topped by another James Cameron title, that little movie called Avatar more than a decade later.

Because of the negative publicity the movie was generating domestically, James decided to hold the premiere of Titanic at the Tokyo International Film Festival and it was, according to him, one of their best decisions ever. “We felt that we had to make this a story for the world because the US press has had us tried and executed before the fact.”

The movie created such a mania in Japan that Leonardo DiCaprio, a relative unknown back then, became an overnight sensation and was even deemed a bigger star than the Emperor for a time during the record-breaking run of Titanic.

After Tokyo, they also held another screening in London, which elicited similar enthusiastic reaction from fans. The glowing reviews from London and Tokyo helped turn the tide of critical sentiment about the film in the US and the press finally embraced Titanic and the public soon followed.

So do you want to know how titanic this production of Titanic really was? Fox had to buy a lot — a huge lot! They built a huge tank — one that could hold 17 million gallons of water. And they built the ship — an exact 100 percent replica of Titanic! Filming lasted for months.

It was simply the most ambitious movie project ever.

Interestingly, however, the idea for Titanic was hatched way before the love story of Jack (DiCaprio) and Rose (Kate Winslet) was developed. James, who is an avid diver, confided that he shot the underwater exploration scenes shown during the first minutes of the movie years before when he first explored the Titanic wreck. And his fascination with the enduring charm of the Titanic legend inspired him to make a movie about it.

Titanic director James Cameron 
After the introduction, James and Jon excused themselves so the movie could start playing.

The lights dimmed and the haunting musical score by James Horner slowly enveloped the theater. The soft hum that slowly rises to a melodious cry entices the audience to again travel back in time and experience the doomed story of Jack, Rose and the ship that sailed to history.

A different kind of nostalgia unexpectedly crept in to me as I was watching the movie so close to the screen. The first sight of the ship brought me back to that packed first night screening of Titanic at the old Greenbelt Cinema 15 years ago. I was with my friends then and we didn’t get to the cinema early so we had no choice but to squeeze ourselves into the remaining spaces on the floor next to the screen — why the theaters allowed what was clearly a huge fire code violation did not concern us that time — and savored what was then billed the biggest movie ever made.

And the experience was unbelievable! For three hours, we sat there on the floor rapt in the story of Jack and Rose and the inevitable heartbreak that would come by the end of the movie. I may have watched the movie four more times before it finally ended its theatrical run in Manila.

Watching the re-mastered Titanic on the big screen is like watching the movie for the first time. The added depth of the 3D technology further enhanced the viewing experience but it was really the star-crossed love story of Jack and Rose that keeps the movie virtually timeless. When Jack threatens Rose that he, too, will jump off the ship if Rose does still elicits the same audience reaction like it was 1997 again. When the ship cracks in half and slowly sinks to the bottom of the ocean, there’s an added sense of fear and panic now that the viewer feels like a helpless witness to the enormous tragedy.

During the Q&A, James explained to us the painstaking process of transforming each frame of the entire movie into 3D. The process was highly technical and all I understand from it was that this version of Titanic has more 3D per frame than Avatar.

One journalist told James that just like there were people who were disapproving of the project in 1997, there’s also a cynical group of people who maybe wondering if the real intent behind the re-release of Titanic is just to really add more cash to the producers’ pockets.

“Yes, I need the money!” James jokingly replied.

“I don’t care about them. If I could wave a magic wand and give everybody in the world an orgasm simultaneously, there would still be cynics looking for a way to criticize that.”

He went on to explain that this conversion of Titanic took 60 weeks to complete — longer than what a regular film shoot would usually take — and it created many jobs for people in the industry. The producers spent tens of millions of dollars to realize this conversion and there is nothing wrong in trying to get that investment back plus a little more in order to produce more movies.

And when James was asked why the sinking of Titanic is still a compelling story today, a century after it sunk, he replied, “It’s because it is almost like this perfectly written novel that really happened.”

Released by Fox, “Titanic” will open in theaters on April 7.

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