15 years later, 'Titanic' returns

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When it came out in 1997, Titanic ran away with the box office. Fifteen years later it has returned for the centennial anniversary of the actual event, and audiences can return to see it with new eyes: that is, through 3D glasses.
It’s the same familiar story and the same familiar movie with a slight visual enhancement. Cameron changed only one thing about the film before its re-release, a change so miniscule and obscure that you probably would never have noticed it: the constellations that Rose sees as she lies freezing on the floating plank, minutes before she realizes that Jack has died. The Telegraph reported on April 1 that astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson sent Cameron a “snarky” e-mail criticizing the inaccuracy of the night sky. Cameron had Tyson send in a chart of the correct star field and the scene was changed accordingly. That, however, is the only different aspect of the re-release, besides the 3D enhancement itself.
The new 3D can be a blessing and a curse at different moments in the film—as in any 3D movie, of course. The movie was not originally made for 3D, so adapting it to the new technology goes less smoothly in some places than others. Instances in which things come at the audience—bubbles, the necklace Rose drops into the ocean, among other things—become blurry and over-the-top. Still figures against moving backgrounds become as sharp and flat as cardboard cutouts. In some cases this is probably due to the green-screen technology of the ‘90s, but the modern 3D unfortunately makes it painfully obvious. However, the 3D aspect enriches other scenes. Faces and crowds receive great depth. One of the best, I think, is the scene in which the lone rescue boat returns for the passengers stranded in the frozen water and finds itself in a floating cemetery. With the 3D magnification, the colors and texture of that scene are vibrantly creepy.
Overall, though, I found that the 3D did very little to enhance the experience. Perhaps it made the viewing the movie a little prettier, but the story demands much more of one’s attention than the aesthetics do.
Question: does anyone else find that the 3D craze is getting a little old? I’ve been thinking this for months. Although I did attend (and thoroughly enjoyed) the 3D re-release of Beauty and the Beast, I’ve long been of the opinion that, once again, the emperor is naked and most of us are just kind of rolling with it. Titanic is just the latest of this trend theaters have come up with to pull money out of people who could just as easily watch that same movie on DVD at home.
But I digress; I’m not here to rant about the film industry or the worth of 3D movies. I’m here to talk about the re-release of Titanic.
Saturday, April 14, marks the 100-year anniversary of the sinking of the real Titanic. I’d like to think that our attraction to this movie—to this story—doesn’t have everything to do with the fictional romance between Jack and Rose. Not that it’s a bad story; I think the whirlwind romance that ends up giving Rose her life back is a great thing to watch, much healthier than the relationship between Romeo and Juliet. Is it our hubris that we like to revisit? Somehow I doubt that, although maybe it should be. Maybe it’s the survival aspect. One of the movie’s greatest strengths is the way it depicts ordinary people suddenly confronted with inevitable disaster, where their own survival almost directly leads to someone else’s death. The movie shows the worst side of hysteria, panic, selfishness, and despair—but it also shows the best side. Resilience. Courage. Empathy. It asks us: if this were actually life and death, if I actually had freezing water lapping at my feet, would I be able to go back to find survivors, to help someone else through, or would I be too afraid to do anything but fight for my own life?
It’s a hard question. One that we need to ask ourselves constantly.
Think what you will about Titanic. Think what you will about 3D technology and whether or not it’s worth it. But the fact remains that this story, for one reason or another, draws us. Even if you don’t go see it in theaters, this weekend’s centennial anniversary might be a fitting time to visit that story again.