Despite the benefit of 3D, the crew of the RMS Titanic still can't see the iceberg that sinks them in this remake of 1997's blockbuster Oscar winner, which came out Wednesday. Still, the remake is every bit the epic of the original, and with a well-done added visual dimension.
You mean the iceberg's in 3D this time, and they still don't see it before it's too late?No, of course, the Titanic sideswipes the iceberg, the ship goes down, and Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio make everybody cry. That's what we want from "Titanic," and in this 2012 3D re-release of James Cameron's Oscar-winning 1997 blockbuster, that's what we get.And it's still an epic piece of entertainment, perhaps the last Hollywood mega-blockbuster that truly everyone saw in the theater, from teens on a first date to their grandparents. The 3D upgrade, which Cameron personally oversaw for more than a year, is impressive, jaw-droppingly so in spots."Titanic 3D" works, though, because it's still "Titanic," a satisfying merger of newfangled effects and oldfangled melodrama. Judging by the wave of sniffles at the sneak preview I saw Tuesday night, it's a formula that endures 15 years later.
One thing I noticed more this time around is how effective the present-day framing story, featuring Bill Paxton as a cynical ocean explorer, works in suggesting the passage of time. A flashback is one thing, but to see the decaying hulk of the actual ship, its finery covered in silt, sitting forlorn on the ocean floor, and then to have it transform back into the "unsinkable" luxury ship it was, is pretty powerful. I had also forgotten how funny and flinty the late Gloria Stuart is as the 101-year-old Rose; the girlish gasp she gives as she tosses the Heart of the Ocean to its watery grave is one of my favorite little touches in the film.Another thing you notice is that, while Cameron's upstairs-downstairs love story between Jack and Rose is a little corny at times, DiCaprio and Winslet sell the hell out of it. The chemistry between the two of them is genuine, especially in the teasing early scenes that lay the groundwork for the tragic love story to come.The 3D is impressive, the crisp images as bright with the glasses on as they are off. When characters peer over the railing at the water far below, the effect is truly vertigo inducing. The 3D works best, though, simply by immersing the audience in the illusion that we're inside the Titanic herself, whirling among the guests in the first-class dining room, or slogging through a cramped, flooding corridor. Claustrophobics who had trouble with the first film are going to be in even more trouble here.It's funny how digital effects from 15 years ago can seem more dated than effects from 50 years ago. In one overhead shot of the ship, the tiny figures we see on deck are clearly CGI models, and in another, DiCaprio and Winslet's faces are obviously digitally superimposed on a pair of stunt people running from a wall of water. Overall, though, it's a sumptuous production that wears very well.Other flaws can't be corrected -- Billy Zane, as Rose's jealous fiancee, is one waxed mustache away from Snidely Whiplash, and he and some of the other two-dimensional supporting characters can be distracting at times. Other smaller roles do leave their mark, though, such as Kathy Bates as the brash Molly Brown, who turns out to have the moral center her fellow first-class survivors lack.While "Titanic" is remembered for its sheer scale, the bigness of that ship rearing up in the air, hundreds of extras sliding and falling, what sticks with you is the small, lyrical moments that Cameron finds space for amid the bombast. The bereft look on the face of the shipbuilder Andrews (Victor Garber) as he winds the clock and waits for death to come. Rose's Monet painting swirling around in the water. That small, quick nod Jack gives to himself when he understands what his fate is going to be. That one got me.It's still pretty long, but I enjoyed it much more than I remembered doing so back in 1997. If you haven't seen it since then, this handsome 3D re-issue is a fine way to rediscover it.