Alas, Titanic 3D Proves Just as Unnecessary as You Thought

I wanted to believe James Cameron — I really did! — but it turns out that the 3-D conversion of his megahit Titanic is not only the craven cash grab we all feared, but it's also a visually drab re-rendering of an otherwise extraordinary technical achievement. Womp wooomp.

Paramount and Fox reportedly hosted a few dozen sold-out Valentine's Day previews of the film, to which press elites like Roger Ebert and David Poland were invited for their reactions. (My invitation must have been lost in the mail, but hey, I had a hot date with Linsanity that night anyway.) And how about those reactions! First Ebert, who gives Titanic a thorough and conscientious second-over before getting to the takeaway we're all waiting for:

Cameron has justly been praised for being one of the few directors to use 3D usefully, in Avatar. But Titanic was not shot for 3D, and just as you cannot gild a pig, you cannot make 2D into 3D. [...] There's more to it than that. 3D causes a noticeable loss in the brightness coming from the screen. Some say as much as 20 percent. If you saw an ordinary film dimmed that much, you might complain to the management. Here you're supposed to be grateful you had the opportunity to pay a surcharge for this defacement. If you're alert to it, you'll notice that many shots and sequences in this version are not in 3D at all, but remain in 2D. If you take off your glasses, they'll pop off the screen with dramatically improved brightness. I know why the film is in 3D. It's to justify the extra charge. That's a shabby way to treat a masterpiece.

"Welllll," the skeptic says, "Ebert's never liked 3-D." Fair enough! So — take it away, Mr. Poland:

I was happy that when we got to the theater, it turned out not to be IMAX 3D. Those glasses are ridiculous and I have only had one or two happy experiences with that specific format. (I quite like IMAX and don’t always dislike 3D.) So I didn’t get irritated by having the glasses on as we watched the hours of film roll by.

However... I found myself wanting to take the glasses off repeatedly. And here is why: it’s like watching the movie through a filter. Call it darkness, call it clarity… call it what you like. But for me, especially on Titanic, the slight facial fur and occasional acne under the make-up on Kate Winslet and the small pock marks on Leonardo DiCaprio’s face are a part of the intimacy of the movie. The movie takes such painstaking efforts to get every detail right... I want to see them, including the imperfections. And with those glasses on, I could not. Some might be happy not to see detail... to have the image smoothed out even more. But not me. These people are beautiful. Their imperfections are beautiful.

Anyway, this will make a fortune and quite possibly be your next reason for never going to the movies again, so... yeah. Mark your calendars.

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  • The Cantankerist says:

    Does this mean the script is now 1.5D?

  • Anurag says:

    I never liked 3d but titanic remains a masterpiece

  • dave says:

    So-called 'post-conversion' 3D has nothing whatsoever to do with real 3D movies. However, the terminology is complicated by recently shot films being a combination of 2D, real 3D (sometimes the live action, sometime the SFX) and post-conversion 3D.

    Strangely, and against what most people believe, it is very hard to do top notch CGI in 3D (because of lighting, compositing and post-processing issues- algorithms of great sophistication designed for single image rendering). A 'cynical', quickly shot 'blockbuster' (like Transformers 4) simply has most of its FX work converted to 3D afterwards using the same methods as 'Titanic'.

    The problem with post-conversion 3D is that the best it can offer is an effect like those old 'cardboard-cutout' children's play theatres of old. The 3D is literally created by cutting out elements like the actors, and moving them slightly (left or right) against the background, filling in the holes with the background from previous or future frames (using 'optical flow' methods if the camera pans at all), or by artistically creating data for the missing textures.

    What this method can never do is create two sets of data for things like the actors heads. In real 3D, the left and right camera capture unique images with unique lighting and surface characteristics, data that no post-conversion can recreate. A real 3D head can appear rounded, and the brain is given visual detail allowing an understanding of surface texture. A post-conversion 3D head is wrapped around a synthetic 3D mesh (as if the screen has 'lumps') making it look like something from a very early video game (pre-per-pixel lighting).

    What is most peculiar is that post-conversion 3D is vastly more offensive to the original intent of the movie than post-conversion colour (for black-and-white movies that were shot ordinary- as opposed to those specifically lit for monochrome). However, the industry rejected colourising suitable old films, and yet embraces post-conversion 3D, even though no film (except perhaps old school animated movies) is suitable for this treatment.

    Both Lucas and Cameron make far too few films for their fans' liking, and yet both mega-rich men, able to take any directing/producing choice they wish, have wasted 3+ years of their lives producing these unlovely, flop, flash-in-the-pan gimmicks. Hollywood should be ashamed of how low it has sunk.

    When the 3D craze burns out, will their really be more than 3 movies considered as true 3D masterpieces ('Avatar' and 'The Hobbit 1,2')?

    • S.T. VanAirsdale says:

      When the 3D craze burns out, will their really be more than 3 movies considered as true 3D masterpieces ('Avatar' and 'The Hobbit 1,2')?

      How are we defining "masterpiece" -- by the application of 3-D techniques or the films themselves? Because Cameron, Scorsese, Herzog and even Wenders have all exercised the former to fairly masterful effect.

      If it's the latter, then I'm afraid I can't help you.

    • Patrick Hallstein / McEvoy-Halston says:

      It is true that with Avatar and surely with Hobbit 1 & 2 (the 3D of it actually makes me trepidatious -- I'm not sure I want to let it capture me), there's a sense that the directors have finally found their proper medium. I sense them somewhere within the 3D world, beckoning us to come to know it, to reside within it. You'd think the same with Tranformers, but for some reason I felt like I was brought into a 3D world just to sit fixed and be assaulted by some ass who's become far too entranced with his own bloody toys; haven't seen Herzog or Wenders -- so no comment -- but however much Scorsese entices with what 3D can do to romance a city, there's too much a sense of discretion ... like I'm supposed to admire and not touch anything -- and what thrill, that? Avatar had me with "portrature" into statues and let me cusp, grap, get comfortable and fully know: it SO guffawed and delighted and confused -- you can't expect to enter a 3D world without some confusion as to the nature of the place you'll eventually at the finish leave behind -- was it, as much as where you were, home? -- it by itself may draw me to buy 3D.

    • The Cantankerist says:

      You could consider "Avatar" a breakthrough in 3D; it clearly was. But in what freakin' world is it a masterpiece? Dangerously thin characters, wonky motivations, and in the end still the same age-old, outdated Barnum hokum - served up with a straight face. And it rakes it in, of course. But "masterpiece"? Seriously? Have you seen it?

      And I love that your other two bonafide 3D masterpieces are The Hobbit 1 & 2. Yep. Can't argue with that. There is that small hitch where they have to finish being made, and then we have to see them... oh, but that's all so tedious nowadays! Just give it 10/10 now!

    • Taylor says:

      While the fellow who commented above, Dave, SEEMS to know what's he's talking about, don't give him the clout he's hoping for. As someone who has worked with two of the top conversion companies, trust me that his best-case scenario of cardboard cutouts is far from reality. The tech is there to create plenty of internal volume with characters and the sort. Ultimately, the extent of details, as with all bells and whistles, comes down to budget and time. Even with native 3D, a portion tends to be converted if the calibration of the two cameras wasn't spot on, or if the sequence didn't allow for two cumbersome camera rigs. And yes, this even includes the live-action scenes of avatar.

      Don't pay attention to movie "reviews" by someone who just quotes others and didn't even see it themself. This "article" is a joke.

  • mark says:

    Instead of trying to create a marginal 3D version of this great film, why not spend your time reworking the film and create a directors cut for release? There were a lot of great scenes omitted from the theatrical version. Titanic fans would love to see an extended version!

  • Andrea says:

    Titanic is a masterpiece, no matter what the format. It seems that making the film 3-D has caused much of an uproar because of dim lighting and because of flaws being "smoothed" out, however this fictional love story was based on an actual event and it is being put on the market once again; this will be introduced to people of the new generation and bring light to a movie that has captured all of our hearts. There can be no denying that people will rush to see the movie out of curiosity or out of pure enjoyment, so by trying to claim that making the Titanic 3-D is unnecessary, well what does that make of your claim? Can't you argue that just about everything is unnecessary. The film industry wants to entertain their audiences, make money and become known for their movies. Enough of the backtalk, I know I'll be seeing you in row 2.

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