Fabled maritime disaster drops anchor this month in 3-D film

BY MILAN PAURICH | SPECIAL TO THE METRO MONTHLY

Are you ready to go back to “Titanic?”

That’s the burning question James Cameron and Paramount Pictures executives are asking themselves these days. A spiffed-up, 3-D retro-fitted version of Cameron’s 1997 modern classic hits theaters April 4 in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the actual Titanic’s launch, and the jury is still out on whether audiences are willing to pay first-run admission prices for a movie they can rent (or buy) on DVD or Blu-Ray. Even with newfangled 3-D bells-and-whistles, nobody’s quite sure how “Titanic” will do in its first official theatrical re-release.

Disney’s “The Lion King,” another ‘90s blockbuster, did gangbusters in its 3-D return to theaters last fall. But more recently, “Beauty and the Beast”– another, even earlier Disney animated hit – and George Lucas’ “The Phantom Menace” both underperformed, 3-D or not. The fact that “Titanic” was a seemingly ubiquitous presence on HBO this winter only complicates matters further. Did all that cable exposure whet fans’ appetites to re-experience the film on the big screen (and, for the first time, in 3-D)? Or has their hunger for all things “Titanic” already been satiated?

Of course, “Titanic” was hardly a slam-dunk 15 years ago either. In fact, thanks to budget overruns and missing its original release date, snarky Hollywood wags had labeled it another “Heaven’s Gate,” “Ishtar” and “Howard the Duck” long before it hit theaters. A co-production between Paramount and Twentieth Century Fox (Paramount handled domestic distribution rights; Fox, international), some predicted that it might capsize not just one studio, but two. Most filmgoers have long since forgotten that Cameron’s epic, star-crossed romance was supposed to premiere over the Fourth of July holiday weekend, and not at Christmas when it ultimately surfaced.

Yet if there’s one thing Hollywood has learned in the intervening decade-and-a-half, it’s that you should never, ever bet against James Cameron. Having earned his self-annointed “King of the World” status by helming the top-grossing film of all time, Cameron seemed content to rest on his laurels – and maybe bask in the eleven Oscars “Titanic” won during its sweep of that year’s Academy Awards. Whether it was performance anxiety (how do you follow up the biggest movie of all time?) or mere inertia, Cameron didn’t seem terribly eager to jump back into the director’s chair. And when he did (2009’s sci-fi phenom “Avatar”), it would prove to be the film that finally usurped “Titanic” as the No. 1 world-wide box-office champion. Even losing the Oscar to ex-wife Kathryn Bigelow’s “The Hurt Locker” couldn’t diminish his now-and-seemingly-forever “King of Tinseltown” status.

During a recent screening of the 3-D “Titanic,” I was struck by how even the movie’s original flaws (Cameron’s famously tin-ear dialogue; an excess of Irish blarney in the steerage scenes; some, er, unsubtle supporting performances) seemed positively inconsequential. It’s probably the same way “Gone With the Wind” fans who first experienced the David O. Selznick megillah during its initial 1939 release felt upon revisiting it years/decades later. And after all, wasn’t “Titanic” the logical successor to “GWTW”– artistically, commercially and in the hearts of any/everyone who loves it–anyway?

Another striking thing about the film is how prescient Cameron proved to be in casting the central roles of Jack and Rose. In 1997, Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet were merely “promising” young actors. Neither was anyone’s definition of a movie star. (If Cameron had wanted to play it safe, he would have cast Julia Roberts and Tom Cruise.) Today, of course, DiCaprio and Winslet are not only bonafide stars, but widely acknowledged as the leading male and female screen actors of their generation. (Very smart call, Mr. Cameron.)

As proof that “Titanic” still has the power to work its formidable magic, I actually stuck around for the lengthy credit sequence just to hear Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” one last time. What had once seemed like the kitschy answer to a trivia question now sounded like a perennial, “The Way We Were”-style torch song/ballad.

P.S.: The 3-D wasn’t bad either.

© 2012 The Metro Monthly. All rights reserved.

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