Don’t See Titanic in 3D

James Cameron and movie execs are seeing dollar signs from the film's rerelease, but there's no added value for moviegoers.

“But they spent almost $20 million on it.” This was a friend’s response to my pronouncement that I would not be seeing the 3D conversion of Titanic (in theaters today). It’s not that I have anything against Titanic itself. (Other than the ridiculous Billy Zane character chasing and shooting at Jack and Rose as the boat sinks, that is.) I saw the original a few times when it was released in 1997. I’ve been known to watch it when it is on TV. What I have a problem with is the latest craze that Titanic 3D represents of turning every “blockbuster” into a RealD, IMAX 3D extravaganza. Or, more specifically, spending millions of dollars to convert 2D films into 3D.

Don’t get me wrong, when 3D is done right—i.e., the movie was filmed in 3D—it can be extraordinary. Who can forget the scene in Avatar when Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) first flies on the banshee? Or in Hugo where the eponymous character runs through the dusty, cloudy station tunnels? In each, the director utilized the third-dimension in the film’s development, enhancing and pulling the viewer into the storytelling.

But for every Avatar, Hugo or Cave of Forgotten Dreams there is Clash of the Titans, Thor and Captain America. Each of the latter was filmed in 2D, but the filmmakers—or, more likely, the studios—decided afterwards to digitally convert it to 3D. Grossly oversimplifying the process: characters and other objects are placed into separate planes. While the images (within the planes) still appear flat, the different levels of the planes approximate distance (like looking into a multi-million dollar shoebox diorama). Essentially, this lengthy and expensive process results in a few scenes were it kinda looks like that thing is sticking out in front of that person.

Add in the excruciatingly uncomfortable 3D glasses (another reason not to see Titanic 3D: having to wear the tortuous plastic glasses on top of my eyeglasses for the 3 hours and 14 minute running time) and the drastically reduced brightness created by the filtering glasses, and you begin to wonder why anyone would willingly pay an extra $5.

I’m not ignoring animated films. Like Titanic and last month’s release of Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace 3D, Disney has been getting into the 3D conversion business: The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast have already been released, Finding Nemo is next. Of course, they do not achieve the success of animated films created with 3D in mind (How to Train Your Dragon). But since animation is already a much “flatter” medium, the end results are far superior to their live-action counterparts.

At the heart of this issue is money. Titanic is the sixth highest domestic-grossing movie of all time (adjusted for inflation). Add in the 100th anniversary of the Titanic sinking on April 15, it’s obvious why James Cameron is spending the time and money to convert an older film into 3D. It’s a studio’s wet dream. And as many moviegoers think all 3D films are the same (no movie advertisements state if a movie was converted post-production), they willingly pay the extra money. But for these filmmakers, other than money, what is to be gained by adding a third-dimension post-production? In the 1980s many were horrified that Ted Turner and others were colorizing old black and white. How is this different?

God help us if smelloscope becomes a trend. I can already see the advertisements for Gone with the Wind 3D where you can actually smell Atlanta burning down.