'Titanic 3D' a disappointment

IF "TITANIC" was James Cameron's meditation on the limits of technology, his new 3-D conversion underscores the point, to a fault.

The conversion was expensive - at $18 million, it cost more to make than this year's Oscar winner ("The Artist," $15 million). And it was ambitious and exacting in the Cameron tradition - he sent bids out all over the world for the best technology, and asked companies to "audition" for the job by converting the same piece of footage. The winning firm spent a reported 60 weeks working around the clock to bring the new 3-D "Titanic" to theaters ahead of the 100th anniversary of its sinking, April 14.

The result? A disappointment. The new version offers no new moviegoing thrills, and, to my eyes, is actually a less enjoyable visual experience.

The converted "Titanic" has the same bugaboo that handicaps so many new 3-D productions/conversions - when you don those glasses, the lenses invariably dull the colors that you see on screen. And "Titanic" is a very soft-palette movie - a lot of muted grays and blues, with (in some early scenes) a mellow sepia haze often used to suggest a time long ago.

When he made his 3-D extravaganza "Avatar," Cameron was shrewd to design the movie in brilliant, saturated colors that could fight through the dampening filter of the 3-D glasses.

The hues of "Titanic," by comparison, do not lend themselves to 3-D. I spent an hour flipping the glasses up and down, comparing the images, and with the glasses on, what you see on screen is murkier. Everything loses a little definition, a little life.

I've talked to several directors who've made movies in 3-D, and there is a consensus among them - to do it right, you have to have conceived the entire project in 3-D, soup to nuts. The shots, the angles, the colors. Conversions like "Titanic" are usually at a distinct disadvantage.

On the other hand, the new 3-D "Titanic" does remind us that Cameron knows how to fill a screen. The movie (like "Avatar") loses a great deal on television, even on home theater systems. Cameron likes working on an epic scale that can best be appreciated in theaters, where his grand themes and "top of the world" gestures play better. The central love story involving steerage passenger Leonardo DiCaprio and rich girl Kate Winslet has lost none of its luster - metaphorically speaking. 

Titanic 3D

Directed by James Cameron. With Kate Winslet, Gloria Stuart, Bernard Hill, Kathy Bates, Leonardo DiCaprio, David Warner, Jonathan Hyde, Bill Paxton, Frances Fisher, Billy Zane. Distributed by Paramount Pictures.

Running time: 3 hours, 14 minutes.

Parent's guide: PG-13 (for disaster related peril and violence, nudity, sensuality and brief language).