James Cameron Calls 3-D ‘Titanic’ A ‘New Experience’

But he's also 'not changing a frame' during 3-D conversion process, which he previewed for reporters Tuesday.

In 2009, James Cameron announced to a crowd at San Diego Comic-Con that “Titanic,” the iconic epic and king of the box office, would soon resurface in a theater near you, but this time in 3-D . Two years later, the conversion process is nearly complete and we’re six months away from the April 6 release date.

But on Tuesday (October 11), James Cameron showed off about 20 minutes of newly 3-D-ified scenes to a handful of journalists in New York to give them an idea of what the finished product will look like next year and to explain the process and his reasoning behind the re-release for the 100th anniversary of the boat’s sinking.

For Cameron, the re-release is about giving the audience a chance to relive an event that was more than just going to the movie theater. “I’ve always thought of watching this film in theaters as a social phenomenon, where parents will take their children or teenagers would go with their mom,” Cameron said. “It would maybe be a woman going with a man she wanted to check out to make sure that his emotional plumbing was working before she made a big commitment.”

But the name “Titanic” doesn’t carry the same weight across the age spectrum as it did in 1997, and Cameron said he understands the need to appeal to a new audience. “There are younger kids we’re going to have to sell to who don’t know the movie. There’s going to be a teenage audience who knows the movie only from video. The question is, do they know that just from peer-to-peer socially or is it passed on from watching it with their parents?” Cameron said.

Fans of the movie don’t need to worry about any changes to the film they knew 14 years ago. Cameron explains that the only changes to the movie were the conversion to 3D. “We’re not changing a frame. The ship still sinks. It ends the same way,” Cameron said. Even some of the more dated special effects — “cringers,” as Cameron referred to them — are there exactly as they were in 1997. The director said George Lucas and the ever-changing “Star Wars” trilogy helped him cope with that. “I see that as the example of what I don’t want to do. I don’t mean that as a slam,” Cameron said. “[Lucas] considers his movies a perpetual work in progress. For me, the problem is, once you pull that thread, it all unravels. Where do you stop?’

By the time the new version of the film is released this spring, the 3-D conversion will have taken over a year with work from 300 artists and a cost of $18 million, but Cameron said he is proud of the conversion. “I think the film holds up pretty darn well. In 3-D, it becomes kind of a new experience,” Cameron said. “It’s a much more intimate and involving experience both with the characters and with the physical space.” From the look of the eight scenes shown Tuesday, it looks like “Titanic” could be one of the most successful post-conversions to date, and it might bode well for more potential 3-D conversions for Cameron’s other films. “The question is whether the film would benefit from a re-release and would there be a big enough audience for it. ‘Terminator 2,’ maybe. I think that would be a good place to start,” Cameron suggested.

As we’ve seen with “Avatar,” Cameron knows how to do 3-D well, and the clips shown Tuesday were no exception, especially the early scene of people boarding the ship. The effect does give a good sense of depth without gimmicky distraction. It was clear that care had gone into preserving the feel of “Titanic,” while literally adding a new dimension. Only minutes after the clips began, the experience became more about seeing the film on the big screen again and less about the glasses on your face. That’s the effect James Cameron hopes to achieve with audiences next spring.

“I think the story can’t be ‘It’s “Titanic” in 3-D,’ ” Cameron said. “I think the story should be ‘It’s “Titanic” coming back to the big screen and it’s in 3-D.’ ”

Check out everything we’ve got on “Titanic.”

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