James Cameron: ‘Titanic’ has ‘surpassed the test of time’
James Cameron talks about the lasting legacy of the blockbuster he created for the “Titanic” rerun.
It’s now a little over 25 years since “Titanic” started in the cinemas – and became a worldwide success. On February 9th, the film with the highest sales in cinema history for a long time will be re-released in German cinemas.
In an interview with the news agency spot on news, the director and Oscar winner reveals JamesCameron (68), why audiences are so captivated by Rose and Jack’s love story, what technical tricks he used to sink the Titanic and why today’s viewers should definitely see his work in the cinema.
“Titanic” was a huge hit in the late 1990s and almost universally loved. Why should viewers now go to the cinemas to see the film?
James Cameron: I think nostalgia is a big factor. Curiosity may also be a factor for younger audiences who haven’t seen the film in theaters but have heard incessantly about it from their parents or older siblings and friends. There’s this kind of cultural understanding that it’s the kind of film that has to be seen in the cinema. I think that’s exactly what people are looking for. Through all the different streaming services this huge flood of new material is rushing over us – there’s so much media out there. But out of all this, there are only a few things that have to be seen in the cinema.
“Titanic” is just that: a safe bet, a guaranteed experience. If people have been saying that for 25 years, it must be true – right? So there are many reasons to go to the cinema.
Did you make any technical changes to the film for the re-release, such as updating the special effects?
Cameron: “Titanic” received the biggest technical update for the 2012 re-release. Back then, we spent $18 million to convert to 3D. I would say this is easily the best 3D conversion ever attempted. My goal at the time was to make the film indistinguishable from one photographed in 3D. I think we’ve come very close to that. We also did a 4K upgrade at the time.
This time we looked at some new formats and remixed “Titanic” for Atmos sound. This makes the film much more spatially immersive. We also increased the frame rate very judiciously, as there were a few moments that seemed a little shaky in 3D. We’ve fixed that. So basically the film has just been brought up to the technical level that is available today.
However, no new material has been added, there are no differences in the editing, no changes to the visual effects, because frankly it wasn’t necessary. “Titanic” has stood the test of time. I’m very proud of my special effects team from back then, and I wouldn’t offend them by making changes now. You did a damn good job. So we’re trying to keep up with the new formats and offer the best show possible, but we haven’t changed anything from the original version of the film.
Can you explain why audiences are so emotionally involved in Rose and Jack’s love story?
Cameron: Already in some ancient Greek love stories or in William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet”. Love and tragedy go hand in hand. As intelligent beings, burdened with the burden of our intellect, we know we are going to die. We will all die. When we now feel a really deep love for other people – whether it is in the family, marriage or for our children – there will ultimately come that moment where we are separated. There is no lasting love without separation.
So for me, Titanic is about love and death, celebrating love and the lasting effect it can have on a person. The relationship with Jack has a positive effect on Rose. He lures her out of her cocoon and she emerges as a butterfly. One of the big emotional moments of the film is seeing the full life she has had as a result of her time with him. So he lives on in her. I think people all over the world, in every culture, religion or language, are drawn to it. These are the things that all people face.
Was “Titanic” your last film where you worked with a mixture of models of the ship – ie practical effects – and computer-generated images?
Cameron: Yes. Many of the big crowd scenes on “Titanic” came from the computer and were generated using CG. But every time you see the ship, it was a model. We had a 43-foot model of the entire ship, and then even larger replicas of sections where the Titanic broke up. But yes, it was the last time for me with models.
However, we recently produced a special for National Geographic called Titanic: 25 Years Later with James Cameron. In it, we used physical models to study the characteristics and physics of the ship’s breakup and sinking. We wanted to confirm or falsify what is shown in the film. But that was more of a forensic experiment. We couldn’t model the ship’s break-up very precisely on the computer. That’s why we used physical models. I no longer use physical models at all in my filmmaking. We can do it so much better with computers.
At some point in the next few days or weeks, your own new film “Avatar: The Way of Water” may replace “Titanic” as the third highest-grossing film in cinema history to date. Does that make you sad?
Cameron: It’s funny. It’s a good problem, you know (laughs). It could end in many different ways: “Avatar 2” could overtake “Titanic”, and then “Titanic” could overtake “Avatar 2” again. Or “Avatar 2” runs out of air exactly when the limit of “Titanic” is reached. Or the film easily passes “Titanic”. Who knows? That all depends on how well “Titanic” does on the market 25 years later.
But I see that as a positive problem, because people are interested enough in one of my films to bring it back to the cinemas 25 years later. When we re-released the film in 3D ten years ago, it made a ton of money. So we proved that there is an audience out there – whether it’s a nostalgic audience or a younger, more curious audience – who haven’t seen the film in theaters and jumped at the chance. But I can’t tell you how it will turn out.