Titanic sits at second place on the list of highest grossing films of all time. Producer Jon Landau (who also produced the number 1 film on the list, Avatar) tells Time Out why he and James Cameron are resurrecting the film in 3D.
Jon, how easy was it to convert Titanic to 3D, and why did you decide to do it? It’s one of those movies that needs to be seen on the big screen. It took over 60 weeks, working with over 300 artists. Jim [Cameron] spent hours reviewing material on a frame-by-frame basis. We’d literally stop on a frame: ‘this object’s too close, this object’s too far, that object doesn’t have enough depth’, to really make it work.
Cameron has said that there was some ‘tidying up’ from the original film. What did he mean by that? We took our original film negative and created a 4K digital master. We cleaned up some of the film grain then worked from that to create the new 3D. On film at 35mm you would lose pixels, so it just makes everything a little bit crisper, a little bit sharper.
Back in 1997, Titanic was the most expensive film ever made [US$200 million], and a further $18 million has now been spent to convert it. Could it have cost less? We could not have done it any more cost-effectively. If you want depth, it takes time and it takes money. Was it worth it? Yes! Regardless of the box office, I think what we have illustrated, and what people will see, is how 3D can enhance a dramatic movie, not just an action/science-fiction movie.
How did you use the effects to enhance the film? People ask: “Did you change things? Have you added stuff? Have you improved visual effects?” There was an initial temptation to do that, but we made a decision not to. Interestingly enough, in an action sequence, 3D is less important, because you’re not spending time on the moment. But when the ship is sailing; when you’re in a room with two people; when you’re at the dining table… you become a participant in the scene.
What’s it like working with Cameron? Jim pushes you to go beyond where you think you’re capable of going. Jim makes each one of us better at what we do. Jim doesn’t want ‘Yes’ men. Jim wants people who have opinions.
Finally, if you could convert any film from the history of cinema, what would it be? Boy! I think I would have to limit it to filmmakers who are still alive; I don’t think you would ever want to convert a movie without having that filmmaker alive. If Francis Ford Coppola wanted to covert Apocalypse Now, I’d be there!
And that's not all! Check out the Remembering Titanic: 100 Years exhibition currently running at the Maritime Museum, and read our interview with the grandson of Harold G. Lowe, "Hero of the Titanic".