I never had the privilege of seeing Titanic in theaters during its initial run. Given that I wasn’t yet 13 at the time, my parents—beholden to the MPAA—forbade me from seeing it. They did, however, allow me to rent it the following summer (it was released on two-tape VHS in September of 1998). So the first time I saw the 195-minute epic, I was curled up in my sister’s hunter green papasan chair (she was staying at a friend’s house that night) watching on the 20" TV-VCR combo she had in her bedroom.
It wasn’t until 2012 that I first saw it the way it was meant to be seen, when that pipsqueak James Cameron released a 3D version to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the ship’s sinking. A weird thing to celebrate, but the experience was honestly fucking extraordinary. Transformative, even! The movie that had long been little more than an essential piece of American pop culture I mostly sorta enjoyed had (with the help of some remastered visuals and 3D glasses) suddenly been thrust firmly into my list of favorites.
The version out this week somehow improves on that five-year-old experience, and—via a gimmicky HDR technology known as “Dolby Vision”—is one of the most spectacular things I’ve ever seen or heard on screen. I sound like a lunatic right now (trust me, I’m aware), but the first half hour of this release—from those opening scenes inside the wreckage to the stirring moments of its maiden departure—is so lush and immersive that I gasped at the damn screen more than once.
James Cameron, bless his heart, doesn’t write the most elegant dialogue (the screenplay’s abundance of cliches, jokey scene-enders, and repeated first names will always be its most glaring problem), but the technical audacity on display here never fails to impress when viewed in ideal conditions (like the Dolby Vision-capable auditorium in Times Square’s otherwise horrific AMC Empire 25). Every shot screams, “I WAS MILLIONS OF DOLLARS OVER BUDGET AND PEOPLE EASILY COULD HAVE DIED,” and, apart from the robotic CGI people that often populate its deck, the visual effects have aged tremendously. (The sinking is especially horrific in crisp, high-contrast 3D.) Twenty years later, this three-hour extravaganza can still leave audiences awestruck. Like, fuck, when she finally grabs that whistle at the end?! My heart is still racing and it’s been 14 hours.
So here is my recommendation to all its fans: Titanic: the 20th Anniversary Re-release in Dolby Vision 3D (I guess that’s the official title???) is the best possible thing you could do this weekend, and the best time you will have in theaters all year. Not only is it worth the premium price (never forget that this is like three movies rolled into one), it’s an experience you simply cannot mimic at home or, say, the stairwell of your office when you bring in your copy of the Blu-ray. Here’s to making it count!