Some thoughts on how Titanic helped me get acquainted with the Internet, and some words on the new 3D release
Collide With Destiny
I still remember that slogan plastered on a Titanic cardboard standee, popcorn bags, and cups in the concession stand of the (now-closed) Grove 9 in San Diego, CA. That was the film’s original slogan, when it was supposed to be released on July 2, 1997.
1997 was an interesting year for film, and James Cameron’s Titanic soon began to creep into the news more and more as numerous ‘problems’ began to befall the film. Editing and visual effects issues caused the film to fall behind schedule, nixing its planned Summer release date. The budget ballooned to $200 million, and its re-scheduled December 19, 1997 release date made it the whipping boy for the news media. After all, who was going to see a love story at Christmas time, that took place aboard a ship that everyone knows is going to sink?
But, shortly after the beginning of 1998, many of those same persons were eating crow, when Cameron’s film took off in ways that noone could have possibly imagined. It took hold of the whole world, breaking box-office records everywhere, and wracking up awards and accolades left and right.
Though like most phenomenons, it soon grew tiresome. Pretty soon, we were all tired of Celine Dion’s voice in our radios, and quotes from the film that were newly-discovered soon turned into humorous catchphrases. Entertainment Weekly released a flash-based game showing Steven Spielberg firing cannonballs at the Titanic cast (his film Amistad came out that same fall, and quickly sank from view), and word was that Leslie Nielsen would be starring in a parody film called Titanic Too: It Missed the Iceberg (the film never surfaced on screens).
I saw the film 6 times in theaters during its run, and was thoroughly fascinated by the visual effects, and the recreation of the ship. I had first been mesmerized when my childhood friend Aaron Block showed me a book he had received about Robert Ballard’s discovery of the wreck of the Titanic in 1986. It was fascinating to go through the book, and see what had once been a regal and brand-new ship, now torn in two and decomposing deep in the Atlantic, but noone had really brought the ship to life in a way that made it seem real, until Cameron’s film.
How Titanic helped me discover the communal internet, and its potential
Up until the fall of 1997, the internet was still a very strange entity. People had said it was the place to find information, and I’d often find myself at the Public Library, using the Netscape Navigator, and hanging up/redialing into the 56k modem only to hear that voice say: “Wel-come…you’ve got mail.”
As for Titanic, I hadn’t given it a second thought since seeing the only information I was getting about it came from Entertainment Weekly, who kept releasing information as if they were egging the film on to die an early death. However, they did report of one person who did have faith in the film: Tim Doyle. A fan of Cameron’s work, Tim was eagerly anticipating this film, despite a lot of the media backlash. He was so enthused, that he started a fansite for his enthusiasm, dubbed Countdown to Titanic.
With a clock ticking down the time, Tim’s page became a one-stop portal for information regarding the release. I soon found myself checking out the site daily on my lunch breaks in high school. I had visited many other pages on a whim, but Tim’s was the first that I really gravitated towards, and I was enthralled by the layout work (at the time, I was just discovering the graphics power of Adobe Photoshop). I still remember going to the library the Monday after the film came out, and the main graphic had been changed to a portal showing the ship about to leave Southampton, with ‘C2T’ photoshopped on the side of the hull, and the proclamation, “Titanic Has Arrived!”
Pretty soon, a community began to grow around the C2T site. We were using the site’s messageboards, and meeting at the chatroom that became known as “The Clock” (a reference to the clock at the foot of the ship’s Grand Staircase). When we got the internet at my house, many a late night was spent chatting for hours at “The Clock,” and many of us were in there as the television rattled off the award show wins over the early months of 1998. But we weren’t all tethered to the site, and some of us then moved over to the messenger program ICQ, when we weren’t able to all get to “The Clock” on time.
Eventually, Tim would parlay Countdown to Titanic into something even grander. After starting a line outside Mann’s Chinese Theater in 1999 for eventual release of The Phantom Menace, Countdown to Titanic was re-imagined (with the help of Lincoln Gasking) as Countingdown.com, a site that would have separate pages for many new films, and give fans of those films a place of their own to count down to their anticipated releases (almost as a tribute, the Countdown To Titanic section was embedded, with the clock now counting off into infinity). I eventually crossed paths with Tim and Lincoln in the summer of 2002 online, when I noticed there was a Countdown to Spirited Away page, but next to nothing about the film. They allowed me on as a page editor for that section of the site, and I attempted to do pretty much what Tim had done with Titanic in the fall of 1997: put my fandom up online and alert people to what would be a great cinematic experience.
Sadly, in the last few years, Countingdown.com has sank beneath the surface of the internet. To this day, I often wonder about many of the people I encountered on the original Countdown to Titanic site (I did a watercolor portrait for one girl I met on there). Wherever they’ve gone, I wonder if they also may have a special place for Countdown to Titanic somewhere in their memory.
The Re-Release (in 3-D)
Over the years, many wondered if Cameron would re-release Titanic to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the ship’s doomed maiden voyage. We soon received a yes, and like any major studio re-release (these days), it was to be reformatted into 3-D.
When it was announced that there would be a sneak preview screening on April 3rd, I decided to attend. Why? The truth is, I knew that if I saw the film over the weekend, I was sure to get a bunch of idiots laughing at inopportune moments, kids talking/texting on their cellphones, and plenty of other people just looking to blow $9 on a weekend matinee. Normally, the people who really want to see the film will come out for the very first showing.
The crowd I was with (though we didn’t pack the house full), was a crowd that took me back to those that I remembered from 1997/early 1998. They laughed at the right moments, murmured worriedly when Spicer Lovejoy (David Warner) framed Jack, and some even winced in pain when the one guy smacked into the propeller. However, if the audience was just what I wanted, the 3-D image made the experience less than stellar.
Now, it’s not like I saw bad 3-D conversion like some claimed with Clash of the Titans, or pitch-black 3-D night scenes like some claimed with Pirates of the Caribbean 4. The 3-D was decent enough, but what killed the experience, was when I began to question the whiteness of the Titanic’s walls and paint.During the scene where Jack and Rose stroll along the First Class deck, I decided to do a little test. Here’s how the brightness of the scene looked with my 3D glasses on:
And, here’s how it looked when I pulled off my 3D glasses:
I was surprised just how bright the image really was! Putting the glasses back on, made me feel like I had wandered into the theater on a hot summer day, and forgotten to take off my sunglasses. I know that a lot of people say that theaters should be sure that the brightness settings on the projectors should be turned up to compensate for the glasses, but I really don’t think that does much. Having been a projectionist myself once, the low-light look of the 3D scenes soon got a little distracting, and for a good portion of the film, I found myself watching certain parts with the glasses off. I did wonder if the 3D dims the bright whites of a film like this so much, one has to wonder what it did to the candy-colored Truffula Trees in The Lorax.
It is sad that 3-D is the only option to see Titanic, as I would have preferred to see it digitally projected without the gimmick of 3-D. In truth, James Cameron’s films are those that are made to be seen on a big-screen. I still recall when the (now-closed) Sony Store on Michigan Ave had numerous flat-screen TV’s for sale, and was running Titanic on all of them. Even in sizes from 40-65 inches, the ship just didn’t look that impressive. Titanic truly is a film that was made for the theater. To hear the groans of the ship coming from the speakers, taking in the helicopter-like shots that fly all over the ship’s exterior. I can’t highly recommend the 3-D release as a must-see, but if you are willing to go for the experience, it is something to see (though I just hope your audiences aren’t too annoying).
Seeing it return to the screen reminded me of another film that was too big to be contained on a TV screen, and that was Star Wars. It still was amazing to take in those images I had scene on my family’s living room TV, and then see them in projected on a screen in a room of with over 500 people.
To this day, I still can’t buy the theories that teenage girls were the main reason behind the success of Titanic (Twilight yes, Titanic no). It’s not just a chick-flick, even though Cameron did pitch the concept to Twentieth Century Fox as “Romeo and Juliet on the Titanic.” It plays out far better than what constitutes romance movies these days. Of course, one thing success will do is breed imitators, and one that I remember well was 2001’s Pearl Harbor, another doomed romance amid a major tragedy.
I still recall seeing making-of footage where some of the crew were joking that they were going to do what Titanic did, and beat the film’s record. Well, once Pearl Harbor came out, I saw it once, and swore off not falling for another film-trap by Michael Bay (that was, until he got ahold of Transformers, so I ended up going cold-turkey for only 6 years). Bay simply proved that he could do cool war and explosion scenes (all anyone would talk about was the 45 minute attack on the harbor), but the emotions of the film never stuck.
That was where Cameron succeeded with Titanic in my eyes. Though Jack and Rose are fictional characters, they take us all over the ship. We get to know enough about the people aboard, so that when the tragedy occurs, you actually feel something for the 2,200 people aboard the ship. Maybe that’s why I cannot seem to dismiss Cameron’s film amid the internet rabble, and the many who warble like Celine Dion whenever they hear My Heart Will Go On.