Jon Landau Talks Titanic 3D & Avatar

The producer reveals Leonardo DiCaprio’s verdict on the conversion.

Yesterday DIY had the pleasure of producer Jon Landau’s company as he previewed the forthcoming 3D re-release of Titanic.

James Cameron’s epic disaster movie was the highest-grossing film of all time - until his very own Avatar took the top spot 12 years later. I will admit to being a cynical youth when Titanic first opened in cinemas, scoffing at the romance between Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. However, as the years passed, I found it harder to switch over the television when it aired, to the point I would unashamedly wallow in tears. Indeed, the odd tear had to be wiped away when Landau appeared in front of us as the lights went up.

Having seen the preview footage on a crappy temporary screen at last year’s Empire Big Screen, to see it in all its glory at Fox’s London HQ was wonderful. It’s the most perfect 3D conversion - Cameron has set the standard once more. We experienced eight key scenes - from the moment Rose sees the Titanic for the first time, to her rescue of the handcuffed Jack, to the sinking itself. Twenty emotional minutes were enough to realise how exquisite and rich the film looked. The depth and clarity is stunning, and will be essential viewing when it hits cinemas again on 6th April.

The jolly and friendly Landau, the producer behind this and Avatar, then explained how painstaking the work was, dropped some information on Avatar 2, and revealed DiCaprio’s reaction to the conversion.

On starting the long process of converting:
We asked the company: ‘what are the most difficult shots?’ and starting with that. It’s not always what you think will be the most difficult shots - the dining room was difficult because of all the detail, dimensionalising every glass on the table. I believe the scenes where the 3D is most compelling are the dramatic scenes. In the action scenes you don’t need that. The scene where Rose’s mother tightens the corset - that in 3D puts you in that room with them, and plays more binding than in 2D.

On whether the stars themselves have seen it yet:
Leo has seen it, Kate will be seeing it shortly. Leo, we screened it for him in Sydney, where he’s filming The Great Gatsby. What’s nice is that Leo looked great, because he’s playing that romantic lead again. Once he got over the shock of how young he looked - ‘I don’t look like that anymore!’ you heard him audibly say - he just got wrapped up. It was as if he was seeing the movie for the first time.

On revisiting the production:
It was a walk down memory lane. As Jim and I go through this, we go through every shot on a frame-by-frame basis, and we tell each other stories of the day we shot it as if it were yesterday. All movies have their good and bad in the process - on Titanic all the bad was upfront and all the good was in the backend. We’re re-experiencing the bad part having experienced the good part.

On his relationship with Cameron over the years:
The difference between Jim of True Lies and Jim of today is that Jim is a family man today. He has three kids, and that’s a great outlet for him away from the set and the chaos of a production. I kid Jim that I’ve been with him longer than any of his wives! So our relationship has evolved and stayed strong. Jim forces everyone around him to seek to learn things and find additional knowledge.

On whether he’d like to see other classics converted:
One of the keys to hopefully the success of what we’ve been doing is that the filmmaker has been involved in the process. The conversion to 3D is not a technical process - technology’s involved, but it’s an artistic process. If Steven Spielberg was to say he wanted to do E.T., or if Coppola wanted to do The Godfather. It’s important that the director is involved. It’s a creative choice.

On those who say it’s a purely financial decision to convert:
What’s wrong with filling cinemas? What’s wrong with selling popcorn and employing all the people who work in theatres? We’re being upfront about what we’re doing, but we’re also the ones spending $18 million to convert this and market the movie like it’s a big release. We’re taking the risk. We’re doing it because there’s a generation of movie goers who have never seen Titanic in the big screen - that’s why we’re doing it. My son, who was eight when he handed Prince Charles the programme at the Royal Premiere, we did a 2D screening the other year. He came out and said ‘Dad! That’s a good movie!’ He didn’t remember it that way. There might be people who are 15 years old who were conceived the night their parents saw the movie! That would be an interesting statistic to figure out!

On other films that go through post-conversion:
I get frustrated when people make bad movies. I welcome the idea of people tackling it as a challenge. When a movie has come out and they’ve shot it concurrently, they’ll maybe spend six weeks converting it. We’re spending 60 weeks. One of the first [post-conversion] movies that was released, the director never saw the movie in 3D until the premiere. We’re releasing in 2D as well, and it will be the best version - we did a 4k master of the film.

On whether they made any other tweaks to the film:
No, we did not. The temptation is there, but this is representing the same movie. We didn’t want the ‘Where’s Waldo’ effect. We didn’t people watching the movie saying, ‘Oh, they’ve changed four things’ and going ‘Is it this, is it that?’ This is just about experiencing the film. We handcuffed our hands and said we’re just going to present the movie the way it was.

On the status of Avatar 2:
The next thing we’ll be bring back is Avatar 2 and 3. We’re excitedly working on that as we speak, and that’s four or so years out. [Jon later clarified: It’s in that window, 2014/15]. We have a lot of the same team working with us, and we’re working on great themes. One of the things we learned on Avatar, that helped on Titanic, was that when you have a fast-cut action sequence, it’s not about 3D. So you can go with less 3D in those shots. If you’re watching the action, you’re not taking in the 3D. If you’re looking at a shot of the Grand Canyon, that’s about 3D. Because you can control 3D, and it’s knowing when to push it and pull in back.

On what’s next, technology-wise:
We’re trying to push the industry towards higher frame rates. We watch movies at 24 frames per second - that was a rate that was determined when sound was invented. It’s antiquated. Television is at a higher frame rate. We’re trying to push exhibition for 48 or even 60 frames per second. We’ve been doing demo tests. I think The Hobbit will be the first movie that utilises it.

On potential Titanic over-saturation due to ITV’s miniseries in April:
Going back 15 years, NBC did a miniseries with George C. Scott called Titanic. It did not impact us one way or the other. I think it’s a good thing. Any time someone’s out there talking about their show, they’re talking about the ship, they’re saying the name of our movie!

On the impact of Titanic:
The vindication was not the box office success - it was going to watch it with an audience. They are the true art. When I go to a premiere I watch the audience. Coming here, and doing our Royal Premiere here in London… that’s what’s rewarding. We are all looking for true love in our lives, and we’re all forced to face death. Rose is at the end of the story in the frigid waters of the Atlantic losing the love of her life. But the movie goes on to show that she lived a full and rewarding life. It suggests that no matter what the situation is outside of the theatre, if Rose can go on there’s hope for me.