James Cameron’s Titanic is back in cinemas in 3D – but why (and is it worth it)?

James Cameron’s Oscar-winning, blockbusting romantic epic returns in 4K 3D in this special 25th Anniversary re-release. Cat Woods boards the luxury liner for another trip – but does she make it out the other side?

Ill-fated lovers Jack and Rose, an enormous ship, and an equally enormous iceberg… has any historic romance since Titanic made a deep groove in our hearts like James Cameron’s epic 1997 movie?

It’s been 25 years since a suave Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) wooed the lovely, clever Rose (Kate Winslet) aboard the doomed British ship RMS Titanic, and in honour of the advances in technology and the power of nostalgia, Titanic has returned to cinemas in full, glorious 3D.

It’s the ideal medium for a film where every minor detail from the sparkle of Rose’s evening gown, to the lustre of Jack’s slicked hair, the crash of waves and soaring sunsets feels immediate and immersive. It’s a movie that deserves to be seen on the big screen, though it has been available almost unceasingly on cable and streaming services for decades.

Titanic was released with a 3D conversion in 2012 to mixed reviews despite being a box office smash, but the technology demands the right place and time to really land its full impact. The right place is the cinema, and I saw it at IMAX in Melbourne, and the right time is the most commercially-driven romantic period of the year: Valentine’s Day (because who wants their date to be out-romanced by lovers who survive and thrive?)

This film has aged and the second story, set in the present day, is clunky. For those who don’t recall, the film opens with a story of treasure hunters, lead by Brock Lovett, who are seeking diamonds aboard the sunken Titanic, which leads to meeting 101-year-old Rose, who then—in a stunning flashback—recounts the entire Titanic story. In this incredibly long film, this needless plot is tiresome and boring, even if the underwater wreck looks thoroughly realistic and tangible in 3D.

Once Rose’s flashback commences, the scenes set aboard the ship are the strongest, packed with sumptuous, sunlit rooms and glorious, bold-hued costumes, chandeliers and sparkling champagne. There is a sense of spaciousness to the rooms and proximity to the characters, as if we could reach out and brush their skin, that the 3D version enables. It is worth the cost of admission.

That said, there are many scenes that look like cheap, pre-millennial computer renditions of a ship packed with little Lego people. Scenes of the Titanic slicing through the ocean are the weakest element of the film, pulling viewers out of the story to cringe at the discordancy in the realistic quality between the shonky external shots of the ship and the immersive, impressive scenes on the set. A consistent approach to rendering the film in 3D, perhaps even cutting these clunky scenes, would have better served the film and its viewers.

Twenty-five years after release, some of the acting quality jars as much as the poor 3D rendering. Billy Zane as Caledon Hockley, Ruth’s brutish fiancé, is absurdly hammy. He’s seemingly convinced he’s acting in a pantomime rather than a $200 million Hollywood film. Winslet is alternately haughty and restrained, and it’s fair to say she’s become a much more interesting and adventurous actor since Titanic. Still, for the sake of nostalgia, some poor acting and excessive theatrics can be overlooked.

Leonardo DiCaprio is excellent as the boyish, jubilant Jack. Only a couple of years before filming Titanic, he’d starred in the heartbreaking, underrated film The Basketball Diaries. As a spiralling heroin addict, increasingly broke and desperate, he played the real life Jim Carroll with candour and nuance. Playing Jack Dawson must have felt like a walk in the park in comparison.

Kathy Bates as Margaret Brown is wonderful in her funny, snide humour and sharply perceptive ability to see relationships and individuals for their true nature in a world of pompous pretensions.

The theatre audience was a combination of university students, tourists and middle aged couples on the day I went. It was a combination of those who had never seen the film but the appeal of a 3D, 3-hour immersive experience—whatever the film—drew them in alongside those who had seen the film 25 years earlier on the big screen and couldn’t resist visiting it afresh to determine whether it stood up to their recollections.

So, here are the facts that matter. Most of this film is absolutely captivating in 3D, allowing you to escape right into the ship with the characters. Most of the acting is fine, if not great, but the incredible costumes and lavish scenery somewhat compensates for that. The poorly rendered, cringe-inducing 3D scenes of a ship in the ocean are few so cringe and get through them.

The pan flute-enriched nightmare of Celine Dion’s My Heart Will Go On doesn’t get any easier to listen to with time, and in fact, might cause significant teeth-grinding if you’re not a committed Celine Dion fan. As a date movie, you could do worse. If you haven’t seen Titanic, and it hasn’t been on your bucket list, the 3D version is a novelty that you could pretty easily live without.