Cameron had thought about a 3-D "Titanic" for the past decade and eventually settled on April's centennial of the 1912 shipwreck as the ideal time to re-release the film. It opens April 4, in advance of the April 14 anniversary.
In 2005, Cameron already was showing 3-D footage of the film to theater owners at a convention, where he and "Star Wars" creator George Lucas were among filmmakers pitching the notion of converting older movies.
"'Titanic's' a no-brainer," Cameron said. "It's a timeless film, it's visually sumptuous, it was shot in a way that's very conducive to 3-D. I've always been trying to do 3-D in a way, by moving the camera, by shooting with shorter lenses so you get deeper focus and you're more aware of the background. All these ways that you enhance it, even when you're shooting in 2-D. So the 3-D conversion actually brought all that out."
Hollywood became sold on the idea once millions of fans started shelling out a few extra dollars to see new blockbusters in 3-D. So far, a handful of older films have come out in digital 3-D versions, among them "The Lion King," which pulled in $94.2 million to raise its lifetime domestic haul to $423.2 million and Lucas' "Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace," which added $43.1 million to lift its total to $474.2 million.
"Titanic" never played or barely showed in some big markets such as Russia and China, and fans now in their teens have only had a chance to see it on small screens, Cameron said. That gives it a good prospect to narrow some of the billion-dollar gap between its worldwide gross and that of "Avatar."
"It only needs to make, worldwide, $160 million to break the $2 billion mark, of which there would only be two films in that club at that point. Mine and mine," Cameron said, laughing. (In fairness to older flicks, such hits as "Gone with the Wind," ''The Sound of Music" and "Star Wars" would have made more money than "Avatar" or "Titanic," adjusted for inflation.)
"The goal here is not about making money with 'Titanic.' The goal is to put the film back into cinemas so that people that either loved it back then and haven't had a chance to see it in a movie theater since can go see it. Or people who only know it from video can see it for the first time on a theater screen. I don't make movies for iPhones or tablets. I like to think that there's still a sanctity in the cinema experience."
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