NEW YORK _ George Lucas has tweaked “Star Wars” on its various rereleases, including adding a scene of Han Solo chatting up Jabba the Hut. Steven Spielberg removed guns from the federal agents chasing the kids in the 2002 rerelease of “E.T.”
James Cameron, however, is leaving his 1997 Oscar-winning best picture alone when the 3-D rerelease of “Titanic” sets sail Wednesday.
“There was an instant” when Cameron might have considered tweaking “Titanic,” concedes its producer Jon Landau, in a telephone interview. “But very early on we shut the door on that, because we wanted people to experience ‘Titanic’ the way it was seen and not go and play a ‘Where’s Waldo?’ game. Whatever quote ‘imperfections’ were there did not hurt the box office.” And anyway, he figures, “If I’m going to go watch ‘Star Wars,’ I’m going to watch the original ‘Star Wars.'”
Yet while Cameron didn’t change a frame, Landau says, the film’s writer, director and co-editor brought his trademark exactitude to the conversion from 2-D to 3-D _ an after-the-fact process that with some movies has produced results that look about as natural as colorized black-and-white.
“We tested about 15 facilities with one minute of film from five or six scenes, to see if we were comfortable creatively with what they could do,” Landau says. They chose a company called Stereo D, “and we embarked on a 60-week process to convert the film. We spent over $18 million to convert it.”
“I know this isn’t just a transfer,” says Bill Paxton, who plays salvage diver Brock Lovett in “Titanic.” “Jim being Jim, he has got to go in there and make it right,” he says of the technophile director, who has made pioneering strides in the use of morphing and other now-common cinematic tools.
Even without the story itself being tweaked, Frances Fisher, who plays the mother of Kate Winslet’s character, Rose, says the film may resonate differently in 2012 simply because of society’s changes in 15 years. Growing economic divides hark back to the first-class and steerage distinctions of “Titanic” and of the Gilded Age in general.
“What’s happening today, with all the established things that we took for granted breaking down _ the Wall Street collapse, the bailouts and a lot of people suffering _ I feel ‘Titanic’ shines a light on society on many levels,” Fisher says, speaking from Baton Rouge, La., where she’s filming the Stephenie Meyer adaptation “The Host.”
And as for how she thinks the movie’s 3-D will look, she offers an anecdote from the set.
“In the scene by the clock where Kate comes down the stairway and Leo is pretending to be a first-class passenger in his tuxedo and they’re about to go to dinner, behind Leo were these black-and-white squares. The shot was all set up and suddenly Jim goes, ‘Stop! Stop! There’s a smudge on one of the white squares behind Leo’s head!’ And somebody said, ‘Well, nobody’s going to be looking at that.’ And he goes, ‘I don’t want people to look at Leo in his close-up and see a smudge behind him,’ even though it’s out of focus.
“So everybody goes scurrying for a solvent to clean it up,” Fisher says. “Who comes back with it first? Jim. He comes with a bucket and a rag and he’s just wiping up the thing. No big deal, he’s just doing it. And I walked over to him and said, ‘Jim, you’ve got crew people to do that.’ He goes, ‘I’ve done every job on a movie set except act _ that’s the one thing I don’t know how to do. But I know how to do every other job here! OK, we’re done, let’s go!””
If he’s like that with a smudge, chances are “Titanic 3D” will look shipshape.