The 3D adds nothing, but a big screen & crowd do.
Titanic is just one of the very few, isn't it?
Of course, since its release, there have been films which ended up costing more. A film has grossed more at the box-office. Multiple blockbuster epics have been critical and commercial successes. Its production design and special effects have been surpassed too. But as a cultural landmark, as a behemoth and as a conversation starter, very few films can claim to be Titanic's equal, leave aside its superior.
Titanic, hence, becomes a film that is extremely ideal for re-releases. I have little-to-no memory of my first theatrical viewing and I know quite a few people who have never seen it in theaters (not out of choice but out of circumstance). The appeal of watching it on the big screen (finally) and with a crowd isn't insignificant. Even for people who have seen it in theaters, watching it upon a re-release becomes a way to "stack yourself up in comparison to where you were in life the last time you saw it," as a fellow critic at my screening said.
And it's also an extremely ideal test for the effectiveness of post-conversions. It's a blockbuster epic with giant sets, lavish costumes and spectacular action sequences. It wasn't shot with shakeycam (thankfully) and is hence not completely ill-suited to 3D. Moreover, it's a film already known for how immersed the audience was while watching it. And with James Cameron fastidiously overlooking the process with ample time, money and human resources, it's safe to assume that this is about as "good" as conversions will ever get. Simply put, if the extra dimension doesn't add a new life to this movie, then is there really much hope for The Lord of the Rings trilogy and other films rumored to get 3D rereleases?
This is usually the part of the review where I write the synopsis of the film in question. Never has that felt more unnecessary than now. Is there anyone who doesn't know the plot by now? Wasn't the great joke about the film that everyone buying a ticket knew how it was going to end? I'm going to skip summarizing the plot then.
What really struck me about Titanic this time is how well it plays an audience (and with an audience). I noticed people cheering, giggling, gasping and there was applause when it ended (extremely rare at such screenings). More than anything else, I noticed how rapt with attention so many people were. A lot of these people had seen it already, maybe multiple times. James Cameron is no great writer by any stretch. But he knows which buttons to push and as grating as that might seem to some, it is highly satisfying for most. His unwavering lack of subtlety and proclivity to paint with broad strokes are a huge part of why his films play so well throughout the world. Even in Titanic, you have the one-note characters, the cartoonish depiction of the divide between classes, the convenient switching around of dominance from Rose to Jack to Rose to Jack in the climax and the rampant calling out of each other's name by Jack and Rose (no real person talks like that). He also delights in pointing out ironies in such on-the-nose fashion it's incredible (such as: the number of times someone calls the ship "unsinkable." The Picasso name-drop. And more.)
But it works. I was engaged by the drama taking place on the ship. I was rooting for the protagonists to get together and overcome all obstacles. Heck, I burst out laughing at one simple reaction shot midway through the film (it's the crew's reaction after hearing Rose narrate the painting incident). Also, if nothing else, Cameron's skill in staging action is exemplary. There are few directors today (Peter Jackson for sure) who can direct a large-scale action sequence as brilliantly as he can. There are some bits in the climax which are simply astounding and awe-inducing. And there's that guy who dies after hitting the propeller on the way down. That's my favorite part of the film.
Now, about the 3D conversion. It's technically immaculate. Many shots have noticeable depth to them now and it's fun to see people milling about on deck. The lighting is almost flawless. Yes, there is some dimness but it is never too much, even in the scenes set in the water at night. However, I'll be damned if it adds anything to the film. I don't recall anything in the film which was "enhanced" by the third dimension. It's an exercise in achieving technical perfection without any artistic significance. The fact that all these scenes were shot without 3D in mind does play a part, especially when so many films today shot with 3D in mind rarely benefit from it.
For this re-release, Titanic has been remastered from the original print at 4K resolution and the result is beautiful. It looks positively pristine. The experience of the big screen with an equally enthusiastic audience is great and adds to the film, something the 3D does not. Try and seek out a 2D screen if you can.