Related Video: Jo Holcombe interviews James Cameron
I had an intriguing opportunity come across my desk some weeks ago: would I be interested in interviewing James Cameron, director of 'Titanic' and 'Avatar', and oh, y'know, probably the foremost film director in Hollywood, if not the world.
Not only was I getting the opportunity to interview the man widely regarded as one of the leading minds in Hollywood, but would I be interested in conducting the interview in Belfast, Northern Ireland, birthplace of the RMS Titanic herself?
As I scraped my jaw off the floor and spun my last childlike, gleeful chair spin (I was after all sitting at my desk), I replied with a resounding: "Yes!" This was promptly followed by my next thought: "Holy sh*t. What am I going to ask him?" Of course, interviewing a man with exacting standards like his would require much thought and care.
Fast forward a few weeks and here I was, sitting in the SS Nomadic, the tender boat for first and second class passengers for the RMS Titanic, and the only White Star Line vessel left in existence. (As an aside, White Star Line was the shipping company operating the Titanic). An intimate group of us were watching 'Titanic' on Blu-ray in 3D aboard the boat. Surreal hardly does justice to the experience, as just over 100 years earlier, first class passengers for the Titanic herself would have sat where we sat, an entirely different fate awaiting those aboard the boat in 1912.
The art of Mr. Cameron's 3D film version, released this year in April to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the ship, is something to behold on Blu-ray. We watched it on an 80-inch screen (just a small thing really), and the clarity and depth of the vision was astounding. What was also astounding was the intentional subtle use of the 3D technology.
Producer Jon Landau, who was also in Belfast, offered that many film-makers currently use 3D in a gimmicky way, with interruptions to a viewer's film experience by objects coming out at you from the screen. His and Mr. Cameron's choice was and always would be to add depth via 3D, drawing you into intimate moments and not disturbing one's film-watching experience.
"3D should be seen but not noticed, and as you're watching the movie you should forget that it was ever in 3D, you're just watching the movie," Jon said, continuing: "So the way I describe it, '3D should be used as a window into a world, and never be a world coming out of a window.'"
I was also struck by the timelessness of 'Titanic', of Kate Winslet's performance as Rose, and a baby-faced Leonardo DiCaprio as Jack. It's hard to believe anyone else could ever have been considered to play those parts.
Walking away from the screening, I now had even more questions for the gentlemen (Mr Cameron and Landau) bubbling through my head. "What made you want to re-release your second biggest film (grossing over $2 billion) in 3D?" "What, if any, film technologies are you currently waiting on?" "Is there anything you're actually bad at?" "Have you ever sat through the Titanic in one go, needing to go to the bathroom so badly toward the end of the film that you thought you were going to burst as the ship sunk?"
Watch Kate Winslet's 'Titanic' Screen Test
By the next morning, armed with a raft of questions for both Mr. Cameron and Landau, my moment had arrived.
I was so relieved to find Mr. Cameron a warm and supremely intelligent man, generous and honest in his answers. And in response to some of my questions: yes, he is waiting on film technologies (and grateful to Peter Jackson for taking one for the team with 'The Hobbit' experiment in increased frame rates), yes, he has watched his film and not been ready to burst at the end (the words "endurance capacity" and "deep sea diving" came up) and yes, he is bad at something (you will have to watch it below to find out what though).
One thoroughly interesting response from Mr. Cameron came from the roundtable (literally a roundtable, where you sit in a small group and get extra time to ask more questions) I participated in during the course of the afternoon. When I asked him what story from the sinking of the Titanic stayed with him over the years, his response gave a rare glimpse into the workings of his mind.
He said: "There's always been threads in the history that, for me, the way in which the crisis was managed, you know, because I deal a lot with logistically complicated things and expeditions and so on, and the way people manage crises is something that I've been fascinated by. You know there's a denial process at first that something bad is happening, then there's acceptance and then what you do about it. And the decisions that are made under pressure and Titanic is a great crucible for that because it's a crisis that played out of over two hours and 40 minutes and it was very well reported so there's a complete history of it, full transcripts from the two different inquiries -- one here [Belfast] and one in the US. And you know, I had the opportunity to build the set and actually sink the ship and so that put a whole different perspective on things. I just thought 'What they're saying in the testimony would not have been possible, it couldn't have happened that way.' So then I started to get this different perception about history, that history is this pat, sort of consensus hallucination that we have after the fact about what happened, but it might not necessarily be what happened. And so, to create it for the movie, I had to come up with what I thought plausibly really happened. Not what was said. And a lot of people actually criticised the film, said "Well that's not what they say happened." I said "No, that's what happened. What they say happened didn't happen." So that gets you into very weird territory. But if you have an event that was witnessed by 703 people, and so well documented, and yet there's still controversies and mysteries and question marks, what about stuff that happened 2,000 years ago?"
And what of Mr. Landau, Mr. Cameron's producing partner in crime? Another warm, friendly and funny character who was also ready with generous answers. I did ask after Landau's travel buddy, his Oscar (Mr. Cameron and Landau won the Best Picture Oscar for 'Titanic') who was noticeably absent from the day. He said: "My Oscar probably has more miles on it than anybody else's Oscar... Why have art that you don't share? I've taken it to schools, I've taken it to universities, [primary] schools, and to see the world wide reaction to some as iconic as that, I get a big thrill out of sharing. And I am just thankful that I was lucky enough to have that opportunity."
And that, as they say, makes two of us.
Related Video: Watch the 'Titanic' in 3D trailer
For your ultimate in home viewing experience, James Cameron's 'Titanic' is in stores in four-disc 2D and 3D Blu-ray sets from today.
PS I traveled courtesy of the Northern Ireland Tourism Board and can safely say for any 'Titanic' enthusiasts, Northern Ireland is well worth the visit.