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James Cameron Wows CineEurope With First Footage of 'Titanic 3D'

James Cameron
Charles Eshelman/FilmMagic

Frame-by-frame conversion of 1997 blockbuster relaunches world-wide in April 2012.

James Cameron bowled over international exhibitors Tuesday night with exclusive footage of his 3D conversion of 1997 blockbuster Titanic.

Cameron showed nearly 15 minutes of footage to exhibitors in Amsterdam at an industry event that has proven a lucky charm for the director in the past. The scenes Cameron screened included the "King of the World" money shot of Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet on the prow of the speeding ship and jaw-dropping 3D images of Titanic's engine room. The exhibitors greeted Titanic 3D with whoops, cheers and applause.

"It ends the same way, though, I just wanted to put that out," said Cameron, joking that even after the painstaking frame-by-frame process, still ongoing, of makingTitanic three dimensional, he is still an opponent of 2D to 3D conversions. "Actually we spent around $5 million trying to invent a time machine so I could travel back and shoot the original film in 3D," Cameron quipped. "It's a painstaking process. I would never want to do it if I didn't have to. If you have the choice, you should definitely do it in 3D from the start."

20th Century Fox is re-releasing Titanic 3D in April 2012 to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the original tragedy. Cameron said that the timing of the release, 15 years after the film's first bow, would give audiences an opportunity to see the movie on the big screen, many of them for the first time.

"There is a huge audience that has never seen Titanic on the big screen," he said. "There's a huge number who weren't born when it first came out. I actually think there is a huge number of people who were born because of Titanic because it is such a great date movie." Cameron emphasized that the new release was not just about 3D. Before starting the conversion process, he created a 4k digital master of the original 35mm Titanic print, a master that will be used to deliver new, cleaner versions of the film in all formats - including 2D and 35 mm. "This is more about Titanic returning to the theaters than just 3D," Cameron said.

"Titanic was a big screen experience. Titanic didn't set records in home video, it set records in the theaters. Especially international, where it made double the national box office." Cameron reflected on how European exhibitors conference CineEurope, which turns 20 this year, has been the site of so many "major milestones in my life and career." He recalled how in 1997 he screened the first promo reel of Titanic here. In 2005, he returned to talk up the future potential of 3D. And three years ago, Cameron was back in Amsterdam, this time to screen a promo reel of a risky new 3D film called Avatar.

"When I showed Titanic here (in 1997) it was a terrible time in my life. I was being excoriated in the press," Cameron recalled. "If you remember at the time, it was the '3 hour chick flick where everyone knew the ending.' They were saying 'I don't think so' but the international exhibition community saw something in that reel and they, together with 20th Century Fox, turned Titanic into an international hit."

Cameron is hoping for big things the second time around too. He cited the rapid rollout of 3D cinemas in previously barren markets such as Russia and Eastern Europe to argue that lightning could strike twice for Titanic 3D. "There are huge markets in Eastern Europe, in Russia, that have never seen this film except on pirated DVDs. Now there are thousands of 3D screens and audiences in Russia, Eastern Europe, in China who have never seen this film on the big screen."

Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Judging by the enthusiastic response of CineEurope attendees at the screening, Cameron has Europe's theater owners behind him as Titanic 3D prepares to set sail. "Titanic broke all the rules and it broke all the records," Cameron said in closing. "Let's break all the rules again and let's break all the records again."