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'Titanic' 3D release ready for April 2012

EXCLUSIVE: Film likely released weeks after 3D 'Star Wars'

Early 2012 suddenly is shaping up as a major launchpad for classic blockbusters bowing in 3D, with Paramount, Fox and Lightstorm Entertainment mulling the 3D rerelease of James Cameron's "Titanic" in April of that year.

That could put "Titanic" in theaters mere weeks after the 3D reissue of George Lucas' "Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace" from Fox and Lucasfilm. Plans were announced this week to send out the first in a planned series of "Star Wars" rereleases sometime between February and April of 2012.

April 15, 2012, marks the 100th anniversary of Titanic slipping into the icy Atlantic, and Paramount marks its own centennial the same month. But it's possible that "Titanic" could be released as early as that year's oft-lucrative Valentine's Day weekend.

So with "Phantom Menace" awaiting final slotting, there's a chance Cameron and Lucas could arm-wrestle over the hearts-and-flowers frame.

Lightstorm has completed tests of extended footage from "Titanic," the second-highest-grossing film in history behind Cameron's "Avatar." But no shop has been awarded work on the project.

"It's a time-consuming process, and we want to do it right," "Titanic" producer Jon Landau told The Hollywood Reporter on Thursday. "Converting a movie is not a technical process; it's a creative process that has technology behind it. There were eight or nine companies used on the test, so we could compare. So far, there's only a group that went to the head of the class."

The conversion work is expected to cost $10 million-$15 million. Among the sequences that impressed most were scenes showing passengers boarding the oceanliner.

"Phantom Menace" and "Titanic" are likely to get distribution in as many 3D locations as can be secured, likely somewhere in the range of 2,000-2,500 theaters. That's as many as are available for tentpole releases today and shouldn't be tough to secure in two years because exhibitors are adding 3D screens as quickly as possible to grow the installed base.

Big marketing campaigns are likely for both pics. As when "Titanic" first unspooled in 1997, Paramount will handle the re-release domestically and Fox internationally. A simultaneous global rollout is likely.

"They're looking at these like they're almost new releases," a studio executive involved in the projects said.

The 3D versions of the pics eventually will hit Blu-ray Disc, but execs are intent on collecting as much theatrical coin as possible from the rerelease. The original "Titanic" hasn't been released on Blu-ray. Execs have been biding their time for the installed base of Blu-ray players to grow. The newest Blu-ray players now boast 3D capability, but a 3D television is required to reap extra-dimensional benefits. Landau said he is confident that 3D TV will spread quickly among consumers.

"You've already seen a big rise in 3D this year, and many people will be choosing a 3D television when they replace their TVs over the next two years," he said.