James Cameron's 3D Vision: 'Avatar' And Beyond

James Cameron i i

James Cameron, director of the sci-fi 3D film Avatar, is retrofitting his 1997 film Titanic into 3D. John Shearer/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption John Shearer/Getty Images
James Cameron

James Cameron, director of the sci-fi 3D film Avatar, is retrofitting his 1997 film Titanic into 3D.

John Shearer/Getty Images

Imagine watching Casablanca, Lawrence of Arabia or Lord of the Rings in 3D. The day that fantasy actually makes its way to a theater near you may not be too far off. If the upcoming 3D science fiction epic Avatar becomes the massive blockbuster that many have predicted, it could be a game-changer for the entire movie business by opening a floodgate of new 3D movies.

Industry analysts say the new wave of films to take advantage of the technology won't be limited to action, animated or science fiction, either. Avatar director James Cameron promised fans last summer on a Comic-Con panel that he'd convert his biggest hit into 3D.

"We're going to dimensionalize Titanic," he proclaimed, to cheers. "Turn it into high-quality 3D."

Cameron has already started to retrofit the 1997 movie, and he says it could hit theaters within two years.

A small handful of companies have developed technology that converts existing live-action movies into 3D, using highly specialized software to double the image and add depth. (It's vastly improved from the 3D of the 1950s or even the 1980s — which brought us the better-off-forgotten Jaws 3-D.)

Proponents describe this 3D technology as an immersive new way to tell and experience stories. But some critics, like film scholar Kristin Thompson, say it's still a gimmick. Once the novelty wears off, she wonders if millions of people will stand in line for tickets to 3D versions of movies they've already seen repeatedly.

Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet in 'Titanic' i i

Would this scene be more romantic in three dimensions? Merie W. Wallace/20th Century Fox/Paramount/The Kobal Collection hide caption

itoggle caption Merie W. Wallace/20th Century Fox/Paramount/The Kobal Collection
Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet in 'Titanic'

Would this scene be more romantic in three dimensions?

Merie W. Wallace/20th Century Fox/Paramount/The Kobal Collection

Thompson points out that Titanic has made almost $2 billion worldwide since its release. "It became so successful because people went back to see it over and over again," she observed. "And a lot of those people were girls and women who found it very attractive in terms of the romance, but who probably wouldn't find it all that much more attractive if it was in 3D."

Ticket prices for films in 3D are higher than those for films projected normally, and so far, they're an attraction pirates can't replicate on a bootleg DVD; these are two reasons why studios are embracing 3D features. But expansion faces a big challenge: There aren't enough screens in cinemas. Only about 1 in 10 U.S. movie theaters can play films in 3D.

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