As James Cameron previews ‘Titanic’ in 3D, we look back on its Oscar glory

This afternoon director James Cameron and producer Jon Landau showed an 18-minute, 8-scene preview of the 3D post-conversion work they’ve been up to on 1997’s “Titanic” to press on the Paramount lot in Hollywood. The idea is to re-release the film next year, mostly on 3D screens, but in good ole’ fashioned 2D here and there as well, and the experience is meant to reinvigorate the spirit of seeing the film in the theater (while Paramount, no doubt, is seeing lots of dollar signs in the wake of “The Lion King 3D”).

The footage was extraordinary. It is without a doubt the best post-converted 3D we’ve seen on a film to date, but that’s largely because the effort is being put into it. So often these days post-conversion is meant to be a cash grab, with little consideration given to the overall effect, issues of light levels in projector lamps, etc. But Cameron is being a stickler for that, and the elbow grease shows. It looked just like the film was actually shot in 3D.

Greg Ellwood (who actually worked on the film’s publicity team way back when) will be reporting on the event and Cameron’s comments on the project over at Awards Campaign in due time, but here I thought maybe we’d look back to the Oscars of March 23, 1998, when the film tied the record for Oscar wins with 11 after tying the record for nominations at 14, and ask: did it deserve all those awards?

This particular ceremony was kind of significant for me because it was the first year I really sat down and paid attention to the Oscars and what won. I had seen enough to have an educated opinion on what I thought should win, and indeed, I was annoyed at the juggernaut as the night progressed (especially after being casually aware of a similar near-sweep the year before for “The English Patient”).

But let me be clear. I don’t consider myself a “Titanic” hater by any stretch. It’s a fantastic piece of filmmaking and a vital part of cinema history at that. Have beef with the dialogue or what have you, whatever. I think it’s a touching story told on an epic canvas and isn’t nearly the embarrassment so many people have claimed it to be over the years.

With that in mind, I actually find it difficult to argue with a great many of the Oscars the film won. But let’s take a look:


The nominees alongside “Titanic” were “As Good As It Gets,” “The Full Monty,” “Good Will Hunting” and “L.A. Confidential.” You’ll find no argument from me here. “L.A. Confidential” was the better film and deserved to win the award. But “Gattaca” being the best film of the year for me, I would chalk that up as a “should have been here.”


Cameron bested Peter Cattaneo (“The Full Monty”), Gus Van Sant (“Good Will Hunting”), Curtis Hanson (“L.A. Confidential”) and Atom Egoyan (“The Sweet Hereafter”) here. And, again, I think Hanson should have taken the prize, but what Cameron did was exceptional and, to paraphrase Billy Zane in the film, you can be blasé about a lot of things but not pulling off a film like “Titanic.” I think Paul Thomas Anderson should have been in the mix, however, for “Boogie Nights,” and I might actually have handed him the award if he were.


Here the film beat out fellow Best Picture nominee “L.A. Confidential,” as well as “Gattaca” (its only nomination that year), “Kundun” and “Men in Black.” And let’s face it. The film was a marvel of design, so “Titanic” deserved this one walking away.


The other nominees were “Amistad,” “Kundun,” “L.A. Confidential” and “The Wings of the Dove.” And really, I don’t think it was a very strong year for the category. The noir touch of Dante Spinotti on Hanson’s film is wonderful, but this might have been a toss-up for me between Roger Deakins’s collaboration with Martin Scorsese on “Kundun” and Russell Carpenter’s work on Cameron’s film, likely with the former coming out on top. Though I’d have liked to have seen Slawomir Idziak’s icy cool hues from “Gattaca” or Robert Elswit’s masterful mix of extended takes on “Boogie Nights” in play.


Here the film was up against “Amistad,” “Kundun,” “Oscar and Lucinda” and “The Wings of the Dove,” and while much respect ought to be paid to Dante Ferretti’s colorful threads in “Kundun,” it’s kind of another no-brainer for “Titanic.” The balance of upstairs/downstairs wardrobe was precise and exceptional across the board.


Another tough one to argue against, especially given the final, riveting sequence. The length of the film might be a knock against it here, but it’s never particularly been a film that felt bloated. The other nominees were “Air Force One,” “As Good As It Gets,” “Good Will Hunting” and “L.A. Confidential,” but I think James Haygood and Sally Menke probably should have been here for “The Game” and “Jackie Brown,” respectively.


Here’s a place where “L.A. Confidential” was robbed outright. Jerry Goldsmith’s work on that film, with its subtle ode to Bernard Herrmann and “On the Waterfront,” was one of the late, great composer’s finest accomplishments. Naturally, though, James Horner’s massive, epic, sweeping work was bound to win, and it has an emotional impact on the viewer, so I don’t want to hate on it. But it should have been Goldsmith. The other nominees were “Amistad,” “Good Will Hunting” and “Kundun” (from Philip Glass, also perhaps more deserving). But I should say, without question (in my mind), the best score of the year — one of the best scores of all time, in fact — was Michael Nyman’s GORGEOUS work on “Gattaca.” Alas, he wasn’t even nominated.


Ugh. “My Heart Will Go On” was just about everywhere that year. When it was all said and done, if I ever saw Celine Dion again, it would have been too soon. The tune beat out “Go the Distance” from Disney’s “Hercules,” “How Do I Live” from “Con Air,” “Journey to the Past” from another animated effort, “Anastasia,” and the real deserving winner, Elliott Smith’s haunting “Miss Misery” from “Good Will Hunting.”


It’s difficult to deny “Titanic” its wins in the sound categories (particularly below in Best Sound Effects Editing, as it was then known). In Best Sound (now known as Best Sound Mixing), it faced off with “Air Force One,” “Con Air,” “Contact” and “L.A. Confidential.” Kind of an easy call.


This one it deserved walking away. “Titanic” was up against “Face/Off” and “The Fifth Element.” The soundscape of the film in its final hour was just so crucial to the experience, particularly the implementation of sound effects and the aural qualities of the ship being defeated by the icy depths of the north Atlantic.


Again, tough to argue. It was an innovative moment for cinema and the recreation of such an iconic moment in the world’s history was absolutely flawless. Fellow nominees “The Lost World: Jurassic Park” and “Starship Troopers” never had a chance, but I was always surprised “Men in Black” didn’t show up as a nominee here. It probably should have.

So there you have it. I would have given the film a somewhat more modest six statues as opposed to 11. The three films that slowed the steam-roller a bit that year were “As Good As It Gets” (which won Best Actress for Helen Hunt over Kate Winslet), “L.A. Confidential” (for which Kim Basinger beat out Gloria Stuart in Best Supporting Actress) and “Men in Black” (which took the makeup trophy out from under the period detail of the film).

Six years later “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” would again tie the record for wins with 11 statues of its own, but “Titanic” still shares the record for nominations with just one other film: “All About Eve.” Will that number, 14 tips of the hat, ever be contested? For a time, the film’s domestic and worldwide box office record seemed unattainable… until Cameron decided to make another movie, that is. So nothing is impossible. But it goes without saying, love it or hate it, “Titanic” will always mark a significant chapter in the Academy’s history book.

What are your thoughts on the “Titanic”‘s Oscar haul all those years ago? Have your say in the comments section below!