Jon Landau still gets excited when he talks about “Titanic,” 15 years after the romantic blockbuster's maiden voyage across cinema screens.
“In a day and age when people think, ‘Oh, it's about big explosions and technology,' and all these things, movies are (still) about drama, movies are about characters, and I think that's what ‘Titanic' and the rerelease and this Blu-ray release will illustrate,” the producer said in a recent phone interview from Los Angeles.
Landau was talking about the debut this week of writer-director-producer James Cameron's $2 billion box office phenomenon on 2-D and 3-D Blu-ray sets. Landau partnered with Cameron in the production of 1997's “Titanic,” as well as the eerie sci-fi drama “Solaris” (2002) and the otherworldly fantasy “Avatar,” which smashed box office records in 2009.
“It's never been available,” Landau said. “Going back to our initial release of home entertainment, it was on VHS. That's what most people own today of ‘Titanic.' Now with the Blu-ray, they get an HD quality presentation in their home that Jim Cameron has personally supervised. They get hours of supplementary material to explore deeper into the making of the film, the behind-the-scenes.”
The film made global stars out of Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet as two star-crossed lovers who happen to meet on the ill-fated maiden voyage of the “ship of dreams.”
Landau still has vivid memories of the daunting obstacles the production company faced in recreating the 1912 seagoing disaster that left the British luxury liner at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.
“Well, the first thing that was the most difficult was trying to figure out where to make the film,” he said. “Because no facility in the world existed where we could build an 800-foot-long set — and sink it. So we literally scoured the globe, looking everywhere from the tanks in Malta (the famous water tanks at the Mediterranean Film Studios), to the shipyards in Gdansk, Poland, to Moffett Field up in northern California where there's a blimp hangar, trying to figure out where we could possibly make this movie, before settling on really building a studio in Rosarita, Mexico.
“And when I say building a studio, to put it into context, it was about 40 acres of land. We had several thousand people working on just the construction. We had to bring in telephone lines from seven miles away. Those are not normal things that you face as challenges on productions.”
And then there was the matter of building a set with which the filmmakers could realistically simulate the sinking of that gigantic ship.
“The movie is really a testament to all the people who figured out how to do it,” Landau said. “Someone like Tommy Fisher, who was our special effects coordinator, he built a hydraulic system that could raise and lower a 2 million-pound set. And this hydraulic system held the set up above water, and when it was controlled ... it was able to be lowered into the water at an angle, creating the illusion that the ship was sinking.