When Titanic opened in China in 1998, it was a runaway hit. Even Jiang Zemin, then Chinese president, couldn’t restrain himself, following a private viewing arranged by 20th Century Fox. The film was a vivid depiction of relations between the poor and the rich, Jiang claimed, as well as a study in how different people dealt with a crisis.
For celebrity endorsements, it doesn’t get much better than that. The state media fell over itself to cover the film in gushing terms and Titanic went on to earn $44 million at the box office. It may not sound much, but it would take another 10 years for another film to gross more in China.
And that figure has just been bettered again by Titanic’s latest reincarnation – in 3D. Back in 1998, it was screened in just 180 cinemas. But the 3D version is currently showing on at least 2,400 screens and 66 IMAX screens, with correspondingly higher ticket prices.
The film reopened last Tuesday, and raked in $67 million in its first six days, although it remains to be seen whether it will surpass another James Cameron-directed film, Avatar, which took $200 million in China.
But many Chinese fans were dismayed to find that the release of Titanic 3D is not quite the film they remembered. Censors have excised the film’s limited but memorable nude scenes. So when Jack is drawing his naked portrait of Rose, we see a neck-and-above close-up in the new version. Another scene of the two grabbing at each other hungrily in the backseat of a car is also deleted in the 3D version.
Why? Netizens have speculated that 3D scenes are more lifelike, and that audiences might be tempted to reach out and grab Kate Winslet’s more prominent extremities.
“Considering the vivid 3D effects, we fear that viewers may reach out their hands for a touch and thus interrupt other people’s viewing,” wrote one netizen, aping the style of the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT). “To avoid potential conflicts between viewers, and out of consideration of building a harmonious ethical social environment, we have decided to cut the nudity scenes.”
Director James Cameron, who has a reputation for being a control freak, does not appear too annoyed by the edit. In an interview on a US talk show, the director shrugged: “We made $20 million there in two days so I’m going with their edits.”
Netizens have had more to say. “I’ve been waiting almost 15 years, and not for the 3D icebergs,” one wrote on weibo.
Another commented: “15 years ago in Titanic we got to see the nudity scenes. 15 years later in Titanic 3D, the scenes are censored out. This shows how many steps forward we’ve made in terms of technology and how many steps backward in terms of freedom.”
Raymond Zhou, a columnist at the China Daily, was also critical of SARFT’s move. “What happens in the name of protecting public interest, as a matter of fact, ends up treating the public as a homogenous group of children. At best, this is condescending; and at worst, it effectively binds the hands and feet of Chinese artists and permanently cripples them, making it impossible for them to turn China into a cultural powerhouse on a par with its rising economic prowess,” Zhou puffed.
3D movie technology has also been making headlines on news that Chinese audiences may soon be able to choose between IMAX and DMAX screenings.
Slightly smaller than IMAX (a technology originally developed in Canada), DMAX is a 3D screen format made with what the Chinese say is independent homegrown technology. It has already gone through successful testing at venues in Beijing, as well as the provinces of Anhui and Hefei province.
“The successful establishment of the Chinese huge screen movie system will end the foreign technique and its brand monopoly,” says Yang Xuepei, director of the China Research Institute of Film Science and Technology.
Yang also seemed to be suggesting that this was good news for ticket prices. “The Chinese huge screen will not cash-in on patents,” he assured the China Daily.
Tickets for DMAX venues cost just Rmb40 ($4.80) compared with prices – in some venues – of up to Rmb150 ($24) for IMAX.
It remains to be seen whether the Chinese technology will pose a serious challenge to IMAX. No doubt IMAX’s bosses will be interested to learn whether DMAX is as distinct from their own product offering as its owners claim. They might even have a few trademark queries about the selection of such a similar name.
According to Yang, 15 DMAX screens will be installed in China this year.
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