'It's not about money': Titanic to return in 3D

James Cameron tells Guy Adams why he's reformatting blockbuster

When Titanic became the most profitable movie ever, generating $1.8bn (£1.1bn) at the box office globally in 1997, its director James Cameron claimed to be pleasantly surprised. It was, he joked, an unlikely triumph for a three-hour "chick-flick" to which everyone already knows the ending.

In a few months' time, Cameron will bring Titanic back to cinemas. It will remain three hours long, with the same tissue-drenching plot twists, and a denouement which surprises nobody. But this time, one big thing is different: audiences will be able to watch that very large ship sink in three dimensions.

On Wednesday, Cameron (pictured) unveiled 18 minutes of his 3D remake to the media at Fox Studios in Los Angeles. A team of 300 technicians is spending 60 weeks converting the original, painstakingly cutting out objects on screen and pushing some to the foreground. The work will cost $18m.

"This is not about the money," Cameron said. "This is about giving people an opportunity to see Titanic in movie theatres again."

The project is at the cutting edge of Hollywood's latest trend. It was Cameron, of course, who dazzled audiences in 2009 with the high-definition 3D sci-fi blockbuster Avatar. In September, Disney tentatively released a 3D remake of The Lion King. It shot to the top of the box office charts making $93m in the US alone, mostly straight profit. Early next year, George Lucas will bring the first of his Star Wars films back to theatres in 3D. Reformatting classics looks increasingly like a commercial no-brainer.

However, 3D conversion is not without critics. Spiralling costs, flat box office revenues, and falling DVD sales have in recent years seen a collapse in the number of original titles finding their way into cinemas. Filling theatres with repurposed classics will, the critics argue, only add to that creative decline.

But Cameron is adamant that there has never been a better time for the world to see Titanic. April, when the film is due to hit cinemas, marks the 100th anniversary of the ship's sinking. And everything from the 2008 credit crunch to the onward march of climate change make his movie more relevant than ever before. "At the time, they said their ship could never sink, because it was too big to fail," he said. "Now where've we heard that before?"

When i raised criticisms of 3D reformatting, Cameron replied: "What's wrong with commerce? What's wrong with making jobs for people in movie theatres around the world? What's wrong with entertaining people? It's commerce, baby."

Sceptics, he added, are motivated by a mixture of cynicism and jealousy. "If you could wave a magic wand and give everybody in the world an orgasm simultaneously, there'd still be people looking for a way to criticise that."