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‘Titanic’ Makes Waves in Tokyo

November 1, 1997

TOKYO (AP) _ The most expensive movie ever made, the disaster epic ``Titanic,″ made its maiden voyage at the Tokyo International Film Festival Saturday night with better results than the ill-fated ocean liner had.

About 2,000 people _ mostly girls and women clamoring to catch a glimpse of star Leonardo DiCaprio _ packed into Orchard Hall in the trendy Shibuya district of Tokyo to see the long-awaited extravaganza by director James Cameron.

``It’s a great love story, and it’s really exciting too,″ said Ami Kobayashi, a young female spectator.

The film was supposed to be released in the United States in July, but was delayed to give Cameron more time to complete it. ``Titanic″ will open in theaters in the United States on Dec. 19 and in Japan the day after.

But the production travails that cost the film a summer opening appear to have paid off, at least visually.

The movie proceeds smoothly from a breathtaking period piece _ developing the ``Upstairs, Downstairs″ romance between DiCaprio and Kate Winslet _ to a gripping thriller when the vessel scrapes an iceberg in the North Atlantic.

``I enjoyed it because of the visual effects,″ said Shizuka Yamada, a woman in her twenties. ``You could tell they spent a lot of money on the movie.″

``You felt as if you were on the ship yourself,″ many said.

But audience reaction was rarely expressed in the gushing terms that an epoch-making Hollywood movie might hope for. And the audience composition brought into doubt 20th Century Fox’s hope that the film will appeal to both men and women of all ages.

Teen-age girls, many of whom had camped out overnight, scuffled with security guards to place themselves close to the red carpet that was to usher DiCaprio into the screening hall.

In his greetings to the public, Cameron, who also wrote the film, even seemed slightly apologetic about his presence.

``I know everyone wants to hear Leo,″ he began with a self-deprecating grin. The spectators, judging from their howling, appeared to agree.

Teary-eyed girls flooded from the aisles after the lights came up. Many were also bleary-eyed after the three-hour marathon.

For the most part, audience reaction, as limited as the audience was, appeared to confirm the positive buzz emerging from screen-test evaluations.

Peter Hadfield, a media critic who attended the premiere, believes Cameron’s skill at handling big-budget epics will make ``Titanic″ a success, but he expressed some reservations about the movie’s potential.

``The excitement and the special effects in the latter part of the movie were something unique, and will probably carry the film through,″ he said, but added, ``The development of the love story in the first half was slushy, and I think many parts could have been cut.″

``James Cameron wanted to write a romance, and I don’t think he’s very good in that genre,″ he said.

Analysts seem to agree that if you’re going to hand anyone $200 million to make a movie, there could be no surer hands than Cameron’s to turn it into a success.

Few expect ``Titanic″ to flop at the box office like the legendary fiasco ``Heaven’s Gate.″ But some experts say it will be difficult for the film to turn a profit simply because of its exorbitant cost.

``I’m sure it will do extremely well,″ said Harold Vogel, an entertainment analyst with Cowen & Co. in New York. ``But it’s hard to say if it can recover the costs _ it seems improbable.″

``It has to make at least $250 million domestically to even begin recouping,″ he said.

One problem is the movie’s length, which not only threatens to keep spectators away, but also limits the amount of times the film can be shown in a day.

Nonetheless, the danger for joint bankrollers Paramount and 20th Century Fox if the film does poorly is limited, Vogel says.

``Fox will take a write-down,″ Vogel said. ``But it won’t be disastrous, because this is really the last of their high-risk films.″

With the disappointing performances of two of Fox’s much-vaunted summer blockbusters, ``Speed 2″ and ``Volcano,″ the studio has chosen to scuttle high-risk strategies in future lineups, Vogel said.

``Whatever happens, both studios see Titanic as a one-of-a-kind prestige venture,″ said Patrick Frater, news editor of the film industry magazine ``Screen International.″

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