Paramount publicity will screen Titanic 3D for critics, but not until a week or so before the 4.4 opening (i.e., late March). How, then, did Roger Ebert see it three days ago and (surprise!) trashing it in a just-posted review? Titanic fans in major cities were invited via Facebook to attend special showings last Tuesday, 2.14, and Ebert somehow finagled his way into a Chicago showing.

Ebert didn’t trash James Cameron‘s 1997 film, which he’s long admired. He’s trashed Cameron’s 3D conversion process, which he says (a) adds little or nothing to the film, (b) diminishes the light levels “as much as 20%” and (c) isn’t even used in certain scenes. This comes as a surprise as word on the street, driven by those excerpts shown to press weeks ago, is that Titanic 3D is a couple of cuts above any 2D-to-3D conversion thus far. Maybe not!

“Titanic was not shot for 3D, and just as you cannot gild a pig, you cannot make 2D into 3D,” Ebert writes, “What you can do, and he tries to do it well, is find certain scenes that you can present as having planes of focus in foreground, middle and distance.

“So what? Did you miss any dimensions the first time you saw Titanic? No matter how long Cameron took to do it, no matter how much he spent, this is retrofitted 2D. Case closed.

“But not quite. There’s more to it than that. 3D causes a noticeable loss in the brightness coming from the screen. Some say as much as 20 percent. If you saw an ordinary film dimmed that much, you might complain to the management. Here you’re supposed to be grateful you had the opportunity to pay a surcharge for this defacement.

“If you’re alert to it, you’ll notice that many shots and sequences in this version are not in 3D at all, but remain in 2D. If you take off your glasses, they’ll pop off the screen with dramatically improved brightness.

“I know why the film is in 3D. It’s to justify the extra charge. That’s a shabby way to treat a masterpiece.”

Wait…”if you saw an ordinary film dimmed [by 20%], you might complain to the management”? Has Ebert ever sat with a paying audience when something has clearly gone wrong with the projection or sound? I’ll tell you what they do when this happens. They sit there like sheep. It always falls to someone like me to get up and complain.

Ebert is often given carte blanche treatment by the studios, so it seemed possible that Paramount might have eased him into its Chicago Valentine’s Day screening. So I double-checked with a few calls, and boy, did I get the cordial run-around! From the office of Kyle Bonnici to Michael Agulnek to Paramount field publicity’s Alicia Wyld to marketing exec Colleen Yacka and back to Katie Martin Kelly in Los Angeles. Nobody knew anything, but they were happy to push me onto another person. Whatever.

Update: Certain press people were invited to the LA Valentine’s Day screening in Burbank. MCN’s David Poland posted a review himself last night. I’ve been lied to by certain persons in the Paramount publicity chain, in addition to being kept off the invite list, despite three or four pleas to be invited to any Titanic 3D press screenings that come along. Much appreciated, Michelle Alt and Katie Martin Kelley. Anything I can do in return.