Ghosts Of The Abyss

2003, Movie, G, 59 mins


Director James Cameron returned to the scene of his greatest success, TITANIC (1997), for this long 3-D documentary released both in IMAX theaters and specially outfitted 35mm venues. This time his subject is the historical aspects of the ill-fated luxury liner's final resting place, though he overlays reenactments of scenes involving fictionalized characters — the "ghosts" of the title — on top of the documentary diving footage in an attempt to create an experience that focuses simultaneously on the wreck and the ship in her brief glory days. Cameron gathered a crew of scientists who were willing to brave the depths of the icy North Atlantic in tiny submersibles and recruited TITANIC co-star Bill Paxton to serve as the film's every-man narrator. The first part of the film introduces expedition members and chronicles the preparations required before they can dive nearly two-and-a-half miles below the sea's surface. Following some technical explanations about cameras and lighting systems (not to mention a few typical 3-D tricks, like the automated claw that seems to reach into the audience), the crew makes the dive. Paxton frets about the deep-sea isolation, but his nervousness dissipates after his first glimpse of the ship's bow. Two remotely operated vehicles — small cameras tethered to fiber optic cables, which Cameron helped design and the crew humorously dubs Jake and Elwood, after characters in THE BLUES BROTHERS (1980) — are sent inside narrow hallways and provide crystal-clear images of portions of the Titanic inaccessible since 1912. When Elwood suffers a mechanical failure, an elaborate plan to save the little robot is hatched. On the one hand, the ghosts and historical reenactments detract from the sheer factual impact of the discoveries made by Cameron and his crew. On the other, they help viewers visualize what the opulent Titanic must have looked like during its heyday, and give theater audiences something more than they'd see in a Discovery Channel documentary. The 3-D images might actually be too effective in capturing the claustrophobic atmosphere inside the submersibles, especially when they're tossed around on the surface — the seasickness-prone should be forewarned. For all the technical wizardry that went into making the film, Paxton's reflections on the human tragedies of the Titanic and the terrorist attack of Sept. 11th, 2001, which took place while the crew was out at sea, provide one of the film's most haunting moments. leave a comment --Angel Cohn

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