Clocking it at around an hour, the 3-D documentary is, nonetheless, impressive and surprisingly moving.
The film follows actor Bill Paxton (who was in Cameron’s Titanic) as he, Cameron and a team of historians, scientists and Russian dive experts trek to the North Atlantic for an unprecedented deep, deeeeep sea exploration of the wreck of the Titanic. Crammed into tiny submersibles, the filmmaker and his assorted crew delve into the pitch blackness some 3300+ metres below the surface for an up close and very personal look at just what remains of the famed luxury liner at the bottom of the ocean.
And what *is* there? Plenty. Aside from the monumental wreck itself, there are countless remnants of life aboard the ship, from drinking glasses to a bowler hat, all perfectly preserved in the ocean’s frigid waters. Leaded glass windows remain intact and the glory of the Titanic in its heyday is recreated digitally, then dissolved into present-day wreck footage to help viewers get a better understanding of just what they’re looking at.
But it was, in my opinion, too short a journey. There’s a great deal of pre-dive and post-dive activity aboard the dive ship that could have been left out for the sake of more underwater footage. That is, after all, the whole point of the expedition, right? Bill Paxton sitting in his tiny state room, writing in his journal and reflecting on his adventure seemed a tad forced and, quite frankly, unnecessary. There was also a somewhat disjointed feel to the flow of the movie – there were moments were it felt like random dive footage was just cut together in a jumble.
The 3-D aspect of the film is a really neat effect. Though it is hard to beat watching the film in the original IMAX format, the film still translates well to the home theater (even for 2-D viewing). The realism of archival photos coming to life or a giant claw coming out of the screen towards me quickly reminded me how fun 3-D could be.
Overall, Ghosts of the Abyss is an impressive look at the past in the present and, as I mentioned, a surprisingly moving one at that. I actually found myself getting a little choked up at some of the recreations of events on the Titanic, the stories of those who survived… and those who didn’t.
Above all, it’s clear that James Cameron loves himself some Titanic, and that reverence and awe is more than evident in the cinematic plunge he takes here.
As home theater technology gets better and better, we are slowly catching up to recreating some of the eye-popping enjoyment of big-screen IMAX films like Ghosts of the Abyss. The home video release is now available in 3D, for those with such souped-up systems. The release includes an extended edition of the film (an additional half hour, making it basically feature length). Also there are a bunch of featurettes entitles “Reflections of the Deep”, which are all basically just more extended treats from the expedition. My favorite was “Paxton Under Pressure”, showing that the actor was basically freaking out before he was stuffed into the claustrophobic submersible for 12 hours. Can’t blame him! There is also a goofy bit called “The Cheese Sandwich Prank”, where, when lunches were packed for the long trip down, the crew gave James Cameron only cheese sandwiches loaded with butter, because that was pretty much his least favorite sandwich.