Review: Deepsea Challenge 3D
REVIEW: If you're a fan of James Cameron - Cameron the man, the myth, the part-time fish - then you're likely to enjoy DEEPSEA CHALLENGE 3D, which sees the ever-adventurous director plumb the depths of the ocean yet again. You might not find yourself as big of a fan of the documentary, or the man, as Cameron is, however. Though this film wasn't directed by him personally (credit goes to John Bruno, Andrew Wight and Ray Quint), it's like the movie equivalent of raising him on your shoulders and cheering "hip hip hooray!" as he pumps his fists and smiles grandly. DEEPSEA CHALLENGE may possess plenty of interesting qualities and can be utilized as an effective tool for opening younger minds to the mysteries of the deep, but make no mistake: This is mostly an educational film about James Cameron's boundless determination.
It's actually something of a stretch to call it a "film," since it actually plays like a stretched-out National Geographic special. (Low and behold, they did produce it.) Aside from the 3D, which is indeed used to interesting effect in the underwater sequences, DEEPSEA CHALLENGE has a decidedly small-screen presentation and scope. Unlike Cameron's previous documentaries exploring the truly strange sights at the sea's bottom - ALIENS OF THE DEEP and GHOSTS OF THE ABYSS - DEEPSEA CHALLENGE is for the most part light on eye-popping visuals and thrilling discovery. That's mostly thanks to the nature of the expedition itself: mind-boggling in its complexity, but ultimately not quite as extraordinary for its audience to watch as it was for the participants to execute.
James Cameron wants to go to the very bottom of the ocean. He's sat alongside the Titanic, floated next to the decayed ruins of the Bismarck, but those depths are small potatoes when compared to the base of the Mariana trench, 7 miles under. Cameron's not the first man to go all the way, but he will be going the deepest, and most of the film is spent on the trials and tribulations of testing out the state-of-the-art submersible, the Deepsea Challenger. The doc is refreshingly candid about how many hiccups there are along the way - equipment regularly fails, for example - but Cameron's intensity naturally never wains and the job ultimately gets done. (I don't think it's spoiling anything to say Cameron and company achieve their goal in the end, although it's rather anti-climactic if we're being honest.)
Not much new is learned about Cameron himself; this isn't an intensive documentary about who he is as a man, but a celebration of what he already know about him: his take-no-prisoners personality, his insatiable curiosity about that alien world in the water and his benevolence toward the people who rise to the occasion with him. The film flirts briefly with peeking behind the curtain - one crew-member begins to speak about how difficult it can be to work with Cameron, but we don't get any further than that. Cameron's bossiness is legendary, but DEEPSEA CHALLENGE keeps his slave-driving side off the screen in favor of his periodic child-like excitement. His wife, Suzy Amis, and children are introduced halfway in and kept on the periphery, but the effect his death-defying ways has on his family is also fairly muted, even if we can tell Amis is a nervous wreck throughout the production.
But, again, this was not meant to be a tell-all about Cameron the Tyrant. The doc has a gentle, easygoing nature, fully in step with National Geographic's educational programming, and Cameron is its spirited host. It does carry interest for those who are just as eager to find out what's going on down there as Cameron, and his enthusiasm for seeing the ocean's "critters" is quite contagious. (Although this movie can't hold a candle to the wondrous sights of ALIENS OF THE DEEP in that department.) Adding to the experience: the 3D is top-notch and helps to bring us into the murky world, and at a brisk 90 minutes, DEEPSEA CHALLENGE never wears out its welcome. If his point is to continue proving the most fascinating unexplored world is right here on Earth, Cameron succeeds, as clearly the ocean has a million more secrets to gift us. (Cameron and his crew discovered thousands of unknown species during the course of this adventure.) It's an effortless documentary to watch, it's just not quite the ride (and examination of Cameron) it could have been.