Ghosts Of The Abyss (2003)
Review Date: April 08, 2003
Director: James Cameron
Writer: James Cameron
Producers: James Cameron, Chuck Comisky, Andrew Wight
A real-life underwater expedition led by famed writer/director James Cameron (TITANIC, ALIENS, THE TERMINATOR, THE ABYSS), along with actor Bill Paxton and a group of experts from various fields, all of whom sub down to the bottom of the ocean to document the remains of the infamous sunken ship: Titanic. This film is featured exclusively in selected cities on IMAX screens and in 3D.
Considering that this was a major undertaking by director James Cameron, considering that this was shown on the huge IMAX screen, considering that this was a 3D movie experience and that it essentially took us 2 1/2 miles down into the ocean to see the actual Titanic on which Cameron's hugely successful TITANIC film was based, I wasn't particularly impressed by what I saw here. I understand that it's a documentary and that there aren't supposed to be any "ups and downs" or dramatics per se, but there wasn't much else that either excited, engaged or artistically stunned me when all was said and done. In fact, even though the visuals are pretty cool and the first 20 minutes are somewhat interesting, I was simply bored after that and quietly relieved that it all ended before minute 60. I also expected the 3D experience to be a lot richer than it turned out to be. The third dimension isn't really used too often here, and felt more accentuated during the human interactions, rather than the underwater expedition (if I wanted to have Bill Paxton's face in my lap...I'd move to Hollywood!). Furthermore, and I don't mean to sound insensitive when I say this but...pretty much everything looks the same underwater. Sure, you can make out the stern of the boat really well, and it's semi-interesting to see the rest of the ship's insides covered in crust, but after a while, it all looks the same and to be honest, I've seen a lot of that in A&E documentaries already (when channel-surfing, of course). The whole point of this film, I thought, was for the "newer technologies" such as the ROVs (small computer-operated cameras that are maneuvered throughout the boat) to provide us with further insight into the ship, and maybe even the disaster itself, but all we really get here is redundancy, plenty of superimpositions of the experts in their mini-subs controlling the ROVs (which I "got" the first time...thanks) and reaction shots galore from poor Billy Paxton sincerely gushing at everything that he sees ("Golly gee...look at that...that's amazing!").
It doesn't help that the film is sprinkled with some pretty awful (and obviously written) lines like "The Titanic will live within me forever" or "The Titanic is still alive today" either (the word "ethereal" is also brandied about like it's going out of style!). Gimme a break. It all felt very "Disney" and History Channel to me. It seems to me like Cameron got really "geeky" excited about this project (and who can blame the guy, it is a pretty neat experience) and decided that by utilizing the latest technologies, slapping Paxton in a sub and integrating some computer characters over the actual ruins, audiences would get right into it themselves, but for me...the film just didn't cut it and the fact that they went into it "unscripted" ultimately hindered the project, in my opinion (how exciting is it to watch one camera "rescue" another?). The film also ends on a very somber note, as the tragic events of 9/11/01 ultimately seem to take away any of the "wind" left in these looky-loos' sails. Ideally, I think this project might've worked as a 20-minute short, with more emphasis placed on the underwater shots, less superimpositions/split screens and more time provided for us to bask in the wonder that is the Titanic sitting at the bottom of the ocean (I need to bask, dammit...bask!!). But as it stands now, the film moved too quickly, incorporated very little actual "content" other than a handful of short stories about various seemingly unrelated Titanic passengers and even left me with some questions (why couldn't they go into level C?). Considering that I wasn't a monster fan of the TITANIC movie in the first place (I watched it once and enjoyed it, but don't foresee ever watching again), this might certainly be of much greater interest to history buffs, nature nuts and the dillions of people who fell in love with the blockbuster movie originally, but for me, the impressive visuals alone weren't enough to carry me all the way through.
(c) 2014 Berge Garabedian