Ghosts of the Abyss
February 22, 2003
James Cameron, ,
Starring: Bill Paxton, Dr. John Broadwater, Dr. Lori Johnston, Charles Pellegrino, Don Lynch, Ken Marschall, James Cameron, Mike Cameron, Jeffrey N. Ledda, Corey Jaskolski, Jason Paul, Eric Schmitz, Genya Chernaiev, Victor Nischeta, Dr. Anatoly M. Sagalevitch, ,
After the phenomenal success of Titanic (1997), James Cameron did the smart thing and cultivated a low profile for a few years. It made sense, after all, how do you follow-up a movie that taps into the zeitgeist in such an unprecedented way? In the interim, Cameron muddled over a few projects and produced the Dark Angel TV series before finally returning to the director’s chair in 2001 to make a documentary entitled Ghosts of the Abyss (2003). It continues his fascination with the Titanic and his love of underwater exploration.
Bill Paxton got a call from Cameron asking if he would like to join him on an expedition down to revisit the wreckage of the Titanic. The actor, a long-time friend of the director’s, jumped at the opportunity to participate in such a rare and historical journey. Cameron not only enlisted some of the best underwater experts and Titanic historians along for the ride, but he also used state-of-the-art technology to get down to the ship and to photograph it as well.
What is the fascination with the Titanic? One expert explains that it is such a tragic story: all that time, energy and money went into building this massive luxury ship only for its life to be cut dramatic short. There is an urgency to the expedition because in five years time very little of the wreckage may be left. Elements in the water will have eroded it beyond recognition. Clearly, the time for one last visit is now.
Paxton actually goes down on the first dive in one of the three-man submersible crafts that goes all the way to ocean floor and the ship’s final resting place. From there, two remote controlled robots go into the ship’s wreckage and document whatever they find. As they reach the 2,000-metre point, Paxton starts to look a little worried. If something goes wrong at this point, they are in real trouble. His anxiety deepens as they go past 3,300 metres.
This film has some truly breathtaking underwater photography. The first shots of the sunken ship have an eerie beauty to them. It’s an awe-inspiring sight to say the least. As his craft floats over the ship, Paxton observes, “It’s a ghostly experience.” The first day is spent exploring the outside of the ship with subsequent dives photographing the insides of the wreckage.
As the cameras go deeper into the wreckage, Cameron occasionally morphs computer generated models and recreations over the real footage and back again. This gives the viewer an idea of where on the ship they are and who probably inhabited the space at the time it went down. What’s amazing is that a lot of the craftsmanship is still intact-ornate windows in the ship’s reception room, intricate woodwork and the wrought-iron gates on D deck-preserved by the sea water.
Both the theatrical 60-minute and extended 90-minute versions are available on the first DVD with the extra material on the second disc.
“Reflections from the Deep” is a collection of featurettes on various aspects of the documentary. Paxton, Cameron and several members of the expedition are interviewed regarding their views on the Titanic and their experiences on the film. The featurettes not only cover how Cameron filmed the historical recreations but also document the crew’s reaction to 9/11, which happened during their expedition. Everyone was faced with a tough decision: do they stay and finish the documentary, which seems rather trivial considering what has just happened, or do they go back home?
“The MIR Experience” allows the viewer to experience an actual dive down to the Titanic from six different angles. This actually makes one feel like they’re a part of the dive experience, as you can cut back and forth from inside and outside the submersibles to the remote robotic cameras inside the wreckage.
Ghosts of the Abyss is a fine companion piece to Cameron’s Titanic film, but without the melodramatic romantic stuff. This doesn’t mean you have to have seen Titanic to get into this documentary. On the contrary, Cameron provides all the historical background one needs to get