There are times when I’m really envious of some people in the entertainment business. It’s rarely for the fame, the money or all the little benefits fame can bring. Generally it’s for the experiences. Back in 2003, I strolled into an IMAX theatre in Dallas and became insanely envious of actor Bill Paxton. And it was all because of one little friendship and one little experience. Paxton just happens to be a pal of director James Cameron, and was given the opportunity to join him in the realization of a dream. Together, along with a team of scientists, the two traveled 12,000 feet below the surface of the ocean and see first-hand the remains of the Titanic.
“Ghosts in the Abyss” is the highly entertaining documentary of Cameron’s efforts to visit the real Titanic and his attempts to unlock some of its secrets. Armed with some of the most technologically advanced cameras in the business (designed in part by Cameron and his brother), this film takes weeks of footage and edits it into a terrific feature that runs just under an hour.
Beyond the incredible film footage, what made “Ghosts in the Abyss” such a good film was the fact that it went beyond being just a documentary. There was no doubt the filmmakers were often in real danger, and there were inadvertent and unplanned little ‘stories’ that took place within the context of the film. One of the more unusual was in the use of two robotic submersibles aptly names Jake and Elwood. They would be sent into the interior of the Titanic, sending back some of the most amazing footage imaginable. We see so much of them that we start to give them human qualities and see them almost as living characters. At one point if the film, one of the submersibles gets entangled and the suspense built on whether or not it could be saved was gripping.
I’ll admit to being a huge fan of Cameron’s “Titanic.” I know there were those who cut it down, claiming it was just a ‘love story’ wrapped around a historical event. Of course, these people are just being ridiculous. Regardless of the fact that the main characters in the film didn’t exist, the ship did. And the events surrounding its sinking did occur. It’s as close to a historical film as you are going to get. Cameron was smart enough to include the love story to keep the interest of movie-goers who would otherwise not be interested in a documentary style feature.
With “Ghosts in the Abyss”, Cameron is able to deliver the meat of the history and give audience members the closest look ever at the massive ship as it sits on the bottom of the ocean. This isn’t a guy who rests on his laurels and sits back to enjoy his caviar and champagne from the safety of his guarded home. He went out there and put himself in real danger to realize a dream, and to bring the story home for those who would be interested. It’s a fascinating piece of work, and one that I wish I had seen second time in the theatre.
In the IMAX, the film was presented in 3-D, and it was one of the most amazing 3-D experiences I have ever had. Never had I experienced a stronger feeling of ‘you are there’ than I did that day. I have since seen it on DVD, and while still an impressive experience, the 3D of course makes you feel like you are there with them. Well, Disney has now released “Ghosts of the Abyss” in a multi-disc format that includes the home 3D experience. Not yet having a 3D TV of my own, I had to go to a friend’s house in order to watch that disc and again I say… ‘wow’. There is just no describing the experience, now that home 3D has become a reality.
The image on both the 3D and 2D versions are spectacular, far surpassing the DVD that was released so many years ago. Throughout the feature, you can’t help but want to reach out and touch the ship or the sea life and really feel like you can. The image is perfect beyond compare. As for audio, both versions also surpass anything I have yet found on any home release. The ‘you are there’ ambience is amazingly really. Most notably in the scenes from inside the submersible, where I found myself holding my breath and feeling almost claustrophobic just sure that I was in just as much of an enclosed space as those I was watching.
And for those of us who hunger for knowledge and really want to dig further into the experiences these guys had, there is also an extended cut with an additional 30 minutes of footage (not in 3D). This one also differs in that it gets rid of some of the split-screen work necessary to effectively tell the story in the shorter version.
If you find the either of the movie versions fascinating enough (and I don’t see how you couldn’t), there is also a feature with a ton of additional footage, as well as some really telling interviews with Cameron, Paxton and the rest of the expedition’s crew.
If you or your family have only been introduced to the history of the Titanic through… well… “Titanic,” then this is a no-brainer as far as whether or not you should watch it. The only problem you might have is where to put it on your shelf. (Hmmmm, do I put it next to “Titanic”, or do I put it in the G’s…?)
Directed by: James Cameron
Starring: James Cameron, Bill Paxton
Extras: “Reflections of the Deep” Documentary
Release Date: 9/11/2012
MPAA Rating: G