Review

Ghosts of the Abyss Review

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Apr 15, 2003 | 1:23pm EDT

Hey James obsessed much? That's OK. You're not alone. The fate of the Titanic chills and mystifies us all--no matter how many times we hear the tale of how the giant extravagant Ship of Dreams deemed unsinkable by its creators hit an iceberg on its maiden voyage from England to New York in 1912 and sank into the North Atlantic killing nearly 1 500 people. For Cameron delving into the history of this spectacularly built but ultimately doomed liner is both a passion and a career. First in 1997 he made the highest-grossing film of all time; Titanic has earned approximately $1.8 billion and earned a bevy of Academy Awards including Best Picture. Now Cameron takes the world's foremost history and marine experts his friend Bill Paxton and some state-of-the-art technology into the murky depths to explore the wreckage of the Titanic firsthand inside and out as never before--and he brings audiences along for the adventure.

It's clear from the start of Ghosts of the Abyss that everyone involved is very excited to be there from the giddy Cameron to Titanic historians Ken Marschall and Don Lynch to microbiologist Lori Johnston who's studying the "rusticles" eating away at the ship. They're clearly captivated by the story which generates some interesting "what if" discussions among them: What if the ship hadn't been going so fast to make record time--and headlines? What if First Officer Murdoch had decided to steer the ship to the right instead of to the left of the iceberg? Should the lifeboats have gone back for the people floundering in the icy waters after the ship went down? Would the panicked souls have swamped the boats trying to get in? Or could they have organized the boats in such a way and in enough time to rescue more people? It's these kinds of questions that haunt us when we think about the Titanic and they haunt this film. Our narrator on this trip however seems to have other things on his mind. As the layman of the group Paxton's realistic reaction to diving thousands of feet underwater ("So what level does the oxygen indicator have to go down to before we are in serious trouble?") and his awe as he watches the Titanic loom out of the murky darkness perfectly capture our reactions as we sit in the theater watching. He just doesn't have to wear the dopey 3D glasses.

Of course we do if want to get the full effect of the film but at least Cameron only goes for the cheesy object-shooting-off-the-screen bit once. But that doesn't mean the experience of watching Ghosts of the Abyss isn't a visceral one. In fact Cameron was so determined to show audiences the majesty of this sunken ship and to give us a bird's eye view of an exploration never before undertaken that he developed brand new 3D technology called the Reality Camera System to do it. I won't bore you with all the technical details about how it was created but trust me--it works. You aren't necessarily aware of how 3D the documentary is; it simply makes you feel more there. It is truly mesmerizing to go down into the depths and float next to this massive iron shell of a ship with little bubbles floating up in your periphery. Along with this new technology Cameron also uses miniature ROVs (Remotely Operated Vehicles) called BOTS (later nicknamed Elwood and Jake) to explore the belly of Titanic and some of the things they find will blow your mind: the stained glass windows of the dining room--still intact--or a stateroom with a wash basin still standing and a bowler hat still on the dresser. Scenes like these capture the grandeur of the ship--and confirm our sadness at the tragedy of its end.

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