For those who thought that winning an Academy Award for the 1997 epic TITANIC would be the climax of director James Cameron's fascination with the sunken passenger liner, think again that accomplishment only served to spark a six-year obsession that has manifested itself as GHOSTS OF THE ABYSS.
In this documentary, the filmmaker succeeds in using all the splendor of the "sense altering" 3-D IMAX presentation to actually take audiences inside the 90-year-old wreck. With a team of marine experts, historians and friend (and actor) Bill Paxton, Cameron embarks on an unscripted journey to the final resting place of the Titanic two-and-a-half miles below sea level. Using state-of-the-art technology specifically developed for this expedition (a new 3-D camera system, mini-sub robot cameras, and a revolutionary underwater lighting system), the filmmaker and his crew manage to explore the entire ship from the inside out. As a result, the expedition captured amazing images and artifacts hidden from explorers for over 90 years.
While the unscripted nature of the documentary allows for great moments of awe and wonder evident in the faces of the expedition's team members, there are a handful of "wrap-arounds" small filler sequences used to connect one scene to the next and voice-overs that come across a bit forced. While a true documentary does not necessitate such sequences, these are representative of Cameron's Hollywood storytelling nature. However, this innate storytelling ability isn't necessarily a bad thing for GHOSTS OF THE ABYSS. In a perfect fusion of documentary and fiction, Cameron utilizes actors and renderings to better represent what transpired on the night of April 14, 1912. In "ghosting" this imagery over the actual wreckage, the filmmaker manages to: a) recreate for the audience entire pieces of the now rusting ship in all its former glory; and b) create a "fly on the wall" perspective as to the supposed events of that tragic night.
But perhaps the greatest of GHOSTS OF THE ABYSS' accomplishments is the technology it produced. The Reality Camera System is a custom 3-D package that allows for a feature in almost any release format. And, as the first large-format capable camera system to place its focal planes (two lenses) in exactly the same location as that of human eyes, it is one that mimics human vision almost perfectly. While this is made evident through one or two standard 3-D gags (i.e. a mechanic claw extending its reach out toward the audience), it's the more subtle imagery demonstrating depth and perspective that allows the technology to shine. Couple that with a viewing on the massive IMAX screen and you have a film that truly manages to put the audience inside the picture.
While GHOSTS OF THE ABYSS may offer no new information as to the actual fate of the Titanic (aside from the discovery of some rather interesting artifacts deep within the wreckage), it serves an almost greater Hollywood purpose: a revolutionary step into the future of filmmaking. In applying the Reality Camera System to mainstream features and the underwater lighting and mini-sub robot cameras to underwater filmmaking, movie-going audiences are sure to be entertained with unrivaled motion picture imagery for years to come.