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There's almost a sub-genre of cinema based on James Cameron's interest in the deep ocean. The Abyss and Titanic are the two fictional movies but Cameron has also created documentaries that serve almost as companion pieces to these pictures, namely Aliens of the Deep and Ghosts of the Abyss. The latter was an theatrically release hour-long show that came out in 2003. With the staggering billion-dollar success of 1997's Titanic, Cameron was convinced (perhaps not financially but certainly creatively) to go back and revisit the final resting place of the most infamous passenger vessel to traverse the ocean.
Ghosts of the Abyss also allowed Cameron to start to create the 3D camera technology that he would later use to create the photorealistic CG alien world of Pandora in Avatar. Perhaps it was on this experience exploring the rusting hulk of the Titanic as it lies on the ocean floor that Cameron was convinced that the time was right to make Avatar.
When he returned to the Titanic, Cameron brought with him one of the co-stars from his 1997 movie, Bill Paxton. It's through his narration and personal experience we see the Titanic. I won't forget that Paxton is a capable actor first and foremost, but I also believe that he does experience measures of awe, dread and surrealism as he plunges down into the dark waters and gazes out portholes at the ship.
Ghosts of the Abyss maneouvers between moments of exploration and discovery, memorial and observance, and historical recreation of the Titanic tragedy. Accompanied by the Russian scientific research vessel he used to film scenes outside and inside the Titanic for his 1997 movie, Cameron and Paxton frame the context of the disaster with understanding of how the ship and its passengers met their fates. Using ROVs outfitted with 3D cameras, the filmmakers get inside the ship to show cabin rooms, staircases, cubby holes, decks and all of the minutia that still remain of the vessel after 90 years spent on the ocean's floor.
The cinematography is exquisite. I watched the show on my Blu-ray player (the 3-disc set comes with a regular DVD version too, as well as a 3D Blu-ray version) and the colors and depth of the blacks are superb. I will admit that I preferred more of the material showing the ship and the facts of her resting place than the material on some of the ship's passengers but I also realize that some viewers might prefer the individual stories highlighted. When it comes to the Titanic, the fact that it's a graveyard to 1,500 souls is always first and foremost in my mind. Perhaps when I mix the human stories with the mechanics of the disaster, the two produce an unsettling taste in my own psyche.
The regular version of the film is 61 minutes long, but there's an extended version that comes in at 90 minutes. If you are expecting some differences between the regular version and the longer one, there really isn't. It's merely more of the exploration and recreation.
There are also six featurettes in the bonus material. Asides from showing interesting perspectives on the zodiac riders or the 'bots, there's one in particular that is unusual and in a different way just as unsettling as the Titanic herself. During the filming of Ghosts of the Abyss, while the crew was out in the Atlanic, the September 11, 2001 attacks happened. The cameras were rolling as the crew learned of the attacks and the loss of the Twin Towers. The one featurette segment in particular zooms in on this surreal moment for people, and how the location of where they were drew disturbing parallels between the loss of live on 9/11 and the Titanic.
If you casually enjoy documentaries or shows about the Titanic then Ghosts of the Abyss will likely interest you, as well as for fans of Titanic that want to learn more about the real story of the ship. For those seeking more action or thrills, the viewing experience will likely not be as great. Perhaps Ghosts of the Abyss is worthy of a single viewing for most viewers except the most passionate about the Titanic and the nautical interests of James Cameron. And for those of you that own a 3D Blu-ray player then your time spent watching the film will likely be better enjoyed.
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