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Ghosts of the Abyss (A Movie Review)

Ghosts of the Abyss

Ghosts of the Abyss


Starring Lewis Abernathy, James Cameron, Dr. Lori Johnston, Don Lynch, Ken Marschall, Vince Pace, Bill Paxton, Charles Pellegrino and Tava Smiley.

Directed by James Cameron.

Distributed by Walt Disney Home Entertainment.  61 minutes.  Rated PG.

Back during James Cameron’s lost decade plus between filming the most popular film ever (Titanic) and then beating that with a new most popular film ever (Avatar), the director kept a pretty low profile.

During that time, beyond counting his money, he periodically took a bit of time to make a short documentary that intrigued him.  This film, in which he returned to his fascination with the sinking of the Titanic, is really the only one that got any wide-spread notice.

Remember the frame story of Titanic, in which a submersible vehicle headed to the bottom of the ocean to discover the ruins of the legendary ship?  That was mostly done for real in the making of the film.  Six years after the release of Titanic, Cameron took sub back to the wreckage, together with a Russian crew and actor Bill Paxton (whose only real qualification for his part in the expedition appears to be the fact that he played the captain of the fictional dive in the original movie).

The result is a beautiful, haunting, but ultimately slightly unnecessary spectacle.  It is fascinating, but you saw much of this, much more concisely, in the opening scenes of Titanic.

Yes, it is cool to see the wreckage of the Titanic, the scattered pieces of flotsam that used to be dishes or clothing or equipment.  It is fascinating to see how 90 years underwater changes the structure of what was the finest piece of machinery of it’s time, the way that marine life has made a home in this huge, hulking burial ground.

Still, this feels more like something that should be shown on the Discovery Channel than something worthy of a 3D IMAX release as directed by the most commercially successful filmmaker ever.

Now that Ghosts of the Abyss is available (again) on video, it feels more comfortable as a TV spectacle.  Ironically, the hugeness of the tragedy and the spectacle of the wreckage feels more relatable in a small, intimate showing that the massive overwhelming scope of IMAX 3D.

And the periodic computer reenactments look significantly less dinky on the small screen.

Still, eventually you get the unmistakable sense that Ghosts of the Abyss is more the story of James Cameron than it is the story of the Titanic.  You have a rich adventure seeker who decides to explore arguably the most storied wreckage in history, just because he can.  It doesn’t really add much knowledge or perspective to the story.

The only real danger here is to two cameras, and when Paxton suggests that they are a part of the crew just as well as anyone, it feels like a bunch of rich boys with big toys.  It takes us to a place where over a hundred people died, but they are more concerned for two pieces of machinery.  Expensive machinery, granted, but still…

However, there is some truly spectacular footage in Ghosts of the Abyss.  It’s an abridgement of the film Titanic, but worth seeing.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2012 All rights reserved. Posted: September 11, 2012.

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