Ghosts of the Abyss [Blu-Ray]
Director : James Cameron
MPAA Rating : G
Year of Release : 2003
Six years after writing and directing Titanic (1997), one of the most popular films of the last few decades, James Cameron returned to the story of the ill-fated luxury liner that was supposed to be “unsinkable,” except this time as a documentarian attempting to create the ultimate visual record of what remains of the once-proud vessel, which now lies in its dark grave 2.5 miles below the surface of the icy Atlantic Ocean. To that end, Cameron, as is his tendency, deployed the latest technologies to realize his vision, in this case large-format IMAX cameras and then-state-of-the-art 3D to make his hour-long documentary Ghosts of the Abyss—the closest thing to actually being at the bottom of the ocean that most of us will ever experience.
Choosing 3D IMAX as his medium was a stroke of brilliance, as Cameron clearly realized that the scope and enormity of traveling to the bottom of the ocean and exploring the remains of the most famous shipwreck in history is something that would be painfully diminished in any other format. The 3D IMAX process is simply the most effective means of conveying the sense of actually being there that has yet been devised, and there are moments throughout Ghosts of the Abyss that are as startling and breathtaking as anything Cameron has ever committed to film.
Unfortunately, though, Cameron is not as comfortable a storyteller in the documentary genre as he is in his fictional films, where he is always in complete control. He is obviously so entranced by the nature of what he’s documenting (and, even more so, how it’s being documented) that his means of exposition can be a bit awkward. The film’s potential wonderment is sometimes undermined by the rote TV-documentary style he adopts and an almost painfully bad use of pop music at various moments that play like unintended parody (when “Just the Two of Us” plays as two underwater cameras are “rescued,” you just want to laugh, and not in a good way).
To give the film some shape, he centers the narrative around actor Bill Paxton, who narrates what is happening and also travels to the Titanic wreck himself at Cameron’s invitation. Paxton is both exhilarated and terrified by this journey, and the film’s most amusing moments are when he first steps inside the tiny three-man submersible and realizes the potential dangers of the excursion (I kept hoping that he would revert back to Aliens mode and starts wailing, “Oh, that’s it! Game over, man, game over!”).
As a narrator, Paxton is competent, but he doesn’t give the film a real emotional core—he’s an invited guest, and all his reflections are as such. It’s too bad Cameron couldn’t have centered the film’s narrative around someone with more at stake (thankfully, he keeps his own presence on-screen to a minimum, and one wonders if he was tempted to make himself the central figure). He does give some screen time to various scientists who are also making the voyage, although their presence never amounts to much.
Perhaps that’s because, in the end, it’s the visuals of this film that you want to see, and Cameron doesn’t disappoint. We are taken to the bottom of the Atlantic as the cameras move in and out of the rotting remains of the Titanic, sometimes exploring rooms that have not been seen since the ship went down. The 3D technology gives a sense of depth and reality that makes you want to reach out and touch the rusting barnacles. To better situate us, Cameron often superimposes computer-generated images of the ship as it looked in 1912 to give us a sense of what part of the wreck we’re looking at. The film’s title is evoked in ghostly images of the passengers and crew that are sometimes superimposed over the footage of the remains, reminding us that this is not just a wreck, but also a human grave.
This is again underscored in the film’s most unexpected and eerie moment, when the adventure is temporarily undercut by news of the September 11 terrorist attacks. Rather than avoiding or smoothing over the subject, Cameron allows it to become part of the story, emphasizing the connections between these two moments in history that will forever be remember for their horrible fascination.
|Ghosts of the Abyss 3D Blu-Ray + Blu-Ray + DVD Combo Pack|
|This three-disc Combo Pack includes both the original 61-minute version of the film in 3D and 2D and an extended 92-minute version in 2D only.|
|Subtitles||English, French, Spanish|
|Distributor||Walt Disney Home Entertainment|
|Release Date||September 11, 2012|
|VIDEO & AUDIO|
|Of course, for those like myself who first saw Ghosts of the Abyss in the 3D IMAX format, no presentation on home video will come close to matching that experience, but I can say that the new 3D Blu-Ray does about as a good as job as one could hope for. The image is sharp and beautifully presented throughout, which allows us to really soak in the details of the Titanic’s remains at the bottom of the ocean. The film features some truly impressive imagery, some of which was digitally stitched together from multiple shots, and the 1080p high-definition transfer maintains its integrity beautifully. The 3D is well rendered, although it is not as nuanced and effective as some more recent films due to the infancy of digital 3D technology nearly a decade ago. The planes of action tend to be a bit too sharply separated, resulting in a kind of “pop-up book” effect from time to time. However, I was very pleased with how bright and detailed the image remains, even with the darkening effect of the 3D glasses. It should be noted that only the 61-minute original version of the film is presented in 3D; the longer 92-minute extended version that first appeared on the 2004 DVD is included here in high-definition, but not in 3D. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1-channel surround soundtrack is also excellent, with great immersive effects that make us feel like we’re dropping to the bottom of the ocean. As mentioned in my review of the film, I think Cameron’s use of pop music throughout the film is ill-advised and distracting, but the soundtrack does a good job of presenting it.|
|The only supplements on this three-disc set are “Reflections from the Deep,” a 30-minute collection of six behind-the-scenes featurettes that focus on such topics as the use of digital animation in the film, the rescue of one of the ROVs, and the impact of 9/11 on the film’s production, and “The Cheese Sandwich Prank,” a brief 2-minute segment on James Cameron’s proclivity for cheese sandwiches during the dives. Unfortunately, this set drops “The ROV Experience,” a multi-angle feature that was included on the 2004 DVD.|
Copyright ©2012 James Kendrick
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