Created By: James Cameron
Narrated by: Bill Paxton
James Cameron could easily have veered from filmmaking to deep sea exploration as in a modern day Jacques Cousteau. He has crafted an amazing deep sea documentary in Aliens of the Deep and been responsible for innovating not only filmmaking in general but specifically much of the camera equipment utilized for deep sea filming. Cameron’s fascination with one epic event, the sinking of the RMS Titanic, fully manifested itself in his 1997 film Titanic. In 2001 he followed with this documentary, Ghosts of the Abyss.
During the making of Titanic Cameron made his first trip down to the sunken ship to gather footage for his feature film. His fascination continued with the ship and he was simultaneously becoming more and more invested in innovating 3-D filming technology. The two worlds collided in 2005 with Ghosts of the Abyss, which was released in theaters in 3-D. Disney released the film in 2003 as their first feature length theatrical 3-D film. The film was also released in IMAX 3-D. It’s funny to think that a documentary was the start of a formula for releasing 3-D film. But, that’s the James Cameron effect. Cameron assembled a team for his expedition made up of scientists, Titanic historians, and his friend and one of the stars of his movie Bill Paxton. Paxton serves as our voice throughout the documentary, the everyman experiencing the awe of the trip and seeing the huge ship for real, for the first time.
The film delves deep into the ship this time using cameras mounted on special arms able to fish through smaller areas so we see the upper decks but we also see the inside of the massive ship. The ship is rotting away from the assault of the salt water but the elegance of the ship, all of the amazing detail work in its design, and the enormity of everything including the engines is still apparent and truly palpable through the lense of these cameras. The documentary shows images of the ship as it was being built and often compares those photos to the same parts of the ship now buried under the sea.
There are many interviews that offer up detailed information about the disaster and the ship but it is Paxton’s narration, the unscripted parts in particular, mixed with the jaw dropping imagery that takes us on the journey and has the most impact. Even if you don’t have interest in the disaster and the ship you can’t help but be spellbound by the epic-ness of the tragedy and the beauty of the ship and the footage Cameron is able to record.
Ironically as Cameron and his crew were working on their study of one of the world’s most captivating tragedies the 9/11 attacks occurred. During the interviews and narration comparisons of the two disasters naturally came up. While they are two completely different situations the stories of bravery are what crosses between them. Ghosts of the Abyss might not be for everyone but if you give it a chance it is riveting and moving and completely unforgettable.
This film is meant to be viewed in 3-D. The majority of the work as far as the transfer and maintaining the director’s vision went into the 3-D version. There is a 2-D disc that looks good but the 3-D blu-ray is absolutely spectacular. This movie makes it worth having 3-D at home. As you get engulfed in the subject matter so to do you get taken in by the immersive images. Debris and grit in the water seem to float right out of the screen as the cameras attempt to penetrate the water to get inside the ship. When you get shots of the other ships (there are three in total) they seem to be floating in the middle of the room rather than on the television screen. The image does a great job of staying viewable evne when the watery depths are dark and we’re viewing through dim glasses. Sharp blades of light from the cameras cut through the image but don’t cause the artifacting that would normally occr with lesser transfers. Ghosts of the Abyss is easily one of the best 3-D at home experiences I’ve had. The 2-D disc does look good outside of some odd issues with contrast but the 3-D near IMAX looking version is the way to go.
The DTS HD Master track here is overall great but there was some decision making in the presentation that may throw you off. Scenes that are above water, on the deck of the ship before the submarines hit the water for example, the surround usage is expansive with waves in the rear speakers and action spanning across the entire sound stage. Once the submarines go under water the rear speakers go almost completely silent leaving the action to the front and center. At the same time the low frequencies are consistent and extremely deep, as they should be, especially when under water. The score always fills the sound stage as well. It’s a little off putting but I think it’s supposed to be. It’s supposed to show that this deep under water these explorers were truly in a totally different world. The silence is a little creepy as I imagine the work of exploring a ship that befell such a disaster would be.
The Packaging and Bonus Features
The regular amaray case features a 3-D Blu-Ray, a regular Blu-ray and a DVD. The art is taken from the original poster and a silver band is added for that special edition flair. While the packaging isn’t spectacular the film itself is and there’s a good set of extras here to boot.
The original film was just over 60 minutes long. The second disc features a 90 minute uncut version with more footage and more detail. Hardcore fans will love to have the expanded information. It’s definitely worth a watch. Unfortunately the bonus features from here on are extras that were previously available. This is the version of the movie to own so you want all of those specials here too. It just would have been great to get something new.
Reflections of the Deep is a 30 minute multipart documentary (documentary about a documentary?) featuring the key people involved talking about the process of shooting the film and generally getting it made. It’s brief but good.
There’s a brief featurette (if you can call it that) called The Cheese Sandwich Prank that illustrates why Cameron is always fed cheese sandwiches during dives. Funny but not substantial.
Where’s the director commentary?
Ghosts of the Abyss is a truly beautiful to look at film that also fully covers the subject. By the end of the film it just feels like a crime to leave the RMS Titanic on the bottom of the ocean, left to rot and die a little more by the minute. It’s easy to see why people become fanatical about the disaster and the ship. Cameron has given us a film that should be viewed in schools as a part of history classes.
Overall (Not an Average) 9/10
The Movie 9/10
The Video 9.5/10
The Audio 8/10
The Packaging and Bonus Features 7/10
Overall (Not an Average) 9/10