Ghosts of the Abyss - movie review (April 12, 2003)

This documentary film, released almost 91 years to the day following the sinking of the Titanic, relays the events that happened when director Jim Cameron, actor Bill Paxton, a crew of experts and a host of state-of-the-art technological devices made the descent into the icy waters of the Atlantic to further explore the remains of the sunken ship Titanic.

The film starts with Bill Paxton explaining how he got involved with this expedition and also introduces us to some of the people who will be along on the trip.  Many of them have been fascinated with and studied the tragedy of the Titanic for years, and the opportunity to be able to go down and see her is a dream come true.  We follow along in Paxton's cramped sub (which to me was almost reminiscent of some of his scenes from "Apollo 13") as they dive to the bottom of the ocean, and the enormity of the venture and the accompanying concerns are evident in both Paxton's face and questions to his sub-mate.  When they hit bottom, it's easy to think that what we're seeing is yet more Hollywood-created footage, but it's amazing to know that the footage is indeed real.  The film then proceeds to reveal the many parts of the Titanic that are explored as a result of the technology at hand, which include two bots (nicknamed Elwood and Jake) who are able to go far into the ship and without whom it would be impossible to see anything other than the outside of the Titanic.  For those of us who aren't Titanic enthusiasts and who wouldn't recognize every inch of the ship simply from a mere semblance, there are many times when people and structures are superimposed over the footage of the remains, so that what was once a blob with a big hole can be seen as the entrance with the grand staircase now missing, and what looks like an outcropping of rocks is the location where the band played continuously as the great ship sank.  I really liked and appreciated this device as it helped to make more real what we're looking at.  Without those visual clues, much of the wreckage would seem lifeless and disconnected.


During the course of the expedition, different people were able to make the dive down to the Titanic, and it was interesting to hear about their reactions to seeing the remains of the ship that they had been studying for so many years.  We are able to see such magnificent things as the beautiful glass windows of the first-class dining room and such simple things as the left-behind bowler hat of one of the ship's guests.  Towards the end of the film, a crisis arises that one could almost imagine was scripted by Cameron himself, but the resolution of the crisis brings relief but also despair as real-life events intrude on this fantasy-come-true journey.  In the end, though, I think we're left with an appreciation and a little bit of understanding of what it must have been like (from various vantage points and circumstances) to be witness to the sinking of the Titanic.


The film is only about 60 minutes long, but for that time, you are immersed in the wonder felt by those on the expedition.  The film is presented in 3D, and while there are bits mostly in the beginning where the 3D effect is fun, I found that the story itself was compelling enough to not need the tricks, and I would have actually preferred if the film had not been shown in 3D, especially since the 3D glasses used for this film don't fit particularly well over prescription glasses, so that was something I had to contend with for the duration of the film and served as a partial distraction for me.  The film reminded me partly of the Broadway musical of "Titanic" that I'd seen a few years previously, which had also had great impact on me as far as beginning to have at least a little bit of understanding of what terror must have been felt by the passengers of the ship.  The film also made me want to see the feature film "Titanic" again, not to follow the made-up drama, but to follow the recreations of the events that really happened, and to see the recreation of the great ship herself.


The official site for this film - - has several interesting offerings, including footage from the wreck itself and an interactive timeline following the voyage and destruction of the Titanic.  I highly recommend checking out the site once you've seen the film.


I definitely recommend from me on this film.



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