Ghosts of the Abyss review by Matt Fuerst


Raise your hand if you are happy that the film Titanic is firmly planted in our past. While I am not a member of the Academy, I pity the fools as they must blame themselves a little bit for the downfall of our culture by attempting to elevate a mass market Harlequin romance novel to the level of high art. Obviously the filming of Titanic had a pretty big effect on the box office, as well as James Cameron personally. He started doing the horizontal mombo with his new mistress/wife, and made the disaster of the Titanic a pretty personal event in his life. During the filming of Titanic Cameron spent a lot of time in a submersible filming the actual wreck, Cameron found it so moving he decided to continue his explorations miles under the sea.

What follows is a strange mixture of documentary and psuedo-fiction. We follow Cameron and Paxton as they board the ship, prepare the ship and launch out to sea. They introduce us to their fellow members of the crew who share what the Titanic disaster means to them. Eventually they make their way to the wreck and we follow the two mini-subs (2 or 3 people) as they submerse for the first time. Paxton in one, Cameron in another (along with crew that is actually trained and rightfully deserve to be present). Cameron begins things fairly light, a quick examination of the outside of the ship, a quick probe to the innards. This allows us to see an overlay of what the Titanic was like at launch, and then the shell that still remainds. These computer generated overlays are prevelant throughout the film, and really tie in what you are seeing today, decades later, compared with the glory that once existing within it's cavity.

Cameron eventually sends his two robots into the smaller passages of the wreck, to take us to places that have never been seen since the ship sank. Unfortunetly, Cameron feels the need to generate a bit of drama with the robots, and once again the film switches from it's documentary roots into a psuedo-drama about the making of the film. A robot gets caught within the ship, and Cameron has to decide what to do, abandon it, or send the other robot after it, hoping to snare it and bring it back on board. Cameron goes for the jugular, and sends in the remaining robot. Thrilling music and everything spices up the melodrama. This weird existance between a documentary and a telling of the making of the documentary is what makes the film feel so offbeat, like it never properly catches it's pace.

Ghosts of the Abyss is a 3-D IMAX movie, and of course, uses the very good IMAX 3-D system. When watching the film in an IMAX theatre, you will get a pair of active 3-D glasses that really do result in an excellent 3-D experience. Of course, the filmmakers get a requisite number of inital 3-D gags in, seamen using poles with hooks springing at you, subs with long arms extending towards you. Normally, I watch these gags in 3-D films and enjoy them for what they are, a shameless use of the novel technology of 3-D, but it almost felt like Cameron was cheating in Ghosts. I expect to see Moe throwing a meat cleaver at me in the Three Stooges 3-D movies, but in Ghosts of the Abyss there isn't enough actual 3-D content to merit the use of 3-D? It would seem like the film content should dictate the usage of 3-D, as opposed to the technology being available, and just being used for the hell of it. There are some other technical issues with the IMAX format, it's film cell is so large that is requires a very large camera, as well as a tremendous amount of light on the subjects to work properly. Getting good results within cramped 2 or 3 person submersibles is an impressive feat, but for a little, breakboxed sized robot IMAX quality is completely impossible. Therefore the robot footage, which is of some of the most impressive finds about the sunked vessel, usually encompasses 1/4 of the actual IMAX screen, with the remaining portion of the screen containing data or an interactive map of the bots location.

All in all, the sum of the parts equals an average amount of entertainment. You get the huge screen, the 3-D effects, and an interesting look at history. However, the costs are higher, the availability of the film is much lower (unless you live next to an IMAX theatre) and the content of the film itself has a weird context. If this was a Discovery Channel special (and, in spite of all the hoopla around it, the quality of what is on the screen isn't higher than that of a Discovery special presentation) I probably wouldn't even tune in, so the specticle of the IMAX presentation really helps out with the delivery of the film in general.

5 out of 10 Jackasses
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