James Cameron has become a bizarre pop culture figure. For decades, we all knew Cameron as a popular and well-regarded filmmaker. After all, he is the visionary director behind The Terminator, Aliens, The Abyss, Titanic and, of course, Avatar -- which ushered in a new age of 3D. Then, somewhere after his research dives for Titanic, his persona began to shift. As he made more and more deep-sea dives, he became more than a movie maker. He became an actual explorer.
In DEEPSEA CHALLENGE 3D, his passions for filmmaking and undersea exploration collide in a way that feels completely organic. And of course his passion for 3D is woven in there too.
DEEPSEA CHALLENGE 3D is not directed by James Cameron. Rather, he is its star or M.C., while a team made up of John Bruno, Ray Quint and Andrew Wight helm the film that follows Cameron's quest to take a submersible to the deepest point in the known ocean, 36,000 feet down. The record prior to his expedition was 27,000 feet. This documentary will throw a lot of numbers at you. $35,000 a day is the cost of the boat that carries Cameron's submersible, DEEPSEA CHALLENGER. 52 years have passed since someone has attempted to put a man down this deep. There are 100 ways this mission could kill Cameron, or as he puts it, have him "chummed into a meat cloud." But for all its facts and figures, the true focus on DEEPSEA CHALLENGE 3D is the intoxicating joy of exploration.
Through re-enactments, Cameron, a self-proclaimed "science geek," takes us back to his childhood, where he'd make pretend subs out of cardboard boxes, cutting out portals and creating panels, dials and switches with crayons. In voiceover, he lays down poetry of his intentions, telling us how the sphere that will hold him is "forged in fire," or how abrupt deaths in his crew are "rips across the fabric of reality." It's almost infuriating how Cameron can excel at both art and science with such seeming ease. But his enthusiasm for it all is effusive and positively contagious.
He guides us through the construction of DEEPSEA CHALLENGER, detailing every setback to its schedule. It's Cameron who will sit solo in its interior, sinking far below the point of any possible rescue. He knows if something goes wrong in this privately built construction, it will mean his death. His wife, Suzy Amis, knows it too. And while they let their children climb into the rig that will hold Cameron, she tears up a bit at the potential risks of his self-imposed mission, making the emotional stakes of this dive hit home. Amis is a recurring character in this narrative, cheering her husband on even as she fears where his passion project might lead him. Their relationship is a minor element of DEEPSEA CHALLENGE 3D, but it's the one that has the greatest emotional resonance. Though a close second is undoubtedly Cameron's deep admiration for the ocean itself.
"This is my church," he tells us as the cameras of DEEPSEA CHALLENGER reveal pockets of the ocean mankind has never seen before. Cameron's reverence for the underwater world around him is felt throughout the film. But coupled with his science-geek exuberance, the film never feels stern or dry. Cameron totally geeks out as "critters" swim or scurry into his view, and his childlike wonder is warm and enveloping, making the audience feel as if we too are involved in this mission. Plus, the top-notch 3D employed here makes it feel like you could reach out and touch these astonishing creatures of the deep.
Ultimately, Cameron is a man of supposed contrasts. He loves art and science. He is highly intellectual and full of emotion. And its these combinations that make DEEPSEA CHALLENGE 3D such a thoroughly engaging adventure for mind and heart. As Cameron himself explains, it would never be enough to just send a robot down this deep to record what lies beneath. "Somebody has to go," he concludes, "a robot can't tell you how it feels." The scientific discoveries of DEEPSEA CHALLENGE 3D make it informative and intellectually satisfying. But it’s the human experience of a boyhood dream becoming a vivid reality that gives the film emotional depth. All in all, DEEPSEA CHALLENGE 3D is a grand, thrilling, and inspirational ride.