Ghosts of the Abyss is an amazing technical success. Whatever happens in the movie itself is of little consequence. Thus its approximately 60 minute running time is wholly appropriate as a showcase for James Cameron's incredible new 3D film making technology and as a quick dip down to the Titanic to see what's been happening down there since the last time an overeager sub crew visited.
In case you haven't guessed, Ghosts of the Abyss is a documentary of sorts, chronicling the adventures of famed director James Cameron and actor Bill Paxton in a not so exciting trip to the bottom of the ocean and the true life remains of the Titanic. Cameron's obsession with the ship resulted in one of the most successful feature films ever made, but this time he wanted to dip into reality to show us all the raw deal. In doing it, he uses a revolutionary new film making technology that produces 3D images like you've NEVER seen before. This IMAX feature isn't a rehashing of Jaws 3D... this is honest to goodness amazingly realistic stuff. Heck, even the 3D glasses are cool, wrapping smartly around your face in a Matrixy, geriatric sort of way.
OK, so the technology still hasn't gotten rid of those silly glasses, but Cameron has figured out a way to make 3D that really works. The picture is crisp and sharp. Each frame is utterly beautiful and believable. Ironically though, what is most shocking isn't the way objects leap out of the screen, but the way you're drawn in to what's already there. Even the simplest scene resembles nothing akin to a standard 2D-projection. Every part of the screen has depth and life and simple REALISM to it. This isn't a technology made for the sole purpose of making people gasp when a mechanical claw reaches out of the screen (though it can do that too). The wonder of it is that it simply makes what you're watching seem more real. Cameron’s technological marvel draws you deeper into the film until you feel like you're actually a part of it. It's almost too perfect to imagine what this technology would do when used on a big budget slicky film like Terminator or Titanic.
Technologically, Cameron REALLY has something here, but the movie itself is nothing special. It is a must see for the experience, but as a documentary is run of the mill, with little of the Titanic itself that we haven't seen before on National Geographic. The fun of it is that with each dive you really feel like you're there, diving under and through the water, floating past the hull of Titanic, getting sucked in, around, and as close to really being there as you could possibly imagine. Sadly, Cameron consistently pulls you out of this experience by inserting gratuitous cgi creations instead of actual footage when things inside the hulk get too grainy or when he wants to make a point. In fact his digital recreations seem to outnumber the minutes of actual Titanic footage... and that's a shame because the real deal is what we're here to see.
I did however enjoy the way Cameron seamlessly interweaves "ghostly" representations of the crew into the wreckage. His use of digitally inserted actors in conjunction with the real exploratory footage does an enlightening job of showing us who would have been where and when while adding an appropriate note of melancholy to the event. It's just when he switches to full cgi, with actual Titanic footage relegated to sized down floating boxes around the screen, that the piece loses its focus and majesty. It's the recreated cgi that should be in the silly box, let us see Titanic in full IMAX 3D glory!
I highly recommend Ghosts simply as a means to experience this new technology. It is subtle and perhaps not perfected. But this is the first time in a long time that something so technologically innovative has hit the screen. Oh and plus it has Bill Paxton. I'm not sure why Cameron took Bill Paxton, but he's there just the same, filling in the "everyman" role. His wide-eyed southern voice adds just the right bit of levity and perspective to Cameron's ambitious dive beneath the sea. Don’t miss your chance to see filmmaking history made with Bill Paxton and Jim Cameron hip deep in a quest to dispel your memories of 3D’s shark ridden of the past.
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