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‘Ghosts of the Abyss’ Sinks

Cameron Goes Overboard with the Titanic - Again

By Vladimir Zelevinsky

Ghosts of the Abyss (IMAX)

Directed by James Cameron

I’m not sure I get it. Yes, James Cameron is clearly obsessed with the Titanic, but he already channeled this personal obsession of his into a (terrific, in my opinion) movie. I can also understand his desire to come back to the real thing, after a year spent around the replica set. Since he made untold millions from Titanic (and got Disney’s financing for this project as well), he is most welcome to hire the world’s top deep-diving experts, rent and/or design cutting edge equipment for deep-sea lighting and filming, and spend many weeks diving in amazingly engineered submarines, filming the wreck with 3D high-resolution camera to his heart’s content. What I don’t get is, why exactly should I care for any of this?

Rather unfair, I admit; any kind of a scientific exploration is exciting, especially if it’s done under such extreme conditions and utilizing such amazing, borderline futuristic gadgetry. Only I’m afraid that nothing in Ghosts of the Abyss qualifies as scientific exploration. The opening ten minutes feel just right, with all the hustle and bustle on the deck of the expedition ship, people yelling English and Russian at each other, a sense of you-are-right-there augmented by crisp 3D visuals on a giant screen. Bill Paxton, whom Cameron invited to come along, is nicely self-deprecating as the narrator; and the whole thing effortlessly captures the feeling of the camaraderie of a bunch of top-notch professionals. Then the submarines go underwater, and from this point on, the film goes off the deep end.

There is nothing inherently fascinating in the wreck of the Titanic now; with all due respect to the historical significance and the fact that it is, essentially, a tomb for thousands of people, it looks merely like a seaweed-encrusted heap of rusty metal. An hour gazing at it is at least fifty minutes too many; Cameron’s decision to spiff up the visuals with costumed actors pretending to be passengers and crew on the fatal voyage induces more snorts than tears. It doesn’t help that Paxton’s unscripted voiceover is generic and repetitive, and that the actor clearly feels uncomfortable inside the submarine.

From what can be seen on the screen -- and this is the main problem with Ghosts of the Abyss -- there doesn’t seem to be much point in Cameron’s trip, even though a handful of scenes do hint at some fascinating undercurrents. There is a genuinely tense sequence with some nameless guy trying to secure the submarine during a violent storm, and a rather dark scene towards the close of the movie where a certain historic event changes the perspective on what’s truly important.

The most fascinating potential subject of the film can be glimpsed in a few shots, but is largely ignored. Too bad, given that this subject is James Cameron himself. He’s clearly driven by some irresistible passion for adventure, presenting a puzzle of a man who would spend many millions to explore a rusty old wreck (even the most famous of them all). A late scene of one robot rescuing another shows that he cares deeply about some things -- namely, machines; but then again we are talking about a man whose most memorable characters include a cyborg and an alien queen. Humans are clearly not Cameron’s forte -- funny, given that he is much more interesting than all that seaweed-covered wreckage he keeps showing over and over and over again.