Takes Powerful Look at the Titanic Disaster
Spectrum film reviewer
What do you do for an encore after youve written and directed
the most successful motion picture of all time?
James Cameron, writer/director of 1997s Oscar-winning Titanic,
has ended his six-year self-imposed exile from the big screen with a
3-D documentary on the same subject for the really, really big screen!
Ghosts of the Abyss, the new film playing at the Esquire
IMAX Theatre on K Street, is written, produced and directed by Cameron.
Even six years later and counting, it is clear that the ship and the
fate of its passengers have remained close to this filmmakers
As this was my first visit to an IMAX venue, I had no idea what to expect
upon walking into the theater. The middle-schooler next to me summed
up my feelings perfectly when he turned to his parents and enthused,
This is cool! This is awesome!
The entire front wall side to side and top to bottom, at least
four stories high constitutes the screen. The projected image,
besides being overwhelmingly huge, is so vivid and crisp it makes the
sharpest DVD image look like the fuzziest impressionist doodle.
In addition to the biggest screen in town, the Esquire also boasts the
most impressive surround sound system Ive ever heard, 40 speakers
in all, including a number of them positioned behind the screen, for
a definitive you are there audio experience.
And this is all before the movie even starts!
After the house lights dim, the first images we see of the Titanic are
from stereopticon slides, a clever filmmaking conceit that helps smooth
the transition into the 3-D moviegoing experience.
Ghosts of the Abyss is narrated by actor Bill Paxton, apparently
a close Cameron friend as well as frequent onscreen collaborator.
Unlike Cameron, who has made dozens of dives to the Titanic over the
years, Paxton clearly is not a seasoned adventurer. Early on, he rattles
off a pre-dive to do list that includes buying insurance,
writing a note to his family and putting his affairs in order.
As a nervous Paxton explains, We were pushing technology, which
was a little eerie given the fate of the ship we came to explore.
ambition is such that when the technology doesnt exist to get
the shot he wants, he invents it! The underwater robot cameras were
designed by Camerons brother, Mike, as was the underwater lighting
array which, like the cameras, was created specifically for this
feature and was designed to shoot under 2 1/2 miles of water and in
Clocking in at a brisk 59 minutes, the feature is all meat and muscle,
with nary a wasted minute.
The filmmakers use a simple but effective cinematic device, superimposing
period photographs and computer recreations over various parts of the
wreckage. This gives an uncannily precise sense of place to even the
most otherworldly looking underwater scenes.
While most of the ship looks every minute of its 90-plus years underwater,
there is the occasional incongruous anomaly: the perfectly preserved
bowler hat, the ornately decorated leaded dining room windows still
intact, or Molly Browns brass bed, still shoved up against the
wall of her stateroom.
All of which serve to remind us, people lived here. And people died
In the end, this isnt a movie about a filmmakers hubris,
the marvels of technology or even, as some Internet wags have suggested,
about the hubris of technology. As its title implies, Ghosts of
the Abyss is about the human cost when mankinds reach exceeds
Camerons treatment suggests that technology itself isnt
the problem; its only in the service of arrogance and greed
and in our own shortsightedness that it becomes the tool of our
As the film draws to a close, the viewer is bombarded with dozens upon
dozens of vintage photographs of actual victims of the ships sinking.
It gives the preceding film a context and gravity that lingered in this
reviewers mind long after the house lights came up.
More information about the movie and its ground-breaking technology,
as well as the shipwreck, can be found on the films impressive
Web site at http://disney.go.com/disneypictures/ghosts.
The film runs through June 2 at the Esquire IMAX Theatre, 1211 K St.;
phone (916) 443-4629 or check the Website www.imax.com/sacramento.