Ghosts of the Abyss
Obsessions rarely come bigger than James Cameron’s love of the RMS Titanic.
After six years of inactivity Cameron, the man behind the multi Oscar-winning Titanic, has returned to movies with Ghosts of the Abyss, a 60-minute Imax docu-drama in 3D that takes him 12,000ft beneath the black waters of the North Atlantic to perhaps the most famous wreck that ever plummeted to the seabed.
Combining the Imax format with split-screen and computer graphics that show the crew and passengers of the liner walking on the decks of the rusticle encrusted wreck, Ghosts of the Abyss is an unique record of what has happened to this famous leviathan of the deep in the 91 years since it sank.
The wonder and extraordinary, hypnotic attraction of Titanic is seen through the eyes of actor Bill Paxton, Cameron’s lucky charm and a collaborator on many of his films including The Terminator, Aliens and, inevitably, Titanic. He simply can’t believe his luck. From the outset Cameron, who commendably takes a back seat in his own film, tells Paxton “There is no script. We don’t know what we’re going to find.”
It’s clear, therefore, that Cameron, über Titanic junkie, is on as big a journey of discovery as his audience.
Gimmicks aside – the ‘ghosts’ referred to in the film’s title are those of the people Cameron inserts via CGI – Ghosts of the Abyss has Oscars written all over it. It’s as if the soggy love story that was Titanic was merely a rehearsal for Cameron’s real project: this intricately crafted and scrupulously researched labour of love.
Cameron and his international team of experts take mini subs and remote-controlled cameras to the exterior of the wreck and then inside, using finely detailed maps to explore secluded areas of the ship that have never before been caught on camera.
Among their memorable investigations are ‘the unsinkable’ Mollie Brown’s state room, complete with the remnants of the heavy brass bed she wrote about in her memoirs, the remains of the bridge once trod by tragic Captain Smith, and the dining room where exquisitely designed stained glass windows amazingly remain intact.
There is drama too. At one point Cameron loses one of his robot cameras and embarks on a rescue mission. Then there is the day when Paxton talks to the camera. It’s September 11 2001, and dread news awaits them on the surface of a choppy ocean. It’s to Cameron’s credit that it’s dealt with without sentimentality or overtly manipulative politicking.
Ghosts of the Abyss is an extraordinary record of one man’s obsession – albeit an obsession shared by thousands around the globe. If it has flaws they are in Paxton’s increasingly irritating expressions of wonderment (“Wow! We’re really inside the Titanic!”) and in the lamentably short running time, though at 60 minutes the film is quarter of an hour longer than most Imax productions.
And on the massive Imax screen Titanic looks even more impressive – a testament to Cameron’s vision and to the majesty of the vessel that, in the space of a few short hours, went from the world’s most prestigious sea-going palace to a few million tons of scrap, broken backed on the ocean floor.
Finally, the film is dedicated to Walter Lord, the author of A Night to Remember and the man whose vivid re-telling of the disaster was turned into the memorable film of the same name. On the release of his movie, Cameron was heard to utter “Without A Night to Remember, there would have been no Titanic”.
And without Titanic, there surely would have been no Ghosts of the Abyss.
Star rating: *****