By Gordon Meyer
It was the summer of 2001. Oscar winning producer/director James Cameron was still basking in the success and mega-revenues from his 1997 hit “Titanic,” when he embarked on a deep sea expedition to further explore the wreckage of the legendary ocean liner. Ever the consummate storyteller, Cameron brought along cinematographer Vince Pace, actor Bill Paxton and a full camera crew to document the expedition as the IMAX film “Ghosts of the Abyss,” which comes out on 3D Blu-ray and DVD on September 11.
“Ghosts” is no ordinary documentary. First of all, it’s truly a fascinating look at the physical challenges of taking a pair of submersibles 12,500 feet down to the bottom of the Atlantic where Titanic’s remains lie. Apparently Cameron invited Paxton to come along on this expedition both because of their friendship and because Paxton had joined him on at least one previous expedition. As a casting choice, Paxton essentially serves as an everyman surrogate for the audience and we see much of the journey through his eyes.
Then there’s the footage of Titanic herself, which is both astounding and haunting. Cameron and his associates not only had multiple cameras on the two submersibles themselves, they also had a pair of remote controlled robotic probes equipped with cameras and lights to explore the interior of the ship. He then often superimposed footage of passengers and crew members walking around the ship, simultaneously showing the present day wreckage and what life on the ship probably looked like before the iceberg.
From a film geek’s perspective though, in many ways this film became the testing lab for production techniques that Cameron would ultimately use on “Avatar.” He and Pace designed and built their first custom 3D rigs for “Ghosts,” which was mostly shot using Sony Cine Alta cameras, then transferred to film in 3D IMAX. Though the production notes don’t say, Cameron must have had at least four or five full sized 3D rigs and almost as many miniature 3D rigs both inside the submersibles to capture crew responses to what they were experiencing and one rig aimed at a port hole looking in.
After the release of “Avatar,” Cameron and his producing partner Jon Landau espoused the mantra that the most effective use of 3D is as a “window onto another world, not things coming out of a window.” But, judging from the 3D Blu-ray I screened, when he made “Ghosts,” he had not yet come to that MO. There’s almost as much imagery projecting in front of the screen as there is behind it. Most of it looks pretty good, but there are a few shots from time to time where the images that project in front of the screen were a bit distracting, at least on my reference platform of a Windows 7 based PC using NVIDIA’s 3D Vision technology, a 22” LG 3D display and ArcSoft’s Total Media Theatre 5 software. Still, this is a pretty good title to use if you want to show off your 3D home theatre system to friends.
As for the Blu-ray, Disney sent me the three disc version which consists of the 3D Blu-ray (the original 60 minute feature only with no bonus material), a 2D Blu-ray that includes the 60 minute version, an expanded 90 minute version and a pretty good “making of” feature called “Reflections of the Deep,” and a 2D DVD featuring both the 60 and 90 minute versions of the film.
Bottom line (out of 5):
Content: **** Image/sound quality **** 3D Show Off Factor **** ½