Ghosts of the Abyss
2003
Academy Award-winning director James Cameron returns to the site of his greatest inspiration: the legendary wreck of the Titanic. Accompanied by a crew of historical experts, filmmakers and scientists, Cameron explores the wreckage inside and out. Cameron's friend and Titanic co-star Bill Paxton joins the director to demonstrate why this vessel, more than any other shipwreck, continues to intrigue the public.

Scott Hardie: “It ruled.”

Among the many ironies of the tremendous success of "Titanic" is that the story cannot be translated into another filmmaker's vision for many years to come; Cameron's take on the events has become the lasting cinematic paradigm of the tragedy. Witness this film, directed by the same man but telling an entirely different story with different actors and different effects, yet it seems to have come straight from the bonus DVD included with the 1997 film. Perhaps that's just the presence of Bill Paxton, obviously not even remotely interested in Titanic but going along graciously because he was invited, narrating the dives and making you expect to hear about nine-inch-thick glass portholes on the submersible. But I think it's the power of Cameron's instant classic; when you see the same rooms and hear the same phrases, you can't help but be distracted by overwhelming memories of the previous picture, and Cameron is kind enough to dwell on each moment for maximum savoring.

The best material works in this way, evoking the tragedy of the Titanic and the heroism of some of its crew, attempting to explain why this story has resonated so deeply for ninety years despite it not having a traditional mythic form. Say whatever you want about Cameron's melodramatic excesses, this is a fascinating story, and for ninety minutes you're engrossed by modern archeology at its most exciting. The element that holds it back, besides its awful taste in pop interludes, is its focus on the Kelvysh, the ship that brought them there, as though badly folk-singing Russian sailors are more interesting than the wreckage they're floating over. This material was cut from the film to make it the standard 60-minute length for IMAX theaters, and those viewers didn't miss much. As long as the submersibles are underwater exploring, which they are for the majority of the duration, it's an intriguing film with strong nostalgia for any lover of the 1997 film or the Titanic story in general; those audiences shouldn't miss it.

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