PrintE-mail Written by Iain McNally


On March 26, 2012 James Cameron, director of Aliens, The Abyss, Titanic, Avatar, and famously self-proclaimed "King of the World" descended alone to the bottom of the deepest place on earth, the Challenger Deep in the Marianas Trench, crammed into a steel sphere one metre across, part of the larger submersible Deepsea Challenger.

Deepsea Challenge 3D charts the path of Cameron, from inquisitive child, to filmmaker and on to explorer alongside the journey of the Challenger and the team who built it, from pieces of tech scattered around a warehouse in Sydney, Australia to the only thing preventing Cameron from being "chummed into a meat cloud" at the heart of the Ocean. Along the way there are technical problems to surmount, disappointing sea trials, heavy weather, personal tragedy and eventual triumph in the face of adversity.

As a National Geographic film, Deepsea Challenge is primarily about inspiration. Cameron's own love of the ocean having been inspired by the previous manned trip to the Challenger Deep by the bathyscaphe Trieste back in 1960, and through this film and his dive Cameron hopes to inspire future explorers in the same way, and not just undersea adventurers. Unfortunately, this approach can have some downsides.

Cameron is engaging as a talking head and the preparation of the submarine as shown in the film is intriguing but the film does gloss over certain aspects of the story: why was Cameron chosen to pilot the submersible ahead of anyone else? How did the project get off the ground in the first place? What factors drove the design of the sub and what innovations are included (it is already being assembled as the film begins). What was it that "popped" so alarmingly during one of the test dives and, most important of all, whatever happened to the mouse that young Jim used to "pilot" his first bathyscaphe as a child? These are skipped over in favour of documenting Cameron's growing love of the ocean through his film and later submersible experiences, a slightly irrelevant-feeling diversion into how this trip could possibly benefit research into tsunamis in future and test dives of the sub.

It's on these test dives that the 3D aspect of the film comes into its own. While flat and unnoticeable on land, 3D is the perfect medium to handles the multiple planes of drifting sea life underwater. This also leads to somewhat of an anti-climax as Cameron's descent into the abyss (he zips past the maximum depth Ed Harris' Bud Brigman descended to in that film) doesn't quite live up to his own expectations of life at the extremes, his disappointment all too clear compared to the open joy at happening across octopi and jellyfish during his earlier, shallower test dives.

As Cameron says, he may have dived "deeper than the limits of life", which is in itself a staggering achievement and one worth celebrating and watching but hopefully there will be more of a detailed examination of this staggering feat one day.

Expected Rating: 8 out of 10
Actual Rating:

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