|In his first film since the Academy Award-winner Titanic, director James Cameron (left) - along with actor Bill Paxton - returns to the legendary wreck with Ghosts of the Abyss, a groundbreaking 3-D motion picture.
Once they are on the ocean floor, though, Paxton's panic transforms to awe; his golly-gee commentary is endearing, even if you quickly get the idea and don't need to be told to "just think of the history" you're looking at.
For those having a hard time envisioning the history, Cameron brings it to life in ingenious ways. He shows us a deteriorated steel husk for a moment, then superimposes a recreation of what this part of the ship looked like in its full splendor. Sometimes the recreations are computer-generated, sometimes they are live-action scenes with actors in period garb. That's what they mean by "ghosts."
While different audiences will want less of this or more of that - adults not suffering from Attention Deficit Disorder will wish for more raw, unadorned footage of the site - Cameron's movie magic does convey a lot of information in an efficient, visually captivating way. In one scene, we see a pipe-like rig jutting out of a deck, and as Paxton tells us that this was where the ship's pilot stood, an enormous spoked wheel materializes, along with men re-enacting the crucial moment at which that fatal iceberg was spotted.
Cameron has decided to take 3-D photography seriously (recently he announced that his next Hollywood feature will be shot in this format), and modifying existing equipment to his specifications
| GHOSTS OF THE ABYSS
Dir. and writ. James Cameron; feat. Cameron, Bill Paxton (G)
But the result is impressive. The filmmakers don't often bend over backward to wow you with gimmickry - there are some requisite "gotcha" moments, like one in which a sub's robot arm stretches toward the viewer, but not many - but the 3-D technology does help convey the scale of the wreckage onscreen. Interestingly, some of the most sensational images were created long ago: Cameron uses vintage stereoscopic photographs of the spanking-new ship to contrast with what remains below, and sometimes plants his own actors within them so that what begins as a static image comes to life.
Ghosts is a rare hybrid that matches educational content with artistic ambition, serving the dual masters of science and entertainment as equitably as possible within an hour's running time. Some day - on a DVD release, maybe - it would be nice to see much more of the raw material gathered on this expedition; but it's hard to argue with the way Cameron has assembled it here, and it's difficult not to feel a nerdy giddiness about what his first step into the third dimension portends for his future projects. •