James Cameron has made his fair share blockbuster masterpieces but his documentary Ghosts of the Abyss is a complete and utter failure. Cameron is no stranger to the Titanic, but his expansive subject matter provides for an hour-long saga of tedium in his latest venture. Filmed for the IMAX format and shown in headache inducing 3-D, Ghosts of the Abyss seems best suited for the Discovery Channel. Cameron means to take us on an exciting and haunting journey to the lower depths of the most famous underwater cemetery. What we see, though, are scientists gawking at the micro-organisms that now cover the Titanic, and the intact internal beauty of the ship. The sense of wonder and loss that consumed Cameron’s Academy Award winning Titanic is noticeably absent here. Recreations of the doomed passengers are hokey and resemble “Haunted Places” on the Travel Channel. Cameron expects the viewer to be on the edge of their seat when two underwater cameras get trapped in the Titanic. Actor Bill Paxton laments “We couldn’t just leave them, they were part of our team.” This is when you begin to realize that this is not a documentary about the Titanic as much as it’s a self-congratulatory ode to those obsessed with its technological marvel and their own fascination with invading it. If the participants were Werner Herzog and Klaus Kinski perhaps there would be something of profound interest here. The final insult is when the pop song “Just the Two of Us” blasts over the soundtrack as Cameron’s underwater tech babies are saved in the very place where thousands have died. Do we really need to see Cameron and his team of scientists blown up to such nauseating proportions? Paxton tries to add some humanity to the rampant egotism, but is repeatedly trumped by Cameron’s insistence on technological masturbation.
What's there to say here? Ghosts of the Abyss was intended to be seen in 3D on an IMAX screen. The experience may not be as overwhelming on the small screen, but there's plenty of kicking fish-eye shots that showcase just how sharp and swell the colors look on this DVD transfer. Considering the quality of the original film footage and the conditions under which some of the film was shot, it's impressive how good the underwater footage looks. The audio is a little less impressive (at least not as good as those ever-invasive THX and "Disney DVD" logos that preceded so many of these Buena Vista DVDs), but it's not like you'll want to pay attention to it anyway, especially all those cheesy Titanic recreations.
On disc one, you get to choose between the 60-minute original threatrical release and the 90-minute extended version, both presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. On side two, you'll find "Reflections from the Deep," a collection of featurettes that explain such things as "Who are the Zodiac Cowboys?" and take a closer look at Bill Paxton's fear of enclosed spaces. On "The MIR Experience," you get the chance to choose from different cameras as you dive to the ocean's floor. Very geeky, but cool nonetheless. Rounding out the disc are trailers for the upcoming Aladdin and Mulan Special Edition DVDs, The Incredibles, Miracle, The Haunted Mansion and a dorky plug for Radio Disney.
You'll want to skip this one if you're still trying to forget James Cameron's Titanic.