If you’ve been wondering where James Cameron has been since Titanic came out in 1997 (and only making a single movie in the 21 years since, that being Avatar in 2009) then Deepsea Challenge will give you a handy clue.
Originally released in 2014 during the 3D craze of the 2000s and early 2010s (and James Cameron’s obsession with it), feature documentary Deepsea Challenge charts The Terminator and Aliens director’s personal project to develop a submersible that could take its pilot deeper than any man or woman had gone before. The film, part character profile, part document of the project, follows Cameron and his extensive team as they develop, manufacture, test and ultimately take on the challenge of venturing deep below the ocean’s surface.
It’s interesting – if not completely satisfying – for a couple of reasons. It shows why a talented filmmaker drifted away from making movies via Cameron’s personal recollections of his childhood as well as his eagerness to set himself self-fulfilling new challenges that exhibit his interest in the “science” that made his fiction films so compelling. We also see clips of other documentaries he’s been involved with including his expeditions to the Titanic’s ocean-floor resting place. It’s fascinating at times to see both the struggles evident in setting new feats of mankind and the subsequent results. Some of the underwater photography is sensational.
The film gains favour as a unique glimpse into the mechanisms and sensibilities that form the backdrop to Cameron’s imagination as a filmmaker. He is genuinely obsessive about technology, pushing the boundaries of engineering, and going above and beyond previous feats of human endeavour. His courage is admirable; he’s the man who takes on the task of venturing to the ocean’s deepest depths. Throughout the project and his hands-on involvement with it, we’re privy to the creative mind behind deep sea thriller The Abyss, ocean tragedy Titanic, ecological adventure Avatar, and the futuristic tech of The Terminator, T2: Judgment Day, Aliens and True Lies.
But this film is not nearly as interesting as Ghosts From The Abyss, Cameron’s document of one of his many underwater explorations of Titanic’s stricken ship. Deepsea Challenge suffers from some cheaply made drama-documentary sequences (used to reiterate Cameron’s interest in real life adventure, especially in relation to ocean exploration) which are unnecessary while the Oscar-winning director’s voice-over appears to have been recorded in a phone booth.
And there’s an unfortunate sense of anti-climax to the accomplishment, the empty sea bed at 36,000 feet below the surface clearly a grand achievement but not a cinematic one. Earlier footage during tests in shallower water offer more fascinating discoveries. For those with an interest in ocean exploration and feats of engineering, Deepsea Challenge will tick many boxes. For others, it might appear more a self-satisfying depiction of a very rich man with plenty of time on his hands playing with his very expensive toys.
Written by Dan Stephens
Directed by: John Bruno, Ray Quint, Andrew Wight
Written by: Andrew Wight, John Garvin
Starring: James Cameron
Released: 2014 / Genre: Documentary
Country: USA / IMDB
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Deepsea Challenge is available to download August 20.