Making the Grades
James Cameron made movie history with his hugely successful Titanic. Now he's out to do what may have been the greatest flaw of his original film -- tell the real story of the great ocean tragedy.
Not one to be satisfied with a simple documentary, Cameron solicits a complete scientific crew, along with his brother Mike's highly trained technical skills as an aeronautical engineer, to create a stunning experience filmed in 3-Dimensional IMAX.
After donning the special glasses necessary to watch a 3D movie (they work with your regular glasses), audiences are introduced to Cameron's creation with stereoscopic photos that were taken when the Titanic was built. Building on this historical background, we are taken to the present day as these filmmaking pioneers venture two miles underwater to where the wreck is located. Needless to say, water pressures at that depth are astounding; requiring the use of two specially fitted Russian submarines and inventive filming techniques.
But unlike Titanica, the other IMAX Titanic documentary done ten years earlier, Mike Cameron developed a technology for his brother to image the ship's skeleton in way never achieved before. Two tiny robots not much bigger than a breadbox, named Jake and Elwood, motor their way through doors and windows like no submarine could. Each has a pair of high definition cameras and lights mounted within it, allowing the filmmaker to record 3D IMAX quality images of the ship's glorious details -- the leaded glass in the dining lounge, passengers' personal effects, even a water glass and pitcher sitting perfectly in their stateroom.
Actor Bill Paxton, a close friend of Cameron, joins the dive team to add the "ordinary man" perspective and a dose of humor by appearing uncomfortable with the idea of going two miles under.
About an hour long (typical for most IMAX documentaries) Cameron uses creative visual techniques to give meaning to the many grayish images of decaying metalwork. Key locations on the ship have "ghosts" -- actors portraying pivotal moments -- superimposed over the documentary footage. With Paxton's narration, these dramatizations create an ethereal atmosphere that adds tremendously to the significance of what you are seeing.
While all ages would find this film breathtaking, the youngest audience members may be frightened by the tension created in the reenactments. Yet these touches of humanity far below the ocean's surface make this film a much more reverent monument to the many who perished than did Cameron's romance centered blockbuster.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Ghosts of the Abyss.
At one point, crewmembers making the documentary debate what they would do if they were in a lifeboat the night the Titanic sunk. One says trying to row back to get more people would have been suicide. The other says that we have a moral obligation to help as many as we can. What would you have done in this ultimate dilemma?