Ever since I was a young kid, I’ve always found deep sea exploration to be fascinating. I’ve never been out to waters such as that myself (in fact, I’ve never even gone diving), but the idea of going into never-before-seen places on our own planet fills me with wonder. It’s an interest that I share with filmmaker James Cameron, who has made several films and documentaries involving aquatic adventures. The latest of these works to feature Cameron is Deepsea Challenge 3D, a documentary chronicling the filmmaker’s journey to the bottom of the Mariana Trench.
Deepsea Challenge 3D doesn’t only show the actual journey to the deepest depths of the ocean; it also documents the construction of the Deepsea Challenger, the craft that Cameron and his team designed to make this incredible journey. We see several trial runs that stand as a testament to Murphy’s Law, and nail-biting test dives in which we see Cameron frantically going through touch screens trying to keep himself from dying before the actual descent. There are cameras all over the craft, including one in the cabin with Cameron himself, giving the audience a real sense of the claustrophobic and lonely environment of a deep sea vessel.
Personally, I found the footage of the crew building the Deepsea Challenger to be very interesting. I love learning about how the crew overcame the obstacles that they faced in the trial runs and the design of the initial craft. A reviewer at IGN referred to this as “tech porn”, and perhaps it is, but for anyone interested in the mechanics of deep sea exploration, it’s great to get a peek into this world. We see the conflicts between Cameron, who has always been known to be a bit pushy, and the crew, who are trying to finish the product before their funding runs out. About half of the movie focused on this aspect of the film, which I was fine with.
The other half of the film was focused on Cameron’s actual descent, as well as the several test dives that the crew performed around the world before the final trek. The footage of the ocean floor and the critters down there are absolutely beautiful, as anyone would guess. Cameron describes the way that nature itself is more creative than any mind in science fiction, and it’s hard to argue with him while seeing the life that dwells in these depths. The darkness of these scenes also adds a mystery to the film. This is probably much more engaging for someone interested in deep sea exploration, such as myself, but I don’t see why anyone who doesn’t have an interest in the subject would even spend money on this film.
Cameron has been known for his ego, and unfortunately, that sometimes gets in the way of the rest of the documentary. There are scenes of a young Cameron building cardboard submarines in the beginning of the film that make you wonder if this doc is about the ocean or the explorer. There is also a large sequence in which Cameron talks about his previous films, something that, while interesting, seemed inappropriate in a documentary about his journey on the Deepsea Challenger. I would have rather been treated to a doc of equal length that explored more of the science and technology going into the journey.
It’s disappointing that Cameron couldn’t get over himself to make the documentary that this should have been, but that doesn’t change the fact that I loved watching this film. It was great to see everything that went into this journey, and it made me want to do more research into other deep sea expeditions. This film will most likely be unenjoyable to anyone who isn’t interested in deep sea exploration, but again, I’d be surprised if many people who fit into that category have even heard of this documentary. I’d recommend this film to anyone interested in the subject, and this is also a rare film worth seeing in 3D.