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James Cameron
Bill Paxton, Dr. John Broadwater, Dr. Lori Johnston, Charles Pellegrin, James Cameron, Mike Cameron, Jeffrey N. Ledda, Corey Jaskolski

The legend no one can forget has become the greatest 3D adventure ever filmed.

Walt Disney Pictures and James Cameron, the Academy Award - winning director of Titanic (1997), present the groundbreaking cinematic achievement Ghosts of the Abyss. Joined by his personal friend Bill Paxton (Titanic) and a team of the world's foremost historical and marine experts, Cameron journeys back to the site of his greatest inspiration - the legendary wreck of the Titanic. During the voyage, you will explore inside the entire ship, deck by deck, room by room, encountering mysteries that have remained hidden for almost a century. Revolutionary underwater robots were designed and built solely for the purpose of allowing the explorers to peer deep into the remains of the once-great ship and bring those surreal and haunting images back to the surface world. Loaded with unseen footage, revealing interviews and innovative DVD bonuses, this unprecedented motion picture event is a must-own companion for anyone who loves Titanic.

Box Office:
$13 million.
Opening Weekend
$1.408 million on 97 screens.
Domestic Gross
$15.829 million.

Rated PG

Widescreen 1.78:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1; Theatrical Version Only

Runtime: 60 / 91 min.
Price: $29.99
Release Date: 4/27/2004

• Both Theatrical and Extended Versions of the Film
• “Reflections From the Deep” Documentary
• “The MIR Experience” Multi-Angle Feature
• THX Optimizer
• Sneak Peeks


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Ghosts Of The Abyss (2003)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 26, 2004)

While we’re still waiting for James Cameron to produce his follow-up to Titanic, at least he’s not been totally idle over the past six and a half years. Cameron reunited with Titanic actor Bill Paxton and went back into the drink for the 2003 IMAX documentary Ghosts of the Abyss.

Shot in the summer of 2001, Ghosts finds Cameron back in the Atlantic Ocean as he leads an expedition to get new images of the wrecked liner. In addition to Cameron, the program features comments from Paxton, underwater explorer Lewis Abernathy, microbiologist Lori Johnston, historian/biologist Charles Pellegrino, Titanic historians Don Lynch and Ken Marschall, and ROV creator Mike Cameron.

The program follows a few different attempts. We see two submersibles called MIRs head into the drink to film pass-bys of the ship’s exterior. Later we watch them go down again and use small robotic critters called ROVs to shoot inside Titanic. This leads to the film’s main drama when one gets stuck and they need to send the other to extricate it.

While we watch these elements, the movie adds some bits to help give us perspective. We occasionally see shots of art and photos that represent Titanic, and we also get computer graphic representations of the ship to illustrate various sections. At times, the movie overlays ghostly actors onto sections to demonstrate the locations and appropriate activities. With all the sea goo that’s grown over the boat over the last 90 years, much of it looks almost unrecognizable, so although these moments occasionally seem a little gimmicky, they help make the experience more understandable and clear.

Paxton provides something of the civilian’s perspective, especially as he offers his fears when they do their first dive. Frankly, he seems to play up these elements and tries a little too hard to play the “gee whiz” tourist of the bunch. I’m sure that much of the expedition really did inspire awe, but Paxton puts too much effort into making us feel that way. We can figure this out on our own.

At least those who saw the flick on the big screen could, but Ghosts doesn’t translate especially well to TV. For one, it loses one main component of the IMAX presentation: 3-D. The film starts with a disclaimer that some rejiggering occurred because of this change. I never saw the flick on the IMAX screen, so I don’t know how it differs on the TV, but I’m sure we lose something via the absence of the 3-D depth.

So on a small screen and without 3-D, does Ghosts pack much of a punch? Frankly, not really. One problem stems from a “been there, done that” kind of feel. Titanic featured some of this sort of photography, and it doesn’t seem that Ghosts adds much to that spectrum. In addition, after awhile all the crusty and rusty innards start to look a lot alike. Perhaps on the enormous IMAX screen these presented more of a visceral impact, but on a TV they become somewhat monotonous.

The DVD includes both the 60-minute theatrical version of Ghosts as well as a special extended edition. I chose to watch the latter, which led me to wonder if the shorter one might actually prove more satisfying. At times the 91-minute cut grew pretty tedious, especially during the “climactic” bot rescue. Even the ship explorations started to get a little old after awhile.

Ghosts adds some general Titanic history along the way, though we don’t learn much beyond what fans of the film will already know. This material seems necessary since it helps put the shots in perspective, but it doesn’t add much to the package to make the movie a more compelling educational affair.

For those with a hankering to get a decent look at the wreck of the Titanic, Ghosts of the Abyss may provide a moderately useful exploration. Personally, I felt it lost a lot of power when translated to the small screen, as too much of it became tedious and redundant. The program explores the topic acceptably well but fails to deliver a very interesting experience.

The DVD Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B/ Bonus C+

Ghosts of the Abyss appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.78:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The package featured both the theatrical 60-minute version of the film and the 90-minute “extended” edition; I elected to watch the latter for this review. As an IMAX project, I expected the picture to seem solid, and it mostly lived up to those standards.

Some of the problems came from the mix of cameras used to shoot Ghosts. Not all of the flick used high resolution instruments, as some of it clearly came from weaker components like video cameras. This meant that some of the shots were fuzzier and murkier than others. For the most part, sharpness remained quite good, however. The best-looking images seemed very strong, though some light edge enhancement occasionally rendered even the highest grade camerawork as slightly less tight than I’d like. Nonetheless, the movie mostly appeared crisp and detailed. I noticed no issues with shimmering or jagged edges. Print flaws also looked totally absent.

Since most of Ghosts took place at the bottom of the ocean, it presented a very bluish palette. This didn’t tax the color reproduction of the DVD, but the tones remained accurate at all times. During the smattering of shots with brighter hues, the colors were vivid and concise. Blacks seemed deep and dense, while the many low-light shots looked clear and easily visible within the constraints of the equipment. Ultimately, Ghosts presented a satisfying image.

I felt the same about the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Ghosts of the Abyss. It lacked great ambition but it fared well for this sort of project. Given the underwater aspect of much of the film, it didn’t enjoy many opportunities for a broad and engaging soundfield. Shots on the surface of the Atlantic presented the usual chances for ocean roar and ship movement, but once we went below, general atmosphere dominated. The mix gave us a good feeling of the environment and occasionally added localized elements that made sense.

Because of this, surround usage remained generally limited. The rear speakers contributed to that sense of underwater atmosphere but not much else. The only problem I had with the soundfield came from some oddly localized speech at times. For example, a few lines from inside one of the MIRs came from the rear, though I couldn’t figure out a logical reason for this. Most of the speech showed up in the front center, but some weird variations occurred.

Overall, the audio quality appeared fine. Despite that weird placement at times, dialogue consistently sounded natural and concise. I noticed no issues with edginess or intelligibility. Music mostly maintained a background presence, but the songs and score were appropriately detailed and lush. Except for those shots on the surface, effects also played a fairly minor role. The material remained distinctive and accurate, though it boasted bass response that seemed too active. At times the low-end threatened to overwhelm the rest of the track, as bass was a bit boomy. In any case, the audio of Ghosts mostly worked well.

This two-DVD release of Ghosts of the Abyss comes with a few supplements. As noted in the body of the review, we get both the theatrical cut and an extended cut. The disc includes the usual complement of ads at the start. When you pop the platter in your player, you’ll find promos for Aladdin, The Incredibles, and Miracle. In addition, the Sneak Peeks domain features all of those trailers as well as additional ads for the Mulan special edition, Disneydvd.com, The Haunted Mansion video game, and Radio Disney.

We also get the THX Optimizer. This purports to help you set up your home theater to best present the movie on the disc in question. Apparently the Optimizer is unique for each DVD on which it’s included; unlike programs such as Video Essentials, the Optimizer should tweak your set-up differently every time. Frankly, I’ve been very happy with my already-established calibration and I’m afraid to muck with it, so I’ve never tried the Optimizer. If you lack calibration from Video Essentials or a similar program, or if you’re just more adventurous than I, the Optimizer could be a helpful addition.

When we look at DVD Two we start with Reflections from the Deep, a 31-minute and 51-second documentary. Bill Paxton, James Cameron, Lori Johnston, creative producer Ed Marsh, digital artist Leonard Barrit, and line producer Andrew Wight. We get historical recreation elements, Paxton’s nervousness with the dives, the MIR “cowboys” and issues related to the vehicles, the bots, reactions to 9/11 during the shoot, and some general anecdotes from the trip. These mostly offer disconnected featurettes and not a coherent documentary. It provides a smattering of interesting moments but nothing terribly memorable.

In addition to this, we get The MIR Experience, a collection of multi-angle materials. We follow one dive via a mix of different cameras. The audio always remains the same, but we can watch six various viewpoints. Some come from the interior of the submersibles, while others show the external examinations of the Titanic. It’s a cool idea but not always useful. For example, much of the time, some of the cameras offer no information. In addition, most of the footage really only makes sense from one angle, as the others don’t show us much of interest. Still, it’s generally a fun exploration of the dive.

At least one Easter egg appears as well. Highlight “Register Your DVD” and click to the right. This will light up an icon; click enter to watch a two-minute and 25-second blooper reel of sorts. This comes from “Goats of the Abyss”, the crew video, and mostly consists of Cameron bitching about the sandwiches he receives for the dives. It doesn’t sound like much, but it may well be the most entertaining thing on this DVD.

Although much too late to capitalize on the mania that surrounded Titanic, Ghosts of the Abyss provides a competent examination of the wreck. It includes sporadically intriguing shots but doesn’t add much to what we’ve seen previously, and it suffers from the translation to the small screen from the IMAX theaters. The DVD presents very good picture plus fairly solid sound and a smattering of extras highlighted by an extended cut of the movie. Titanic die-hards will likely enjoy this project, but I wouldn’t recommend it to those with a more casual interest in the subject.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.0833 Stars Number of Votes: 12
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