I never knew what to make of Ghosts of the Abyss when it was initially released back in 2003. At that time, director James Cameron still seemed to be in between projects and still obsessed with Titanic, regardless of how much everyone else had thought that ship may have sailed. So I never actually got around to seeing it until I had the chance to check it out on this 3D Blu-ray. After having just gone through the Blu-ray release for Titanic, I thought I might have had my fill of Titanic-related material, but Ghosts of the Abyss proved to be a worthwhile documentary that accomplishes enough to be worth a viewing. Continue on to hear more about how effective this documentary is and how well the Blu-ray turned out.
The documentary follows director James Cameron, as he returns to the site of the 1912 wreck of the Titanic, while aboard the Russian research vessel Akademik Mstislav Keldysh. Cameron is joined by a team of history and marine experts, as well as his friend and Titanic-star Bill Paxton. Paxton actually serves as our guide to the film, as we follow him on this journey and listen to his narration. Using technology developed for this expedition, Paxton, Cameron, and the rest of the crew are able to explore the wreckage, inside and out, at closer detail than ever before. We follow these men as they journey deep underwater and control underwater search robots that take a tour through the wreckage. I will apologize if this next part comes off as a spoiler, but a slight twist in the film is when we all realize that one particular dive day took place on September 11, 2001, which leads the crew to reflect and compare the tragedy of 9/11 with that of the Titanic.
I would not say that I am irritated by where this documentary goes, as it was really out of anyone’s control in realizing that 9/11 became a notable factor when learning that this was the same day that the crew accomplished something in a much different setting, but it did throw me off, given that the film ends on a more somber note than expected. That said, leading up to the end, I was pretty engaged with the material being presented. It starts off a little goofy, when we see Bill Paxton acting “unscripted” as he boards the research vessel, but once the film gets going, it has a lot of interesting material.
The way the film utilizes the actual footage of the wreckage and has it cut back and forth between virtual and dramatized footage of the actual ship proved to be a neat way to further open up this documentary. The fact that the film also did not serve as a biography or delve too far into the history of the ship itself and just stuck to the main concept of exploring the remains also kept it moving, given that we have plenty of other ways to already learn that information.
James Cameron served as producer and director on this documentary and he does enough to make it feel like a nice companion piece to his fictional disaster epic. This is of course one of his pre-cursors for Avatar as well, given that he designed the film to be initially released in IMAX 3D. Now being available on 3D Blu-ray discs, I can say that this documentary looks very good. It is an obvious sort of use of the technology when it comes to seeing robot arms swing at you and people on the boat doing certain actions, but getting into the dives, it becomes a neat way to view the wreckage of Titanic.
As with many documentaries that I feel work well enough for what they are attempting to do, but don’t exactly feel like films I will be re-watching for years to come, there is not a whole lot else to say about this feature. Bill Paxton is a reliable narrator. James Cameron is certainly an expert at both being a part of this exploration and presenting it to audiences. The film as a whole is a fun depiction of people being excited about recovering knowledge about lost wreckage, buried beneath the sea. Regardless of some unfortunate dramatic interference, it works well and is exciting for those who would be interested.
One of the best compliments I can give to the 3D version of this film, in regards to its video presentation, is that a film like this, which is largely set in murky waters, actually looks quite clear and kept me engaged with the added dimension. It helps that Cameron wisely fills the frame with multiple perspectives at one time, each having their own dimension to further add to the effect, but it all looks quite good. It is obviously not incredibly bright, but the deep depth did not make the 3D aspect suffer too much. I was not about to question Cameron’s skill when it comes to 3D, so I was just fine with what has been presented with this film’s debut on home media, with a 3D option.
Regarding the look of the film in general, the Blu-ray is equipped with multiple versions of the film. Along with the 60-minute 3D version, there is also the regular 2D version and an extended 90-minute version, which is only available in 2D. Each cut is presented with a 1080p AVC-encoded transfer, which does a solid job of getting all of the details and textures to be seen cleanly. Obviously the above water footage is much cleaner. Everyone looks good, the open sea atmosphere is nice, and the look of the submersible ships is cool enough. Going underwater obviously presents a few more flaws, but only because underwater viewing is dramatically different. However, it is never too dark or unclear and is certainly quite presentable.
Ghost of the Abyss’ DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track serves each cut of the film well. It does a fine job of balancing all the different sound effects as we get multiple forms of audio from the noise of the ocean in the background, as the film focuses on the deck of the vessel, to the crew having various discussions about their finds, to the below water audio experience, which is quieter, but still a neat setting to hear sound from. The fact that a lot of the film has Bill Paxton’s narration over it is fine as well, as he provides a soft spoken track that registers quite well throughout. A solid presentation all around that is more than adequate.
There could be more, but at the same time, I am not sure what else I would want to see in regards to special features. A commentary track could be redundant and the whole thing is already a behind the scenes feature in and of itself, in a sense. Possibly more could have been done with exploring the technology created for this exploration and the documentary I guess.
Reflections From the Deep – Six featurettes that includes bonus footage from the filmmakers’ dives to the ocean floor and interviews with director James Cameron, Bill Paxton, and the rest of the crew.
The Cheese Sandwich Prank – a brief bit that has some fun with James Cameron.
DVD copy of the film – which features both the theatrical and the extended cut of the film.
Ghosts of the Abyss is a solid documentary overall, mostly thanks to the lengths that James Cameron went through to both be able to explore Titanic further and find a way to continue to present the story of this ship to audiences. His use of the 3D is fun enough as well, which is a nice way to view the film on Blu-ray, but it is a solid Blu-ray presentation in most regards anyway. Maybe more could have been done in the extras department, but the package is still quite strong regardless. If you’re a fan of this sort of documentary or want to learn even more about the Titanic, be willing to take a dive with this Blu-ray.