What do famous directors do when crafting groundbreaking cinematic adventures becomes a mundane chore? They build their own pressure-resistant submersible, sail around the ocean for a few weeks, and dive deeper than any man has ever attempted to plunge alone. Yes, James Cameron is a modern-day Scrooge McDuck, spending limitless amounts of money just so he can carry out an underwater adventure while all of us watch, becoming this zany character who doesn’t even seem fit for reality. I mean, South Park said it best in the episode entitled “Raising The Bar” – “James Cameron doesn’t do what James Cameron does for James Cameron. James Cameron does what James Cameron does because James Cameron is James Cameron.” Welcome to DEEPSEA CHALLENGE 3D.
Ever since Cameron was a small boy, he dreamed of exploring oceanic depths many thought to be unreachable. Confessing his geeky obsession with underwater exploration, Cameron wanted to go deeper and farther than any man, setting his sights on the Mariana Trench. Existing almost seven miles deep under the waters of the Pacific Ocean, who wouldn’t want to swim around a location never before seen by human eyes, mainly because the crushing pressure couldn’t be mastered? Turning fantasy into reality, Cameron recently teamed with a group of mechanical wizards to develop an upright submarine vehicle that could give the director his shot at exploring the behemoth trench, possibly finding new species and other scientific nuggets along the way. Starting out as nothing but a boyhood dream, join James as he pushes the boundaries of discovery, recording every step of the way with the special 3D cameras rigged to his unique diving vessel.
I’m sure activists will be crying about Cameron’s squandering of money on his own personal accord, instead of taking the philanthropic high road, but it’s not like the obsessive filmmaker-turned-adventurer is blowing his money on strippers and cocaine. There are so many worse ways a powerful, rich socialite could waste hard-earned dough, and Cameron is nice enough to bring us along for his aquatic ride into the abyss. Because of what Cameron accomplishes, numerous unrecorded organisms are now categorized and previously unseen areas can be described, but most importantly, Cameron shares how he turned nothing but a childhood dream into an astonishing passion project.
On the other hand, while diving deeper than any man sounds like a momentous occasion, there really isn’t much excitement as far as this documentary goes. It’s not like Cameron is fighting sharks or discovering the lost city of Atlantis – we simply watch a man stuck int a tiny sphere drift through a sheet-like darkness. There’s no lavish agriculture decorating these trenches, just sand and hills, which doesn’t exactly give Cameron much to describe or show off. The only real drama comes in the form of malfunctions on the submersible, which means a mechanical arm might stop working, but all this results in is a quick escape towards the surface. Number crunchers and theorists will undoubtedly watch Cameron’s plunge with eyes glued, but coming from someone with limited interests in such activities, there’s never a momentous climax or spine-tingling jolt of energy – just a man, his cameras, and hidden waters.
Cameron himself doesn’t actually direct his DEEPSEA CHALLENGE 3D documentary, instead letting a trio of previous collaborators tell his watery story. Since this is typical National Geographic material, the decision isn’t a failure, but I can’t help but feel like the drab excursion doesn’t beg for a big-screen delivery. Honestly, the whole ordeal plays like a special Nat Geo might air in a prime-time slot, as Cameron’s 3D technology doesn’t exactly achieve Avatar status once again. We follow a team of explorers who build the ship with typical documentary style shooting, a few cutaway interviews introduce some floating heads, and the rest of the shots are comprised by Cameron’s underwater sub rigged with cameras. Each point of view accentuates a particular visual advantage, the most obvious being underwater cameras recording Cameron’s unprecedented exploration, but again, it simply comes down to what the cameras actually capture – and sans a few unexpected moments, bland chatting dominates most segments.
DEEPSEA CHALLENGE 3D was created solely for anyone who shares in Cameron’s “nerdy” Jacques Cousteau obsession, as they’ll watch in amazement at the depths reached. There are also undeniably impressive moments depicting the true power of human will, but aside from these applause-worthy examples, casual viewers are going to be in for a watch that toes the lines of “boring” and “uninteresting.” I rightfully can’t call it a “bad” production – it’s just not my cup of tea. If James Cameron left his submarine to fight a giant octopus armed only with a harpoon, I might be singing a different tune, but as it stands, the directors could have simply transformed Cameron’s exploits into an hour-long special and had a much tighter, more attention-grabbing project. Oh well, at least Cameron can stop being an eccentric millionaire and just focus on Avatar 2 now.
Unfortunately for Cameron, his deepsea challenge feels like an hour-long special that's been unnecessarily elongated just to cash in on 3D ticket prices.