Dirs: John Bruno, Andrew Wight, Ray Quint. US-Australia. 2014. 90mins
James Cameron is in front of rather than behind the camera for Deepsea Challenge 3D, a documentary about the Titanic director’s latest underwater adventure that’s interesting enough as a submarine procedural but disappointingly light on drama or spectacle. This National Geographic production will need to make the most of its 3D cinematography and Cameron’s name to have much of a chance in theatrical release. It should fare better on smaller screens.
Cameron narrates the film in a voice over that emphasises the bigger issues behind exploration of the unknown and keeps up an oddly folksy commentary during the dive sequences.
An August 8 release in US cinemas - through ‘next-gen’ distributor Disruptive LA - will give the film its first theatrical test and approaching the domestic tallies of Cameron-directed underwater docs Aliens Of The Deep ($9m in 2005) and Ghosts Of The Abyss ($17m in 2003) seems unlikely. Markets with strong maritime traditions (an Australian theatrical launch is set for August 21) probably offer the best international prospects.
Directed by VFX veteran John Bruno, Australian explorer-filmmaker Andrew Wight and Australian producer-director Ray Quint, Deepsea Challenge follows Cameron and his international team on their quest to pull off the first solo voyage to the bottom of the Mariana Trench, the nearly seven mile deep ocean trough in the western Pacific previously only visited by a crude two-man US Navy vessel in 1960.
The documantary’s first half shows the building and launch of the expedition’s privately funded, innovatively designed submersible, interspersing the action with archive footage and recreations covering the previous Mariana mission and Cameron’s life, first as a young science geek, then as the king of Hollywood blockbusters and more recently as an underwater explorer. It also recounts the tragic deaths of writer-director-producer Wight and underwater cinematographer Mike deGruy in a helicopter accident.
Test dives in progressively deeper parts of the ocean produce a few tense moments - captured by a remote camera inside the cramped pilot’s compartment with Cameron - and a few shots of strange deepsea creatures. But the actual Mariana Trench dive doesn’t start until well into the film’s second half and when Cameron eventually reaches the bottom it turns out to be a featureless expanse of silt with very little for the craft’s 3D cameras to shoot.
Cameron narrates the film in a voice over that emphasises the bigger issues behind exploration of the unknown and keeps up an oddly folksy commentary during the dive sequences. There are only glimpses of the intensity for which the Oscar-winning director is renowned - which is a shame, because a bit more intensity would have served the film well.
Production company: National Geographic Entertainment, Earthship Productions, Beyond Productions
US distribution: Disruptive LA
International sales: Panorama Media, www.filmpanorama.com
Producers: Andrew Wight, Brett Popplewell
Executive producers: James Cameron, Lisa Truitt, Maria Wilhelm, Mikael Borglund
Screenplay: Andrew Wight, John Garvin
Cinematography: Jules O’Loughlin, John Stokes
Editor: Jane Moran
Music: David Hirschfelder, Ricky Edwards, Brett Aplin, Amy Bastow