Monday, September 6, 2010

#31. Ghosts of the Abyss (2003)

Directed By: James Cameron

Starring: Bill Paxton, James Cameron, Lewis Abernathy

Tag line: "The legend no one can forget has become the greatest 3D adventure ever filmed"

Trivia: The two robotic submarines in the film are named Jake and Elwood, a reference to The Blues Brothers

It’s been resting on the ocean floor for nearly a century. Through two World Wars, the rise and fall of Nazism and Communism, and incredible breakthroughs in medicine and technology, it has remained perfectly still, oblivious to the march of time. 

So why, after all these years, are we still fascinated by the wreck of the RMS Titanic?

Maybe it’s because Titanic was billed in 1912 as the new Queen of the sea, a vessel that was virtually indestructible, yet she never completed her maiden voyage. 

Perhaps its lasting appeal owes a debt to the individual feats of gallantry, from the legendary Molly Brown, a woman recognized for her bravery in helping others board the life rafts, to the band that continued to play as Titanic slowly sank, doing their part to bring an air of calm to the ever-growing sense of despair. 

Ultimately, the lure may simply lie in the fact that she still sits at the bottom of the ocean, jealously guarding the secrets of her last few hours. Whatever the attraction, Titanic remains, to this day, a fascinating topic of discussion.

Ghosts of the Abyss, a documentary by filmmaker James Cameron (and hosted by his frequent collaborator, actor Bill Paxton), travels to the bottom of the Atlantic to visit the great ship in the hopes of uncovering a few of its more elusive mysteries, and as someone who is continually fascinated by the tales of Titanic’s demise, I admit this is a documentary I couldn’t wait to see.

More than an outstanding documentary, Ghosts of the Abyss is a film that needed to be made. Technology has grown rapidly over the past 100 or so years, perhaps a bit too rapidly for some; there are those who believe our dependence on computers and machines will eventually lead to the “dehumanization” of society. In Ghosts of the Abyss, incredibly advanced devices (like the two robotic submersibles nicknamed "Jake" and "Elwood", which are sent into Titanic to explore its remains) are used to shed light on the individual stories behind the catastrophe. In this case, the human element is enhanced, not destroyed, by technology, taking it much further than would have been possible had such equipment never existed. 

Thanks to the vision of James Cameron and the dedicated work of his entire crew, we understand more clearly the horrible tragedy that occurred on that terrible night. Ghosts of the Abyss is a documentary worthy of the grand ship itself.

And what of Titanic? After breaking apart and sinking many years ago, carrying with it the lives of 1,500 passengers and crew, what’s to be its legacy? 

I believe it is best summed up by a remarkable discovery that Cameron and his team made deep within Titanic’s remains, where a washstand was found sitting perfectly upright, a drinking glass and carafe resting comfortably upon it. In the middle of all the destruction and chaos, this find was one of the few bastions of order, a reminder of a time when Titanic sailed across the sea, carrying with it the promise of a bright new future. 

During one ill-fated night a century ago, Titanic sank to the ocean floor amidst a scene of unspeakable horror, and yet, this steel graveyard now serves as home to countless sea creatures. Like that washstand, undisturbed by the events of April 15, 1912, a sense of order now surrounds Titanic, which has become part of the natural ecosystem, many fathoms below the ocean’s surface.

The tragedy is over, and the great ship rests in peace.

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