James Cameron's Aliens of the Deep: Voyages to the Strange World of the Deep Ocean Hardcover – Feb 1 2005
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From Publishers Weekly
Physician and scientist MacInnis, the first person to dive under the North Pole, brings extensive experience surveying the undersea world to this tribute to Titanic director Cameron's latest 3D, giant screen deep-sea extravaganza of the same name. The book combines MacInnis's fascinating descriptions of the deep-sea hydrothermal vents that are the film's focal point with fawning reporting on the many obstacles Cameron faced as he directed what has become one of the most expensive documentary films ever made. The work's most compelling parts are MacInnis's brief "Dispatches": two- to three-page sidebars giving more detailed investigations of related scientific issues, such as how hydrothermal vents may provide a way of looking at the subterranean life that might exist on planets and moons in our solar system. Unfortunately, MacInnis's text makes up only half of the book. The other half, nearly 100 photographs taken from the film, is a major disappointment, with most images lacking crisp resolution and definition. Almost all of the most interesting views of underwater life appear to have been photographed through a thin gauze; what could have been an amazing shot of superheated water shooting from a vent ends up looking like a blur of black and brown, for example, while another shot of shoals of shrimp covering a vent system ends up looking like a mass of pasta. (Feb.)
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After some initial preparation activities, including stripping the side from one of the ships, the probes are launched. Two hours descent is compressed into twenty seconds, but the sea floor, over 800 metres down is reached. There's a great deal of interprobe conversation and both internal and outside shots of the vehicles. Cameron's budget extended to five probes altogether, giving him every possibility for film-making. Wisely, he chose both international and interdiscipline characters, with a mix of Russian, US, geophysicists and astrobiologists. The film buff will recognise none but Cameron, but it's hoped the research community will pick out familiar names. Personal accounts abound, but one has to wonder at somebody blocking a viewport with a baby's photograph.
As a producer, Cameron has a sense of lighting and filming scenes, and some of these are little short of stunning. Sea life at depth is sparse, but "something nobody's ever seen" is likely to appear. One, a form of jellyfish, brings the predictable gasps of awe, and with good reason. It's indeed a bizarre creature with possibly a lengthy history. The scarcity of life suddenly turns abundant as the divers approach a "black smoker". Cameron's lighting talents come to the fore as one vehicle lights the chimney from behind while another films the discharge in glorious close-up. It may be "Hollywood lighting", but the resulting image seems worth it.
Through it all, one has to wonder if the researchers entertained thoughts of how it was that James Cameron had one robot and four manned dive vessels when their chance at but one means scheduling and a queue. Preparation and its problems are not minor aspects of deep ocean research, but how much of it's necessary for a commercial film? More to the point, although the scientists struggled to impart that the sea is 70% of the Earth's living space, the science behind Cameron's effort remains subdued. It's true that studying how to do tasks at the bottom of the sea will aid in exploring other planets in the search for ET life. But there is much to be learned about life itself at depth - a topic remains little explored.
Finally, the question remains whether an IMAX film truly can be brought to the home screen. Only those who have seen this in both formats can judge. If you want to see a realm new to surface eyes, this film may be an interesting starting point. Don't stop here. If this film doesn't prompt you to go on to find a real film on the ecosystem of three-quarters of the world, it has failed in its task. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
Some reviewers have complained about the quality of these images. I do not agree. These pictures are supurb. The fact that they exist at all is amazing. Then you have to realize that they are taken a mile or two or three below the surface of the ocean. It's a long ways down there, you can't spend long there, and you are shooting the picture through water. And the pictures you are taking are of things that man has never seen before, at one point they counted 500 newly identified species.
I also liked the occassional reference to the way this is not unlike space exploration, one comment, "piloting a mini-sub at 12,000 feet is very similar to flying a spacecraft to another planet. You must be prepared for isolation and the risk of losing your life."
Thank you guys for going down there, I don't believe I want to go with you. I'll just look at the pictures.
spew super hot water from the ocean floor. These hydrothermal vents provide the unique environment needed to sustain life at extreme temperatures and pressures, without any dependence on photosynthesis - unlike any other multicellular forms of life on earth. This "alien" environment allows scientists to study the ability of life to thrive in extreme situations such as might exist on distant planets. On the extended version Cameron also reveals the events that took place behind the scenes during the filming, which gives the viewer an idea of the enormity of the problems faced in this technological undertaking.
But what really makes this video so extraordinary is the appearance of deep water camera technician Mark Robinson, who brings a McQeen-esque intensity to the screen. Even though he only appears very briefly (at around the 8 minute mark in the extended version), and he has no lines, he exudes a sense of self-assuredness and steals every scene in which he appears. Unfortunately, his story was much too long to be included in this documentary. The real life drama that unfolded during the filming of this documentary that centered around his mysterious disappearance in the middle of the Atlantic is now rumored to be the basis for a new Cameron film; let's keep our fingers crossed on that one.
Reviewed by Mark Robinson
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