"Ghosts of the Abyss" is an ambitious, but flawed work from director James Cameron. I've always looked forward to any new effort from the "Titanic" director, and the idea of Cameron making an IMAX feature sounded intriguing. The movie does succeed in offering the viewer stunning 3-D images of the sunken ship, but there's still something uninvolving about the feature. "Ghosts" has Cameron inviting "Titanic" star Bill Paxton on an expedition to the Titanic at the bottom of the sea.
Much is made of the documentary's "unscripted" (for a movie that's supposed to be largely unscripted, why does it sound so written?) nature, but that isn't exactly a positive. After climbing into the mini-sub, Paxton makes much of whether or not the submarine is in proper working order. Somewhat entertaining for a moment, but what seems like several minutes are spent on Paxton's discussion of how much the batteries for the ship would cost.
On the subject of machines, there's also a sequence later in the picture where both of the team's ROV units (named Jake and Elwood, and also designed by Cameron's brother) get stuck inside the ship. The struggle seems to be more about how to turn this into drama than actually get the two robots out of the ship. Although the scene gets more interesting as it reaches its conclusion, it hits a nauseating snag when, after one camera has gone in, hooked and brought out of the other, "Just the Two of Us" actually plays on the soundtrack.
Once the crew finally reaches the ship, things start to get a tad better. The expressions of wonder by the crew aren't anything interesting ("Gee whiz, look at that! Amazing!" is heard a lot, as well as several other similar, obvious statements), but the visuals of the sunken ship are quite impressive. We get the occasional factoid about the ship and occasionally, even see some fascinating sights (a glass remains in place) and are able to marvel at how much of the ship still remains intact. Yet, I found it odd that, although we see how many scientists are joining Cameron and Paxton on this journey, we're never really introduced to any of them, nor do we hear from them much. There's a guy who nearly gets washed away as he's trying to secure the submarine in the middle of a storm. Who's he? We never find out.
Continuing the whole technology thing, Cameron remains too eager to showcase not only the technology at his fingertips for the expedition, but in post-production. Few moments go by during the film without some CGI people being inserted into the scene. Sometimes this works to enhance our understanding of the geography of the ship and how things occured during the night of the tragedy, but often, it seems overused. Picture-in-pictures of the crew also obscure some of the footage of the ship.
"Ghosts of the Abyss" is presented in IMAX 3-D, which is unfortunate. The film doesn't use 3-D particularly well, nor does the material suggest it was necessary. I've never particularly enjoyed the 3-D IMAX glasses - theaters never clean them, they're distractingly heavy or they're slipping down. The only IMAX feature I've ever seen that's used the format correctly is "Space Station" - that film didn't really throw anything at the audience, but simply used the 3-D format to add a remarkable sense of depth to the image.
"Ghosts of the Abyss" is very impressive at times, as the images from inside the ship are remarkable. However, the film is disappointingly uneven and unfocused - there are times when it seems too fascinated with the technology accompanying them on the journey than the journey itself. A handful of moments - shots of the crew playing around during a break, the ROV retreveal and others - could have been deleted and replaced with more description of the background of the scientists that've come along or of the ship itself. Either that, or the film could have been tightened down to a better-paced 40-45 minutes from 60. Additional still images of the building of the ship or glimpses at pieces of the ship that have been salvaged might have also been an interesting, non-flashy way to gain further insights into the ship's story.
Overall, this is a good film that may have been an even better film had it been streamlined and less reliant on technology to try and visually enhance a location that's fascinating enough as it is.
A light recommendation for those interested in the Titanic or for fans of Cameron's films.