James Cameron as Himself
Pamela Conrad as Herself, Astrobiologist, JPL
Djanna Figueroa as Herself, Marine Animal Physiologist, UC Santa Barbara
Kevin Hand as Himself, Planetary Scientist, Stanford University/SETI Institute)
Loretta Hidalgo as Herself, President Space Generation Foundation
Maya Tolstoy as Herself, Marine Seismologist Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University
James Cameron must have spent too much time in the water while shooting Titanic, as he returns to the ocean for his 2nd Disney documentary, Aliens of the Deep. Following 2003’s similar documentary Ghosts of the Abyss, Cameron and a team of scientists descend to the deepest depths of the ocean to explore, always bringing along his trusty IMAX cameras. What results is what some will find fascinating, but most will find a well-photographed bore.
The movie is framed mainly from the point of the view of a young scientist (the reasonably charming Djanna Figueroa) and follows Figueroa and a team of NASA scientists to the farthest reaches of the ocean. Figueroa mans one submersible, while Cameron mans the other; the team checks out hydrothermal vents and many other places where sea creatures are able to survive without sunlight. He finds many freakish looking animals (including a gigantic ugly fish, jellyfish called “space bagels,” and a whole lot of shrimp) and states that the creatures are the closest things to alien life found on Earth.
While it’s hard not to root for Cameron and the crew because of their “important” work, I couldn’t keep my eyes open throughout the thankfully scant 45 minute running time. Figueroa makes an appealing lead, but the material she spouts is so technical, it frequently becomes droning and long-winded. The rest of the crew is equally as dreary. Much of the film is the crew preparing to dive; it was much like an unfunny version of Wes Anderson’s The Life Aquatic. Cameron is also part of the on-camera crew and acts like, well, a director. He frequently guides the cameras around the ocean depths and is equally in awe as the scientists are about the wonders of the ocean.
The one great thing about the film is the incredible use of 3D visuals. The glasses are not the requisite red-and-blue specs, but clear plated glasses that don’t give headaches after twenty minutes. Cameron fuses great-looking CGI images of Jupiter with the realistic shots of the ocean. Both images lovingly jump off the screen offering the audience some beautiful visuals to take minds off the fairly boring subject matter.
As a science documentary, the film is successful, but it plays like a Cameron home movie, combined with PBS’ Nova series. While this does give Cameron more time to play with his patented IMAX 3D camera before he lenses the much-anticipated Battle Angel, he misses the boat with Aliens of the Deep.