Deepsea Challenge 3D (★★½)

james_camerons_deepsea_challenge_threedOne of the more undeniably immersive documentaries of this sort to hit theaters in some time (partially due to the use of 3D, I’ll admit to that), Deepsea Challenge 3D is an interesting look at the bottom of the ocean and what it takes for man to get there while also being a love letter to James Cameron and his ambitions. The former aspect of the doc works far better than the latter, though time spent with Cameron is never boring, let me be clear there (it’s also probably the best selling point…it’s 90 minutes or so tagging along with Cameron on one of his adventures). It’s just a bit like a home movie from someone you’re not related to. The actual nitty gritty of it all was pretty interesting to me, though admittedly not much beyond the type of thing that you can usually see for free on television. That’s part of why I struggled with whether to go two and a half or three stars here. I’m not sure how much value there is in actually plopping down hard earned cash for this doc in a movie theater, but it’s still a film that I think is enjoyable enough and worth seeing if you have an interest. In the end, I obviously went with the lesser star rating and am not overtly recommending the flick, but Deepsea Challenge 3D isn’t the type of thing that you really need to rush out and see ASAP anyway. It’s there if you want it though…

The documentary is an in detail chronicle of James Cameron’s solo dive to the very depths of the Mariana Trench, along with a look at how he designed the submersible known as the Deepsea Challenger that he’d pilot and also how his love of the ocean, technology, and also cinema got him to where he is today. Obviously the highlight is the journey he takes, going just about seven miles beneath the ocean’s surface while piloting that self designed craft, but you see far more of the submersible being built and the many challenges faced there. There’s obviously some footage shown from aquatic adventures that Cameron created like The Abyss and Titanic, but as much as anything this is a making of doc. Instead of a film though, it’s the making of a submersible that will keep Cameron alive on this adventure. You spend some time with Cameron’s family, but way more with the design team, who’s basically like his second family. You also see/hear a bit of how Cameron is as a captain, which seems not to far off from how he is as a filmmaker.

James-Cameron-Deepsea-Challege-3D-New-Trailer2Since he’s not the writer or director here, Cameron gets to just be the star. He’s an interesting character to follow around, I’ll say that. As mentioned above, you get to see not just his childlike excitement at the prospect of exploration, but also how he can be more than a bit of a harsh taskmaster. I’m sure this isn’t a completely unfiltered look at the man, but it’s not exactly hero worship either, which makes for a more interesting experience. You get more than you otherwise would if you were just watching a Making Of special feature on a DVD or Blu-Ray of Avatar or one of his previous films. The doc puts Cameron front and center, so it’s certainly a positive that he doesn’t shy away from the spotlight whatsoever. He may not be a movie star, but he’s not a wallflower either.

The trio of directors here on the documentary are John Bruno, Ray Quint, and Andrew Wright. The three of them don’t do anything particularly noteworthy, I have to say. They don’t do anything wrong either, but aside from utilizing 3D to give you that “you are there” feeling while diving below the surface with Cameron, they basically just follow him around and let him do his thing. The sequences under water are nice to look at and feel immersive, but that could be more due to the 3D than anything else. It’s nothing to really complain about too much, but they do prevent the doc from really having any chance of being too memorable, frankly speaking. Bruno, Quint, and Wright are just stand-ins for Cameron, and there’s really no comparison, so it just is what is in that regard.

Overall, I never found myself being particularly bored by Deepsea Challenge 3D, and this is coming from someone without a huge interest in the material, so that could bode well for many of you audience members out there. Sure, I like these sort of educational documentaries that you see in museums well enough, as well as Cameron’s docs that he actually helmed, but this one mostly is just an excuse to utilize 3D. If not for that, I’m sure this just would have shown up on the National Geographic channel. Despite that, it’s not a bad experience, so I’m giving it that lukewarm pseudo recommendation I discussed a bit earlier. If you’re starving for a doc that’s using an extra dimension, you could certainly do worse than Deepsea Challenge 3D. Honestly, it’s really your only option, but still…

Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!