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Cameron Explores Ocean in "Aliens of the Deep" Documentary

  • Annabelle Robertson Entertainment Critic
  • Updated Jul 27, 2007
Cameron Explores Ocean in "Aliens of the Deep" Documentary

Release Date:  January 28, 2004
Rating:  PG
Genre:  IMAX 3-D documentary
Run Time:  47 min.
Director:  James Cameron & Steven Quale
Actors:  James Cameron, Pamela Conrad, Djanna Figueroa, Kevin Hand, Loretta Hidalgo, Maya Tolstoy

There is no shortage of life at the bottom of the ocean – it’s just getting there that’s the problem. With his bevy of scientists and camera-laden submersibles, however, director James “King of the World” Cameron has done just that. And the results are certainly worth exploring.

Using an IMAX 3-D camera and “Jake,” the robotic mini-cam he used to explore the ruins of the Titanic in “Ghosts of the Abyss” (another IMAX film), Cameron took a crew of marine biologists, space scientists and astrobiologists on 40 dives at 10 different sites in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. His goal was to learn about life on the ocean floor in order to eventually prepare for an expedition – however futuristic – to other planets of the solar system. One of the first sites they visited was “Lost City,” which required a 30-minute descent of more than 3,000 feet. There, the crew filmed hydrothermal vent chimneys that have grown to heights of 300 feet. Spewing boiling hot water, the tower-like chimneys are estimated to be at least 30,000 years old.

On another dive to “Snake Pit,” Cameron filmed thousands of shrimp, all fighting to feed off the nutrients pouring out of the vents, which appeared as billows of thick, black smoke. Amazingly, the water was so hot that the scientists had to back away in their submersible, but the heat didn’t affect the shrimp at all. They appeared to actually thrive, having somehow adjusted to the boiling temperatures.

On the East Pacific Rise, southwest of Mexico, the crew filmed 6-foot-tall tapeworms with blood-red plumes that billowed in 150-degree water. The worms’ feet, however, were anchored onto the ocean floor – in freezing water. Somehow, they had adjusted to these dual temperatures. Other interesting animals included blind white crabs, an albino octopus (which attacked the submersible!) and what they all agreed was probably the ugliest fish on the planet. And just wait until you see the gigantic jellyfish, which floats like something ethereal and otherworldly.

Cameron has always been fascinated with underwater exploration – something that is reflected in his films. But the same man who directed “The Abyss,” “Titanic,” and “Ghosts of the Abyss” also made “Aliens.” Additionally, Cameron has a undergraduate degree in physics (from California State University), so it is not so surprising that he has teamed up with scientists for this adventurous, cutting-edge expedition. What’s interesting is that Cameron is not content to just explore below the water. He also wants to extend the concept to outer space.

Fascinated by the idea of life on other planets, he speaks of this throughout the film and even goes as far as creating CGI shots of Europa, the second moon of Jupiter, as well as what he imagines an exploratory mission might look like. The link is not as tenuous as it might sound, even though we’re venturing into serious geek-like thinking here. If there is life on other planets, it is probably in places where this is no sunlight – much like the ocean floor. Also, as one astrobiologist put it, “Wherever we’ve found liquid water on Earth, we’ve found life. Will we find it elsewhere that we find water?”

The imaginary space shots detract somewhat from the original theme of the film – an unnecessary but interesting departure. With such amazing, vibrant footage, you’ll be more than happy to stay underwater, though – especially with the mesmerizing, lifelike, 3-D images that envelope you. Just try and resist the urge to reach out and touch the plants and animals, which appear just inches from your face.

The message of the film is one of wonder and awe at all that the world has to offer.  Throughout, the young, exuberant scientists exclaim, “How can a creature like this be alive?” and other such comments, adding to the sense of discovery.  The movie ends with these words: “Nature has more to teach us that we can possibly imagine.”  Watching this film, and hearing their never-ending astonishment, I couldn’t help but think of the words of the Apostle Paul:

By taking a long and thoughtful look at what God has created, people have always been able to see what their eyes as such can't see: eternal power, for instance, and the mystery of his divine being. So nobody has a good excuse.
(Romans 1:20, “The Message”)

A worthy endeavor by an excellent director, suitable for all ages.

AUDIENCE: All ages


  • Drugs/Alcohol Content:   None.
  • Language/Profanity:   Two or three mild profanities (“Oh my God”).
  • Sexual Content/Nudity: None.
  • Violence:  Scientists dive deep into the ocean in small submarines, which implies risk of accident or death – but there is no discussion of such risks, and everything goes off without a hitch.