Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Ghosts of the Abyss 3D / 2D Blu-ray Review

Reviewed by Sean Ferguson
Academy Award-winning Director and master storyteller, James Cameron journey’s back to the site of his greatest inspiration – the legendary wreck of the Titanic. With a team of the world’s foremost historic and marine experts and friend Bill Paxton, he embarks on an unscripted adventure back to the final grave where nearly 1,500 souls lost their lives almost a century ago. Using state-of-the-art technology developed expressly for this expedition, Cameron and his crew are able to explore virtually all of the wreckage, inside and out, as never-before. With the most advanced 3D photography, moviegoers will experience the ship as if they are part of crew, right inside the dive subs. In this unprecedented motion picture event, made especially for IMAX 3D theatres and specially outfitted 35MM 3D theaters across the country, Cameron and his team bring audiences to sights not seen since the sinking 90 years ago and explore why the landmark vessel – more than any shipwreck – continues to intrigue and fascinate the public.

Film (5 out of 5 stars)  

James Cameron has taken us to the Abyss and even to see the final resting place of the R.M.S. Titanic through his movies, but in Ghosts of the Abyss, he returned to the legendary ship in 2001 to provide even more footage of not only the exterior of the ship as before, but also the interior as well, providing the first look inside of Titanic since it sank on April 14, 1912.  Using two small remotely operated vehicles known as “Jake” and “Elwood” that Cameron and his brother Mike created just for this film, they were able to film every part of the ship that the mini ROVs could enter.  As Cameron later said, “Over seven or eight dives, we entered about every space that is still enterable: the dining room, the reception room, the stairwells, the first-class staterooms. We even went into the purser’s office and saw the safe.”  The end result of this unprecedented access is an engrossing journey through the wreck that’s brought to life as never before in 3D.
Thanks to Ghosts of the Abyss, we get to see the Titanic in all her devastation but also what what she looked like in her heyday thanks to the superimposed re-enactment images that are placed over the ship.  We also learn that Bill Paxton is a likable whiner who is a complete wuss when it comes to ships and submersibles.  During August and September 2001, Cameron and his collection of scientists and maritime experts journeyed to the final resting place to film Titanic one more time.  After seven to eight dives to the wreck, they managed to capture the most amazing footage ever seen of the Titanic.  ”We went into staterooms, saw their beds, their sinks, their mirrors; we knew who was in each room and we found their clothing, their personal effects.  We went into the hold and looked at the cargo; we went into the dining room and saw the beautiful leaded glass windows that are still there, intact.  The elegance of the Titanic still exists, but it has remained beyond the reach of all previous expeditions, including our expedition in 1995.  ”Seeing it this way, there’s no way to think of this but as a human tragedy,” says Cameron.
Cameron brings history alive even more with his filmed footage that’s superimposed on the wreck which show’s us how the ship looked before the accident and it allows us to recognize what we are seeing before it was damaged. That glimpse of history is tantalizing for those of us that have long been interested in Titanic.  Cameron uses CGI to recreate the interior and exterior of the ship and then lets us see the real thing up close which adds a punch when it sinks in that each location visited was the place that many spent their final moments.  As Cameron later said, “When you’re a kid growing up, you think of Titanic as a myth, a story, something Hollywood might have created.  But when you’re down there, and you can point at the wreck and say, ‘That’s where the band played, that’s where First Officer Murdoch would have been loading people into boats’, it gets very personal.  You can imagine and understand the event much more clearly.”  A reminder that disasters can befall anyone is brought home to Cameron and his crew when they learn about the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 which almost makes them return home to be with their loved ones before deciding to complete their task.
As someone who has been interested in the Titanic for decades, I am the perfect target demographic for this kind of release.  To be given the chance to see inside the Titanic and  then to have the recreations that bring it to life is simply amazing and I loved every minute of it.  Many other documentaries have ventured outside the Titanic’s hull which is pretty cool, but to see the interior is even better especially for as much as we get to see.  As Cameron said later, “We went into staterooms, saw their beds, their sinks, their mirrors; we knew who was in each room and we found their clothing, their personal effects.  We went into the hold and looked at the cargo; we went into the dining room and saw the beautiful leaded glass windows that are still there, intact.  The elegance of the Titanic still exists, but it has remained beyond the reach of all previous expeditions, including our expedition in 1995.”  It’s eerie to see the signs of life that remain such as a water glass that is still sitting in its holder intact or the dishes that are still stacked in a cabinet.  Seeing these kind of reminders that living beings were once here adds a tremendous emotional impact to the film and for my money this film trumps Cameron’s other Titanic effort starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet as I’d rather have the real thing.

Video (4 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

2D Video (4 out of 5 stars) 

3D Video (5 out of 5 stars)  

This set of Ghosts of the Abyss comes with a very impressive 2D 1080p (1.78:1) transfer and an even more spectacular 3D (1.78:1) transfer that is even better.  Both offer razor sharp pictures that allow you to see every detail present, from the fraying fabrics to each rusticle that’s eating away the ship like parasitic stalactites.  It’s amazing how good this looks considering how and where it was filmed miles below the ocean where there is no light present.  In this low light environment it is occasionally hard to see which is also due to the debris in the water and when the ROVs kick up some sand from the ocean’s bottom, but overall this looks incredible.  The 3D transfer is even more impressive as it gives you the feeling that you are in the ship itself.  The sense of depth makes the rooms bigger and longer and adds a lot of immersion to the experience.  There’s cool 3D effects too like watching Jake and Elwood float through the room or when the sub’s retractable claw is extended, it seems to come out of the television.  In an unusual twist, for this release the 2D version has the darker picture while the 3D version is a lot brighter which is strange because usually it’s the  reverse of that with these kind of releases.

Audio (4 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

Ghosts of the Abyss’ DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is also very nice but it doesn’t get many changes to show of the range of this lossless mix.  When Cameron and his merry band are on the Keldysh, the mix is very atmospheric and lively as you can hear all of the activity on the ship all around you.  Whether it’s the crew joking around or the waves crashing against the ship, it all comes through well and with a punch.  One scene in particular, in which the crew scramble to attach a hoist line to the submersibles in the middle of a storm with waves crashing against them and the ship is especially exciting and this mix does a nice job making you think you are there.  Once underneath the ocean down to the bottom where Titanic rests, the mix dials it down a lot and there’s only occasional effects.  The rear channels keep the music alive but at a respectful level when exploring the wreck.

Extras (3 out of 5 stars) 

I was really hoping for some cool extras on this disc, but it didn't happen unfortunately. They aren't even in high definition!

  • Reflections From the Deep - A thirty minute look at how this film was put together with comments from director James Cameron, Bill Paxton, and others.  This six part series was pretty interesting to see how they were able to combine the real footage from the wreck with the live action footage that was shot on a green screen and added later to create the ghostly images.
  • The Cheese Sandwich Prank - A funny but short look at why James Cameron only gets cheese sandwiches for each dive.  It’s a funny prank and it’s too bad we don’t get to see the payoff later when Cameron finally learns why.

Summary (4 out of 5 stars)    

I really enjoyed this movie, especially the 3D version looks the best and it offers a remarkable 3D experience.  This is a great Blu-ray release with stellar audio and video quality, but I wish they had put more of an effort into the special features.  Compared to Cameron’s Titanic which had a couple of discs of extras, this movie is seriously lacking in that department.  Despite that shortcoming, I still highly recommend this release to anyone that is interested in the Titanic or is looking for a fantastic 3D release to show off their equipment.
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