Ever since mega-blockbuster director James Cameron made The Abyss, he seems to have had deep-sea fever. And ever since he scored cajillions of dollars on T2 and Titanic, he's had enough capital to make his Richard-Branson-inspired adventurer dreams come true.
Post-Titanic, Cameron made a 3-D documentary about exploring the wreck of the real sunken luxury liner, titled Ghosts of the Abyss; and then later released another wreck-dive chronicle, Expedition: Bismarck. Now, he takes to the breach once more in Aliens of the Deep, an often-incredible, sometimes-annoying 3-D IMAX adventure that finds Cameron seeking out the creepy crawlies that teem around the ocean bottom's heat vents.
(By the way, what's up with these titles? Is True Lies of the Marine Mammals next? Sheesh.)
At the core of Aliens of the Deep are some of the most awe-inspiring images of the very mysterious, deepest, darkest parts of our planet - ocean trenches - and the creatures that thrive there. And, honestly, the 3-D is pretty outrageous at times, like when you feel as if you're immersed in a swarm of white vent shrimp or when you're gazing upon the hypnotic undulations of a finned cephalopod. That extra depth adds a great deal to standard dive photography, like Jacques Cousteau on steroids.
But while you're likely to be grateful for Cameron capturing this incredible footage, it won't take long for you to tire of his constant chatter, narrating nearly every minute of the film with his inane "That's the most amazing thing ever"-isms. James, just shut up!
Helping him to annoy us are several scientists who are along for the ride. Cameron says that he hand-picked this young and eager bunch - including an astrobiologist, a marine biologist, a planetary scientist, and a geologist - for their expertise and teaching skills, in order to draw parallels between the search for life deep under the sea and for life deep in outer space. "Cameron's kids" are fairly interesting when they're discussing their science, but get as annoying as their benefactor once they break into "oohs" and "aahs." Obviously, Cameron would never bother to edit any of that down.
Finally, he hits us with one of his classic clunker endings, going right off the 3-D deep end. (Spoiler alert here, for anyone who cares.) In his desperate grasp at the sea-space comparison, he presents his CGI vision of an underwater city at the bottom of a sub-ice ocean on an alien world. Then, he places his real wonder-kid scientists in the scene, interacting with the CGI swimming ETs. Please, Jimbo, does every feature need special effects, especially when such a budget-looking segment has to compete with such awesome real-world wildlife?
Obviously, in my view, the answer is no. And I would've rated this film higher, if Cameron hadn't marred his natural-world chronicle with far too much of his imagination. Some things are just better left alone. Fortunately, most of Aliens of the Deep stands on its own merits, and is definitely worth the price of admission. Even if you have to wear the stupid glasses.
The DVD includes the 45-minute IMAX version (not in 3-D, obviously) plus an extended cut that's over twice as long. If you want to hear about all the problems on the boat and hear even more from Cameron's kids, you'll love the supersize version.
The enemy of my anemone is my friend.