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James Cameron's Deepsea Challenge 3D: Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray + DVD Review

James Cameron's Deepsea Challenge 3D (2014) movie poster Deepsea Challenge 3D

Theatrical Release: August 8, 2014 / Running Time: 91 Minutes / Rating: PG

Directors: John Bruno, Andrew Wight, Ray Quint / Writers: Andrew Wight, John Garvin

Tagline: Deep Dangerous Determined

Featured Subjects: James Cameron, Suzy Amis Cameron, Andrew Wight, Don Walsh, Mike deGruy, John Garvin / Re-Enactment Cast: Edward Speller (Young James Cameron), Lachlan Woods (Jacques Piccard), Paul Henri (Don Walsh), Frank Lotito (Giuseppe Buono)

Buy James Cameron's Deepsea Challenge 3D from Amazon.com: Blu-ray 3D/2D + DVD DVD Instant Video

Nowadays, when James Cameron isn't making billion dollar blockbusters, he's making scientific documentaries for a very small audience. The only directing credits he took in between Titanic and Avatar were a pair of hour-long IMAX 3D documentaries for Disney and Walden Media. Now, while demand for what are to be three Avatar sequels seems to cool,
Cameron has executive-produced James Cameron's Deepsea Challenge 3D, a feature-length documentary released to 300 standard theaters for a week in August to minimal fanfare and now available to own.

The possessive title is not merely a promotional device to get Cameron's name out there. He is absolutely the star of this film and the one taking this self-imposed challenge. Those who have detected an ego in the big-thinking movies Cameron has written and directed will find it soaring to new heights here. This documentary is as much about the filmmaker as it is about his exploration.

We get clips from three of Cameron's biggest films reflecting his adventuresome spirit: The Abyss, Titanic, and Avatar. Besides looks at those and their making, we also are treated to excerpts from Cameron's previous ocean voyages, though the movies aren't cited by name. Cameron actually asks about himself whether he is a filmmaker or an explorer first and foremost. In recent years, it seems like he'd prefer to choose the latter, but the fact stands that making the highest-grossing movie of all time is what allows him to pursue endeavors of greatest interest to himself.

James Cameron is the center of attention in "James Cameron's Deepsea Challenge 3D", as the filmmaker/explorer travels to extreme ocean depths.

The film, which casts a young actor to play the pre-teen Cameron in a few 1960s re-enactments, proceeds to document Cameron's goal to be dropped to the furthest depths of the ocean ever explored. For that, a fire-treated steel sphere is crafted to withstand the pressure. In its cramped space, Cameron will alone navigate a vertical torpedo while remaining in contact with a number of scientists and specialists on the ocean's surface.

Cameron describes himself as a family man with five kids and his fifth and current wife, Titanic actress Suzy Amis Cameron (shunning conventional aging and the glamorous standards of her former profession), is prominent on the scene and staying in touch. The movie seems to either exaggerate the danger or understate his recklessness, as the slightest mishap is presumed to be deadly. Spoiler alert: Cameron completes the mission without so much as a scratch. Two key crew members -- underwater camera operator Mike deGruy and writer-director Andrew Wight (who also penned the Cameron-produced 2011 fictional deepsea exploration thriller Sanctum) -- were not as lucky, dying in a helicopter crash during production off the coast of Australia. Cameron vows to keep the project going to give purpose and meaning to their lives, which may be overestimating the importance of this film to anyone but Cameron.

A number of test dives bring the vessel deeper and deeper. They are leading up to the deepest voyage that Cameron or any of mankind has performed to date: seven miles down to the Marinara Trench. To put that depth into perspective, Cameron kindly notes that if you were to place Mount Everest on the ocean floor and stack four Empire State Buildings on top of it, you still wouldn't crack the surface. That analogy is one of the few acknowledgements that this film is intended for general public consumption and not merely Cameron's way of proving his worth as a deepsea explorer.

In re-enactment footage, Edward Speller plays the young, already curious James Cameron. With each passing year, Suzy Amis Cameron is looking more like Gloria Stuart, the actress who played her character's grandmother in "Titanic."

Cameron's adventure is not inherently cinematic or even visual. Much of the film is just watching him in his cramped space press buttons on a touchscreen and report on his vessel's departures from the expected course.
He comments on some "critters" observed down there, including squid and jellyfish which provide the film with its greatest shots. There's also the emptying of a trap which has collected large prawnlike amphipods who have eaten a whole chicken clean. (It's just as gross as it sounds.) Aside from such moments, and a brief visit to a New Guinea town decimated by a volcano, the result of the same forces that create deep trenches, there isn't a whole lot of material that will appeal to those who aren't as fascinated by deepsea exploration as Cameron himself.

The film's existence really comes down to Cameron having the money and the curiosity to make it happen. Without either and Cameron's insistence on having pressure-resistant 3D cameras capture everything, there's nothing to see. And the list of films qualifying for the Best Documentary Feature Oscar, which the Academy released on Halloween, would only number 133. Instead, it numbered 134 and included Cameron's latest display of his undersea wanderlust.

Deepsea Challenge bleeps an utterance of the S-word, with seemingly little effect on the MPAA's rating, which is "PG for Language and Brief Disaster Images" (the latter presumably referring to Titanic glimpses). The film also carries the Dove Foundation's seal of approval for ages 12+. Millennium Entertainment is now offering the movie on DVD and in the two-disc Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray + DVD combo pack reviewed here.

James Cameron's Deepsea Challenge 3D Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray + DVD combo pack cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray 3D, Blu-ray & DVD Details

1.78:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
5.1 Dolby TrueHD (English), Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0 (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
Release Date: November 11, 2014
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (BD-50 & DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $24.99
Blue Keepcase in Embossed Cardboard Slipcover
Also available as standalone DVD ($24.99 SRP) and Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

Appropriately, the Blu-ray Disc of this set holds both 3D and 2D presentations of the film. (Looking at how it's authored, I don't know why all Blu-ray 3Ds can't do this.) Each is presented in 1.78:1, which the package calls "16 x 9 Full Screen", a disconcerting declaration in light of Millennium's
little-known but commonly-employed practice of cropping 2.40:1 films to 16:9. But Cameron seems to prefer the 1.78:1 aspect ratio, even modifying Avatar to that for home video from its wider theatrical release. As such, there seems little doubt that Cameron would want the movie presented this way, which it was likely both shot for and theatrically exhibited in.

Not surprisingly, the Blu-ray's picture quality is pretty terrific. It is a little hampered by the challenging filming and lighting conditions, both inside the cramped pod and down on the ocean floor. When those are not an issue, though, the visuals are clean, sharp, and vibrant.

Similarly, the default Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack is satisfactory, but not as terribly dynamic as what you get from a lot of nature documentaries. English SDH and Spanish subtitles are kindly included.

Take that, 1960 explorers! James Cameron is better than you! Vertical torpedo The Deepsea Challenger is tended to on the James Cameron's Deepsea Challenge DVD main menu.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Both discs include two short, promotional bonus featurettes,
which the Blu-ray presents in high definition.

"The Deepest Point on Earth" (3:32) talks up the adventure, while the less sightly "An Alien World" (2:13) lets Cameron talk about his experience and what he saw.

A Previews section adds Deepsea Challenge's trailer (2:46) to the disc-opening ones for Elsa & Fred, Persecuted, and Stonehearst Asylum, all of them also in HD on Blu-ray.

The main menu places a title logo and colorful listings bar over a scored loop of clips from the film. Though it doesn't let you set bookmarks, the Region A Blu-ray does resume unfinished playback of the film just like a DVD does.

Topped by a glossy, embossed slipcover, the ordinary keepcase adds an insert promoting the Deepsea Challenge app.

"James Cameron's Deepsea Challenge 3D" offers far too few sightings of ocean floor dwellers like this squid.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

James Cameron's underwater documentaries seem to be growing increasingly narrow and self-serving. Deepsea Challenge, which he produced and stars in, is a not terribly exciting look at his pricey, passionate, perilous forays to the deepest depths of the ocean. There isn't much to see and even those underwhelmed by his big budget epics would probably wish he spent more time making those than doing this sort of thing. But it's Cameron's life and if this is how he wants to spend the riches earned from his giant, spectacle blockbusters, then I guess so be it. While I'm not sure he needed to take us along for this ride, those more fascinated by the subject matter may disagree.

There are likely very few people interested in this movie enough to buy and revisit it. But that audience should obviously go for this Blu-ray 3D combo pack, which carries the same list price and a significantly lower sales price than the DVD sold on its own.

Buy James Cameron's Deepsea Challenge from Amazon.com:
Blu-ray 3D/2D + DVD / DVD / Instant Video

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Related Reviews:
James Cameron: Ghosts of the Abyss Aliens of the Deep Titanic Avatar The Terminator
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou The Big Year Roving Mars Oceans Finding Nemo
Blu-ray 3Ds: Pompeii Gravity The Amazing Spider-Man 2 Arthur Christmas Brave
2014 Documentaries: Ivory Tower Fed Up The Unknown Known Bears To Be Takei

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Reviewed November 16, 2014.



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