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Overall Rating
3.93

Awesome46.67%
Worth A Look: 6.67%
Average: 40%
Pretty Bad: 6.67%
Total Crap: 0%

2 reviews, 3 user ratings



Aliens of the Deep
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by Jay Seaver

"It's reassuring that there are still amazing things to be discovered."
5 stars

It's funny; as much as I enjoy James Cameron as a feature filmmaker, I like him even more as a deep-water documentarian. Working in the documentary form frees him from the need to create character conflict and threats and villains. In Cameron's documentaries, the world - and the unknown - isn't something to be afraid of, but to be amazed by.

That kind of amazement is a hugely necessary thing. Think about it - when was the last time you saw a science fiction (or plain science) movie or television show that hit you wit, to use a phrase that is still accurate despite its frequent use, a sense of wonder? That said the universe beyond what we can see is full of strangeness, but made that strangeness something to be cherished? That is what James Cameron does in Aliens of the Deep.

In the movie, Cameron joins an expedition to several sights on the deep sea bottom where conventional wisdom has told us we cannot find life - life, after all, is fueled by solar energy which never reaches these depths. He includes not only marine biologists, but exobiologists, intending to pick their brains about how what we find in these inhospitable environments may tell us about the potential for life outside our solar system - or even within it, in places like the moons of Jupiter.

This sets the tone for the entire movie - a mix of observation and speculation. What we observe is spectacular: There's a creature which looks like some form of flattened jellyfish. There are volcanic vents whose heat and escaping gases form tiny oases for life, micro-ecologies only a few meters in diameter. There are colonies of bacteria that cluster so tightly together that they look like plants. There are curious creatures which grab onto the expedition's submersibles and robotic probes (remember Jake from Ghosts of the Abyss?).

Looking outward, we're shown that our own solar system may not be as lifeless as we think. A particularly nifty computer-animated sequence shows how a robotic probe might explore Europa. Europa is one of the four large moons of Jupiter, notable for apparently being completely covered by water ice. The theory goes that this ice may cover a planet-spanning ocean which may be warm enough to support life. The nuclear-powered probe would have to melt its way down, though, through two miles of ice. (Another nifty speculative shot closes out the picture, and is unfortunately spoiled in the movie's trailer)

Even though the movie is a documentary, and co-directed by his frequent second-unit director Steven Quale, it's undoubtedly the work of Cameron. He is one of the principle narrators, and his unbridled enthusiasm for exploration shows through. It also won't escape the notice of many fans that many of the scientists he works with and chooses to showcase are women. The film never makes explicit mention of this, but if young girls go to this movie and see the smart, capable, and outgoing Dijanna Figueroa (a UC Santa Barbara grad student) as a role model, that's an unquestionable Good Thing.

It's also the sort of shoot that few others beside Cameron could do. He knows how to shoot and cut a movie, to jump between locations and put the cameras in the right place, to make a piece of technology look cool rather than soulless or threatening. He's also a skilled engineer, who helped develop the digital 3-D cameras used to shoot this movie, and has a natural grasp on the limitations and capabilities of the technology he uses.

Aliens of the Deep is presented in IMAX 3-D, and it's a very nice presentation. The picture isn't quite as clear as a movie shot natively in IMAX, but it's not yet practical to cram something like half a ton of camera equipment and large-format film into a submersible headed three miles straight down. As a result, some of the CGI segments look much sharper than the real-life footage, being rendered at higher resolution than the high-def cameras could capture on the fly. Cameron, Quale, and DP Vince Pace for the most part eschew gimmicky it's-coming-right-at-you shots, using the third dimension to add depth and perspective in an unfamiliar environment.

Movies like Aliens of the Deep make me giddy. It is useful to be reminded every once in a while that there's a whole universe of things we don't know, and that their discovery is exciting.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=11467&reviewer=371
originally posted: 03/07/05 10:49:12
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User Comments

3/14/06 tatum Nice when docu, silly when it goes "Abyss" at the end 4 stars
3/07/05 captian planet Captian planet he's our hero...gonna take pollution down to zero... 2 stars
2/01/05 bongeezer Fantastic Images... Cool on the IMAX screen 5 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  28-Jan-2005 (G)
  DVD: 01-Nov-2005

UK
  N/A

Australia
  10-Mar-2005




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