Review: ‘Deepsea Challenge 3D’ plumbs depths of Cameron’s obsession

The Deepsea Challenger is lifted from the Pacific Ocean in a scene from "Deepsea Challenge 3D."
The Deepsea Challenger is lifted from the Pacific Ocean in a scene from “Deepsea Challenge 3D.”
(Mark Thiessen / National Geographic)

The documentary “Deepsea Challenge 3D” retreads the 2012 National Geographic Channel TV feature “James Cameron: Voyage to the Bottom of the Earth,” chronicling the most ambitious among the 72 deep-submersible dives made by the “Avatar” filmmaker -- the one to Challenger Deep, the lowest known point on Earth, a depth of 35,787 feet in the Pacific Ocean’s Mariana Trench east of the Philippines.

Cameron’s obsession has been well documented in six nonfiction films that include the 2002 “Expedition: Bismarck” and 2003 “Ghosts of the Abyss.” In case you are unfamiliar with “The Abyss,” his 1989 box-office misfire starring Ed Harris, or haven’t been following his extracurricular activities, “Deepsea Challenge 3D” reaches as far back as his childhood. His fascination with underwater expeditions includes the only other successful attempt at Challenger Deep by Don Walsh and Jacques Piccard in 1960.


“Deepsea”: A review of the movie “Deepsea Challenge 3D” in the Aug. 8 Calendar section said filmmaker James Cameron made 72 dives to the lowest point on Earth, called Challenger Deep. Cameron made 72 dives total, including one to Challenger Deep. —
Channeling Howard Hughes but with far less eccentricity, Cameron has been able to mix business with pleasure by applying his fertile imagination to actual science. He also has maximized the commercial prospects for his pet projects by committing them to film.


By allowing Cameron’s first-person account to take command of the narrative, though, the film seems to gloss over meaningful logistics of the expedition — such as funding, design and assemblage of the bathyscaphe Deepsea Challenger — as well as the scientific discoveries made from the specimens it collected. The film’s spotlight stays on its illustrious explorer.


“Deepsea Challenge 3D.”

MPAA rating: PG for language and brief disaster images.

Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes. In limited release.