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December 5, 2015

Deepsea Challenge

by Franz Patrick


Deepsea Challenge (2014)
★★★ / ★★★★

I think of human knowledge as being our headlights and they’re shining out into the darkness, and right beyond those lights is something else. And all we have to do is move forward a little bit more and that truth will be revealed, or that new discovery will be revealed. — James Cameron

Having the heart of an explorer ever since he was a child, filmmaker James Cameron decides to take on a project that involves exploring the deepest place in the ocean—specifically, going seven miles underwater. To put this into perspective, if Mt. Everest’s base were at the ocean floor and four Empire State Buildings were placed right on top of it, the top of the combined structures would still not reach the surface. To do this, he and his team must design and build a machine from scratch that can withstand intense underwater pressure. They named it “Deepsea Challenger.”

Directed by John Bruno, Ray Quint, and Andrew Wight, “Deepsea Challenge” is ultimately about small victories that build up to a result that widens our pool of knowledge. A response that surprised me, one that I read after seeing the film, is when Deepsea Challenger has reached the deepest ocean floor, nothing much is shown other than a whole lot of sand and water. This person completely missed the point. The picture shows a part of the earth—real images sans special and visual effects—that very few people have seen. Somehow, the reaction is disappointment? Do not make the same mistake.

If I were to point out at the documentary’s weak spot, it is the point where behind-the-scenes footage from “The Abyss,” “Titanic,” and “Avatar”—all directed by Cameron—are shown. Other than to remind the audience that Cameron is a very successful filmmaker, certainly imaginative and has an eye for images, the footages do not say much about him as an explorer. To an extent, they show his curiosity due to his interest in telling science fiction stories. At its worst, these footages give the impression that Cameron is an important director—but we already know that so there is no need to remind us more than thrice.

I enjoyed that the film is blatant in showing the challenges Cameron and his team must face to get to their goal. At one point, the Challenger is barely able to dive more than a meter without everything going wrong. If the vertical torpedo cannot even make it one meter, how is it possible that it will dive thirty-six thousand feet successfully? Worse, there is a tight schedule. The winds change depending on the time of year. The unexplored terrain may be bigger than North America, but there is an exact entry point to get there.

I wished the picture had shown more of Cameron and his team meeting and discussing what and when things need to be done. Notice that although Cameron gives credit to his team, there are no personalities or characters that is immediately memorable. I was not able to pinpoint who is in charge of what, what training or experience one has had, or what one expects to get out of being a part of the mission.

An image that I will take away from the picture is that of a raw chicken eaten to the bone by deepsea creatures—not by sharks or anything with sharp teeth or claws, but by those that are completely unexpected. Sequences such as this are likely to inspire awe. It goes to show that we are still ignorant of many of the things that are down there, in the dark and waiting to be understood.

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