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Director James Cameron took his 3D cameras deep into the oceans to make Aliens of the Deep, but he apparently left his intellect somewhere in the shallows.
The 3D Imax photography is terrific, but the format is still waiting for content worthy of its technology. For fifteen bucks a head, Cameron provides a barely 45 minute documentary that doesn’t match the challenge of its subject. Using state of the art submarine exploration equipment, Cameron and his team of scientists dove into both the Atlantic and Pacific at a variety of locations where extreme heat escapes from cracks in the floor of the sea, creating vents of superheated water. This rich environment gives rise to deep undersea life forms which are unique in not operating by the photosynthesis that powers surface life from the sun, but by chemosynthesis, powered by the hot water and the minerals released at the vents.
While these life forms are unique, visually many look like their better known cousins — squid, shrimp, crabs, mussels — with the principal visual variation seeming to be that many are white in color. Only one of these as shown is mind-boggling to see: an enormous jelly-like creature, clothed with a huge spread of veined, transparent, diaphanous tissue. There are some interesting tube worms, living in a symbiotic relationship with bacteria, but to anyone who has watched much nature programming on television, they will not seem all that exotic.
Not that there isn’t plenty of interesting commentary that could have been made on what the camera is showing, but there Cameron drops the ball badly. Backed by a tired cliche of a musical score, the crew ooos and aahs and talks like so many valley girls ("awesome," "freaky," etc.), leaving the viewer hungry for some more substantive science to back up the visuals. Instead, Cameron ends up using computer generated imagery to depict imagined future space exploration for which the undersea science can help lay the groundwork. It’s a good point but it’s overplayed here. Did he have so little real footage to share?
The film reaches new depths of silliness with a concluding fantasized ET experience — humans finding intelligent undersea creatures in a glittering undersea city on a moon of Jupiter. Cameron has suffered a genuine failure of imagination if he can’t find enough wonderment in the places he has been fortunate enough to visit and film. Aliens of the Deep is dead in the water.