Liane Bonin
April 10, 2003 AT 04:00 AM EDT

If he wasn’t King of the World after ”Titanic” swept the 1998 Oscars, director James Cameron was at least King of the Cineplex. But instead of setting his sails on another blockbuster (he briefly considered helming ”Spiderman”), Cameron seemingly slipped overboard, only occasionally resurfacing with pet TV projects (the Discovery Channel documentary ”Expedition: Bismark” and the flame-out Fox series ”Dark Angel”). Now he’s back on the big (really big) screen with ”Ghosts of the Abyss,” a 3-D IMAX movie about his favorite ship. talked to Cameron, 48, about why he’s been hiding, why 2-D is so 20th century, and how 9/11 changed everything, even underwater.

In ”Ghosts of the Abyss,” you revisit the wreckage of the Titanic with new equipment that allows you to see every inch of the ship. Was there anything you couldn’t film out of respect for the dead?
We’ve never seen human remains — there’s a scientific reason for that having to do with calcium consumption — so we haven’t had to be sensitive to it. When we see an article of clothing, we don’t know if it was being worn or if it came from someone’s closet. But the reason you don’t see some of the items crew members described in the movie, like shoes and hats, is simply because we didn’t get the shot, frankly.

The ship, which sunk in 1912, is expected to disintegrate in the next 30 years. So why are shoes still intact?
Leather and fabrics that have been cured tend to last. We saw a bowler hat, though I’m not sure why that’s still around. But the collapse of the ship is a biological process. The steel is being eaten, which is bizarre, since that’s not how we usually think about rust.

So, now that you’ve seen the complete wreckage, tell the truth: What did you get wrong on ”Titanic”?
A lot of little things. We built our sets to the highest degree of accuracy possible based on what we knew, but no one really photographed ”Titanic” on the inside because they expected to have plenty of time to do that after the maiden voyage. So we found pillars and columns in different places, and little architectural differences.

You decided to document how the events of 9/11 affected the crew and changed how they thought about the dive. Did you hesitate before including that footage?
Certainly it was a surreal moment for us. We had just rescued a lost camera and were returning to the ship as heroes, and then suddenly all of that was so trivial and meaningless. Whether to include any of the footage was a difficult decision, but we felt that the tragedy of the Titanic shed light on 9/11 and vice versa. So we chose not to include any of that in the promotional material so no one would think we were trying to sell tickets based on that.

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