Lisa Schwarzbaum
January 27, 2005 AT 05:00 AM EST

Aliens of the Deep

Current Status
In Season
47 minutes
Limited Release Date
James Cameron
Walt Disney Pictures

We gave it a B+

Among the privileges granted to a king of the world is the right to define the geography of his kingdom. Since the triumph of Titanic in 1997, James Cameron has spent much of his filmmaking time underwater; he has become the Neptune of Hollywood, scuttling about in a submersible, brandishing a camera like a trident. ”Behold the deep in IMAX 3-D!” he declared two years ago with Ghosts of the Abyss, an educational poke around the real Titanic wreck that made market-savvy title use of his watery 1989 saga, The Abyss. Now the director is exercising his royal imperative again: ”Behold the deep some more in IMAX 3-D!” is his magnanimous invitation in Aliens of the Deep, a documentaryish noodle around deep-sea life-forms that makes market-savvy title use of Cameron’s creepy 1986 saga, Aliens.

The title may not exude the romantic pull of ”my heart will go on.” But for those in the mood for old-fashioned IMAX 3-D infotainment — the giant screen, the unwieldy glasses, the science-y stuff leaping out at you so that both you and the kid sitting next to you reach out to touch the air — Cameron’s new deep-sea adventure is pleasant and admirable in its very old-fashionedness. Here, after all, is a voyage that makes use of the very grooviest of scientific and technological advances — vessels that transport the filmmakers and scientists and robotic cameras to probe this utterly sunless realm that is so lethal to earthly life as we know it. It’s a logical step, the film suggests, from gazing upon such extraordinary creatures (among them six-foot-long worms and shrimp that thrive on volcanic plumes of scalding water) to positing (and showing) that similar creatures might well exist beneath the oceans of other worlds, including, perhaps, on the moons of Jupiter. Indeed, there’s a name for this specialty study: astrobiology.

But gorgeous as the underwater life-forms are, the excitement of Aliens of the Deep comes from that most old-school, low-tech of elements: real human beings. It turns out that Cameron’s canniest move was to assemble a notably attractive, articulate cast of young marine biologists and NASA researchers to accompany him down below. And as these actual articulate, impassioned men and women, with their friendly faces and well-formed sentences, convey the excitement of exploration and research and describe their work to land-based viewers wearing goofy 3-D glasses, they may do more for the future of astrobiology than the sight of a billion far-out shrimp swarming a seabed volcanic chimney. It’s good that a kid, and maybe even an adult, may want to ”touch” one of the so-called aliens thrust out for our inspection. But more important, a kid, and maybe even an adult, may want to become a human scientist, like any one of these inspiring specimens.

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