Titanic director revisits ship's wreck with hi-tech help

In Titanic 3D: Ghosts of the Abyss, Academy Award-winning director James Cameron returns to his greatest inspiration: Titanic.

With a team of marine experts and historians, Cameron and his friend, actor Bill Paxton, embark on a journey to the final resting place of the passenger liner, where nearly 1500 souls lost their lives almost a century ago.

Using state-of-the-art 3D technology developed for this expedition, Cameron and his crew explore the ship, inside and out, as never before.

Cameron and his team discover artefacts that have remained hidden from explorers for more than 90 years and then use those images as a doorway into history. More than any other shipwreck, Titanic continues to intrigue and fascinate the public. And the more Cameron discovers, the more intriguing this legendary wreck becomes.

"When you're a kid growing up, you think of Titanic as a myth, a story, something Hollywood might have created," says Cameron. "But when you're down there, and you can point at the wreck and say, 'That's where the band played, that's where First Officer Murdoch would have been loading people into boats', it gets very personal. You can imagine and understand the event much more clearly."

People have seen the Titanic before, Cameron acknowledges - the director himself brought audiences to the wrecked vessel in his 1997 Oscar-winning film. But this time, the experience is intensified by the visceral nature of the new 3D technology.

The results are stunning. To film the interior of the wreck and to explore places not seen by human eyes since the night of April 14, 1912, required another technological leap. Remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) went into every space on Titanic that was big enough to permit them to enter, says Cameron.

"We went into staterooms, saw their beds, their sinks, their mirrors; we knew who was in each room and we found their clothing, their personal effects. We went into the hold and looked at the cargo; we went into the dining room and saw the beautiful leaded glass windows that are still there, intact. The elegance of the Titanic still exists, but it has remained beyond the reach of all previous expeditions, including our expedition in 1995.

"Seeing it this way, there's no way to think of this but as a human tragedy," says Cameron. "It's a very large canvas, but there's an amazing human connection. We go into a stateroom and see a water glass still sitting in its holder. Those glasses were normally stored upside-down, so we know that somebody poured a glass of water and set it there. Somebody was in that room. Ninety years later that glass is still sitting there. Our historians, however, say that there's no record of that room being occupied.

"The existing cabin lists and sales records don't tell us who was using this room, so its a small but intriguing mystery."

Cameron's can-do approach to overcoming the technical hurdles to film underwater typifies his movie career. He studied physics while working as a machinist and, later, a truck driver. Setting his sights on a career in film, Cameron quit his trucking job in 1978 and raised money from a consortium of local dentists to produce a 35mm short film. He served as producer, director, co-writer, editor, miniature builder, cinematographer and special-effects supervisor on that production.

Cameron's maiden film project led to a position at Roger Corman's New World Pictures, working on Battle Beyond the Stars, on which he served in multiple capacities, including production designer. He was soon able to parlay this experience into a stint as second unit director on Galaxy of Terror. Convinced that he'd found his calling, Cameron decided to write his own script and attach himself to direct.

That fateful decision led to Cameron's 1984 sleeper hit, The Terminator, which launched his directorial career.

Since Ghosts of the Abyss, Cameron has gone on to use digital technology for another underwater adventure: Aliens of the Deep. The film offers three-dimensional views of sea creatures rarely seen by man, miles and miles below the ocean's surface.

Cameron foresees the day when watching 3D movies shot in a digital format, shown with the industry's latest projection system, Digital Cinema Projection, will be commonplace. "Instead of having to drive hundreds of miles to an Imax theatre, you should be able to just go to your local mall cinema, and there should be a 3D screen there," he said.

Cameron said the new generation of digital cinema projectors expected to be rolled out over the next five to six years could wipe out traditional film projectors and make the use of traditional film cameras obsolete.

He has no plans to return to two dimensions or traditional film technology. "If I never touch film again, I'd be happy. Film-making is not about film, not about sprockets. It's about ideas, it's about images, it's about imagination, it's about storytelling," he said, adding, "If I had the cameras I'm using now when I was shooting Titanic, I would have shot Titanic using them."

His next project will be shot with a new generation of the Cameron/Pace Reality System 3D camera. The film, Battle Angel, is based on Japanese graphic novels.

"It takes place in the 26th century, and it's the story of a young girl who has an organic human brain and an entirely synthetic body," he said. "She's a cyborg warrior, it turns out, although she doesn't know that initially, due to amnesia. It's a hero's journey, ultimately."

Cameron has conceived Battle Angel as the first of a three-part series. "If we're successful, we'll make the other films. If we're not, we won't.

"With Battle Angel, I'm going to flirt with that darker, dystopian message as much as I can, without making it an art film."

- REUTERS

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