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Surprising Science

Deep Sea Challenger: James Cameron Ventures into the Real Abyss

James Cameron’s films may all cover wildly different terrain — the distant, futuristic planet Pandora in Avatar, an ill-fated Edwardian-era passenger liner in Titanic, and an alien-embattled underwater oil platform in The Abyss — but each is united by a singular vision. Like all auteurs, Cameron excels at creating absorbing, mysterious worlds that draw us in with their detail, beauty, and scale.

Several scenes of 1989’s The Abyss were filmed in the largest underwater set ever made. Cameron’s recreation of the sinking of the Titanic was shot in a 17-million gallon tank and interspersed with footage captured by the Akadenik Mistislav Keldysh, the scientific marine research vessel which was used to study the real-life wreckage. “Film-making is war,” Cameron has famously said. “A great battle between business and aesthetics.”

Today, Cameron announced the maiden voyage of his own submersible, DeepSea Challenger. He plans to descend to the floor of the Pacific Ocean in the submersible, over 10 km down. If he succeeds, he’ll become the first person since 1960 to reach the deepest place in the ocean. “The goal of all this is not just to set records and do grandstanding dives,” Cameron told Nature. “We want to push the envelope not only of scientific knowledge but also of engineering.”

Cameron’s feat is not just a quirky anecdote: it also perfectly illustrates the storyteller’s role of pushing the boundaries of every day, ordinary experience; challenging the known frontiers of culture, space, and modes of communication. There’s a lesson there for all of us. 

For more… Watch our interview with David Bellos, the renowned translator and finalist for the 2012 National Book Critics Circle Award, who argued that Cameron’s Avatar is “a parable about all forms of human communication”: 

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.


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