High-tech additions sink 'Abyss'

The mighty Titanic will never rise from the bottom of the sea, but director James Cameron thinks his ideas are more resilient.

His new documentary, "Ghosts of the Abyss," pays a return visit to the sunken ship that starred in "Titanic," his Oscar-sweeping melodrama of 1997. As a bonus, it lets him recycle the title of "The Abyss," a 1989 adventure that proved "abyss-mal" at the box office.

Filmed in the eye-filling Imax 3-D format, "Ghosts of the Abyss" follows a crew of scientists and historians as they dive to the Titanic in small submersibles, exploring the wreck with lighting from an underwater chandelier and videography by a pair of remote-controlled robots. In a characteristic Cameron touch, those "bots" become the movie's mascots, a sort of R2D2 and C3PO of the briny deep.

The film's underwater views are breathtaking, as are its drawings and photographs of the Titanic's original splendor.

With so much to show us, you'd think Mr. Cameron would trust his material to carry the movie; but true to his high-tech nature, he can't resist adding superimpositions, split-screen sequences, animation, and reenactments that look like stilted "Titanic" outtakes salvaged from the cutting-room floor.

Those extras are distracting rather than illuminating, and the spectacle would be more stunning without them. Back on the bright side, the movie clocks in at a tidy 60 minutes - a genuine quickie compared with the 194-minute "Titanic," which took longer to unspool than the vessel took to reach the ocean floor.

Rated G.

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