Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site

Multimillionaire's self-indulgent science


Deepsea Challenge. Rated PG. Release date: 21 August 2014. Director: John Bruno, Ray Quint, Andrew Wight. Running time 90 mins.

In Deepsea Challenge James Cameron admits that, having desired it since he was a kid, his film Titanic was basically the excuse he needed to explore the depths of the ocean.

The same seems to be happening in this, his latest film; a documentary about his expedition to the deepest point of the world's oceans. If you read that sentence and think there should be more to it – well, I thought the same, but there’s not.

The challenge, like in the explorer times of the 18th and 19th centuries, is simply to find or arrive at some destination as yet ‘unconquered’. After watching Deepsea Challenge one might reasonably ask what the point of it was. My best guess is simply ego. 

Cameron talks about the ocean’s deepsea creatures as a testament to nature’s imaginative and unique creations. While this is true, that alone cannot carry the proposition of the film.

Cameron claims his challenge is not just about finding more “cool” underwater creatures or creating bigger, better high-tech toys to play with. He attempts to position the expedition as contributing to science.

Yet the moment at which he reaches the bottom in his deep-water vessel is so anticlimactic it’s nearly absurd. There is nothing to see. The mechanisms useful in gathering materials for science fail quickly. The goal becomes more about Cameron surviving the trip - not about the usefulness of the expedition in itself.

And so Cameron resurfacing alive is celebrated and cheered: his wife is relieved; the crew are proud. And although we are told that the expeditions (plural – there were several trips besides the main one) discovered new species, the film carefully avoids saying they were discovered during the trip that reached the deepest point of the ocean.

Considering there was nothing down there and the gathering mechanisms failed, I assume this means science gained nothing from the project’s ultimate goal. Which is possibly why no one has really bothered to achieve the goal before.

Deepsea exploration is expensive. And perhaps the achievement wouldn't have held the same appeal to Cameron if he couldn’t tell his courageous story to a worldwide audience. For both reasons, it made sense for Cameron to make a movie. Does it make sense for moviegoers to help pay for a wealthy Hollywood director’s indulgent deepsea expedition? You'll have to decide for yourself.

What Cameron and his team did - privately creating a vessel to withstand the enormous pressure at the deepest point of Earth’s oceans - is “cool”. But having a whole lot of money makes doing a whole lot of cool things possible. With such resources at his fingertips, Cameron’s achievement is not that amazing. And the cost, you'll find out if you watch the film, was the highest it possibly could be for two men involved in the project.

I assume at his age, and having already achieved such huge success in the film industry, a man of Cameron’s intelligence and drive needs more, and bigger, goals to keep him amused. But surely our greatest goals are those driven by bigger things than self-aggrandisement. Otherwise the pursuit is ultimately empty. And those around us will see it as such.

My final issue with this film is the fact that out of the sizable Australian team chosen by Cameron for the project (much of the work took place in Sydney and off the NSW coast) there appeared to be only two women, who were given a combined total of perhaps five seconds screen time. The only other woman to feature in the footage – a few times, relatively briefly – was Cameron’s wife. Who was brought on to talk about Cameron.

Essentially, Deepsea Challenge feels like James Cameron meets ‘Make A Wish Foundation’ with the audience acting as the benevolent donors. I wouldn’t recommend the investment.

Megan GrahamMegan Graham won the 2013 Margaret Dooley Award for Young Writers.

Topic tags: Megan Graham, James Cameron, Deepsea Challenge, documentary, review



submit a comment

Existing comments

What an extraordinary, gratuitous and carping perspective. In a mythical world of high moral performance, where every act is carefully calibrated to universally agreed moral outcomes, Megan might reasonably issue a few demerits to James Cameron for his folly. But in the real code there is an infinity of better targets for Megan's moral opprobrium and there is also the looming possibility - with antecedents in many of the world's greatest achievements - that folly (or 'self indulgence' in Megan's moralistic lexicon) is precisely the right starting point for something good.

Greg SM | 21 August 2014  

"Cameron’s achievement is not that amazing." Perhaps in this case nothing particularly beneficial was achieved, but hopefully that will not deter other challenges from being tackled. The Alchemists never succeeded in transmuting lead into gold, but by promoting interest in different elements they helped develop the science of chemistry. Windfalls often result from unexpected sources. Self-aggrandisement should not altogether be sneered at. John Macarthur's self-centred sheep promotion led to one of Australia's most profitable industries.

Robert Liddy | 21 August 2014  

Similar Articles

Practical magic

  • Megan Graham
  • 28 August 2014

While we are all afraid of the unknown, complete certainty and predictability do not make for a vibrant life. Magic in the Moonlight is a film about the lens through which one chooses to see the world. Cynicism or wonder? Mayhem or magic? It poses the question: Which way brings more joy?


Homes that enable the disabled

  • Andrea McQueen
  • 27 August 2014

In recent years, people with disabilities have been coming out of institutions. They are in our streets, our shops and our schools, but not on TV. We need programs like the ABC's Dreamhouse to prompt conversation about what kinds of lives are possible for people with disabilities, and how we can best use our tax money to make dreams come true.