By Dr. Craig D. Reid
James Cameron transported viewers to alternate worlds in “Avatar” and “Aliens,” but it’s his real-life expedition to Earth’s ocean floor that offers a blockbuster view of a truly alien world. James Cameron: Voyage to the Bottom of the Earth premieres Sunday April 29, at 9 p.m. & 9:30 p.m. ET/PT and encores Thursday, May 3, at 9 p.m. & 9:30 p.m. ET/PT on the National Geographic Channel (NGC).
Voyage to the Bottom of the Earth, chronicles Cameron’s historic one-man dive in March of 2012 to the Mariana Trench’s Challenger Deep, the ocean’s deepest point and perhaps the most isolated place on the planet.
Cameron describes his journey to this ocean’s depth right here on Earth during his most in depth interview to date: “I was watching the numbers going deeper. The sub slows down as you get to the target depth. There is a long moment of getting to think about it. Then you have to get busy. You have less than a thousand feet from the bottom, you fine-tune the ballast, adjust the camera, turn up the spotlight. As the altimeter counted, I saw the glow of the bottom!”
The visionary filmmaker and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence descended 6.8 miles to the spot known as the Challenger Deep in the Pacific Ocean’s Mariana Trench, an area deeper than Mt. Everest is tall. The record-breaking trip that made headlines around the world was part of DEEPSEA CHALLENGE, a joint scientific expedition by Cameron, National Geographic and Rolex to conduct deep-ocean research and exploration. Cameron is the only individual ever to complete the dive in a solo vehicle and the first person since 1960 to reach the very bottom of the world in a manned submersible.
James Cameron: Voyage to the Bottom of the Earth features Cameron’s most personal interview to date on the remarkable journey. Culled from more than two hours of his firsthand accounts of the project, it details everything from more than seven years of development to the actual moment he touched the bottom of the Earth. The project is also his first expedition as a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence.
“I couldn’t think of a better partner. National Geographic as an organization has always stood for the spirit of exploration. It’s what the magazine and the channel has been famous for, coming back from the boundary of human exploration. It’s a legacy of promoting exploration and keeping people excited about something new,” said Cameron.
Cameron shares his thoughts as he aborts one of the first test dives, the emotions he felt during the eerie descent through darkness and the calculated decisions he had to make once he reached the bottom.
At 6’2″ tall, Cameron found fitting into the customized submersible, which can withstand 16,000 pounds per square inch of pressure (the equivalent of putting the weight of three SUVs on top of a human toe) a unique challenge: He had to keep his knees bent for hours, with only a few inches of arm movement critical to operating the vehicle. Customized cameras inside the high-tech submersible will let viewers experience the cramped quarters from Cameron’s point of view.
In the special, Cameron recalls the highs and lows of the more than seven-year design phase of the spherical sub (called DEEPSEA CHALLENGER) that was specially built to endure the elements, and even shrinks about 3 inches because of the pressure during the descent.
CGI animation also illustrates the colossal scale of the trip to reach the bottom, which took over two hours. Slowly diving past the lowest level a nuclear submarine can reach, beyond the last traces of sunlight at 3,300 feet, continuing to the depth of Titanic’s final resting place at about 12,500 feet and diving deeper than the height of Mt. Everest at 29,035 feet until finally reaching his ultimate goal — the ocean floor! Cameron describes in detail what he saw when he touched bottom: “It was like someone rolled latex paint on Masonite. We’re talking pretty much the bleakest place I’d seen in the ocean.”
The historic dive was a huge triumph that succeeded not only in filming the ocean’s deepest point for scientists and lovers of the ocean everywhere but also highlighting the need for oceanic research. The oceans are the last frontier, with a territory the size of Australia largely unexplored.
As the DEEPSEA CHALLENGE expedition enters its next phase, Cameron says, “More money gets put into space exploration, but the ocean is our life support here on spaceship Earth. And we’re destroying it faster than we’re exploring it. I think it draws attention to the ocean and the lack of funding for ocean exploration.”
The DEEPSEA CHALLENGE expedition was chronicled for a 3-D feature film on the intensive technological and scientific efforts behind this historic dive. The event was also documented for National Geographic magazine. Cameron also will collaborate with National Geographic to create broad-based educational outreach materials.