"Titanic" Director Uncovers "Aliens of the Deep"

Stefan Lovgren in Los Angeles
for National Geographic News
March 1, 2005

Since making Titanic, director James Cameron has hardly left the ocean floor. For his latest underwater adventure, Aliens of the Deep, a large-format 3-D film, Cameron and his team went deeper than they've ever ventured before—to the ocean's volcanic hot springs, or hydrothermal vents.

In this extreme environment several miles below the ocean surface, an amazing array of animals live in a world of scorching heat, intense pressure, and absolute darkness. Some scientists believe this is where life on Earth began.

Cameron suggests that hydrothermal vents could provide clues for where to look for life in space. If life can survive in such an extreme environment on Earth, maybe the conditions to sustain life exist elsewhere in the universe.

National Geographic News spoke with Cameron in Los Angeles.

How do you see yourself—as a filmmaker or a scientist?

I'm not a scientist. I jokingly call myself a science groupie. But really, I'm a filmmaker. When you choose a subject, you become immersed in it. [This film] was about deep-ocean science, geology, and biology. And as expedition leader, I had to be conversant on those subjects.

So this was not just a film, but a real scientific research project. What did you set out to do?

The overarching mission was to tell the story of these deep environments in a new and exciting way, and interrelate that with the ideas about astrobiology [science of possible extraterrestrial life-forms] and the types of extremophile life [organisms that live under extreme environmental conditions] that we might find on other planets. We were not just taking ocean scientists on an ocean expedition, but space scientists on an ocean expedition. It seemed almost criminal to me to be going out with all these diving assets, with this big research vessel, and not doing research.

What were some of the logistical challenges?

Not only did I have my specific goals as a filmmaker on the dives, but I had to juggle a number of scientists who were competing with each other for real estate on the submersibles, in terms of the equipment they needed to take, time on the dives as observers, lab space on board the ship, and so on.

I felt like the ringmaster of a three-ring circus every single day. It was the biggest logistical job I've ever been involved with.

Ninety percent of the seafloor is unknown. The oceans really are uncharted territory, aren't they?

Continued on Next Page >>


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