'Titanic' director James Cameron to attempt historic ocean dive
The director of "Avatar" and "Titanic" plans to spend six hours at the bottom of the nearly seven-mile deep Pacific Ocean trench known as the Challenger Deep in a single pilot craft, collecting samples for scientific research and shooting footage with his 3-D cameras, National Geographic announced on Thursday.
"Jim is an explorer," Cameron's producing partner Jon Landau said in an interview. "His movies are a way of letting him explore. This is something he's been wanting to do for a long time."
The director will document the trip for two projects, one a 3-D documentary for theatrical release, and the other a National Geographic TV special.
Cameron, who has made 76 submersible dives, including 33 to the Titanic wreck site in the North Atlantic, began work on the Challenger Deep project eight years ago. During the making of "Avatar," he supervised construction of the submersible in Australia while on lunch breaks in his office on the Los Angeles production set. The 12-ton, 25-foot, torpedo-shaped craft, named the Deep Challenger, will take 90 minutes to descend to the ocean floor and 70 minutes to ascend.
The Challenger Deep has only been reached once by a manned submersible, in 1960, by U.S. Navy Lt. Don Walsh and Swiss oceanographer Jacques Piccard in the bathyscaph Trieste. They spent about 20 minutes on the ocean floor before returning to the surface.
The project's dangers were tragically illustrated in February, when "Sanctum" writer-producer Andrew Wight and documentary filmmaker and marine biologist Mike deGruy were killed in a helicopter crash in Australia on their way to film a Deep Challenger sea trial.
On Tuesday, Cameron successfully completed field tests off the coast of Guam, including one to a depth of five miles, according to National Geographic.
"Everything we do in life has its risks," Landau said of Cameron's dive plans. "There’s nobody that takes more time in preparation and safety than Jim does. Jim is the most prepared person I know."
National Geographic and Rolex are sharing the cost of the expedition. The Scripps Institution of Oceanography, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the universities of Hawaii and Guam are also scientific collaborators on the project.
Cameron's next trip into theaters comes with the April release of "Titanic 3D," which premieres in London on March 27.
Asked if Cameron's deep-sea exploration will be done in time for that film, Landau said, "Jim will be at the premiere."
A video Cameron made explaining the expedition is below.
Photo: James Cameron in front of the Deepsea Challenger. Credit: Mark Thiessen/National Geographic