Entertainment Magazine

Aliens of the Deep


"We shot it in 3-D, with high-definition cameras, so we could put it up on the big screen, and audiences around the world can share in the experience."

“These deep-ocean expeditions always seem like space missions to me.

So why not combine outer space and inner space?

Sure we’ll take marine biologists, but why not take astrobiologists and space researchers?

It makes sense, really, because at the bottom of the ocean are the most insane alien life forms that have ever been discovered,” says James Cameron, the Academy Award ®-winning director of “Titanic,” “Aliens,” and “The Terminator” as well as the IMAX ®3-D adventure “Ghosts of the Abyss.”

“The battle cry of astrobiology is ‘follow the water,’because it’s the one common ingredient we know to be necessary for life all its forms here on Earth,” Cameron continues.

“We may find extremophiles very similar to the ones from our own planet in subterranean aquifers on Mars or on the ice moons of Jupiter.”

In fact, scientists believe that Europa, the second moon of Jupiter, contains an ocean with twice the volume of all Earth’s oceans combined, hidden beneath a thick, cracked icy shell.

“How are we going to explore Europa?” Cameron asks. “What will the vehicles be like? How will the robotics work and how will they transmit their data up through that alien ocean? We have to be considering these questions now for an expedition that might not take place for another twenty years or so.”

“So, this film is really about adventure on two levels,” Cameron says. “There’s the physical adventure, of course—we went to an extreme edge of life, down to the bottom of the ocean, a place very few people have ever been. And there’s also the ‘inner adventure’—the adventure of discovery and finding out something new, putting the pieces together and coming to a new understanding.”

Cameron has been intrigued by the field of astrobiology for quite some time. It is a relatively new hybrid of many science disciplines, including biology and planetary science, in which scientists contemplate the possibility of extraterrestrial life within the conceptual framework of what is known about life on our own world.

“An astrobiologist is someone who’s studying something they can’t get their hands on,” notes Cameron.

“They’re studying life that’s theoretical and trying to figure out where they might find it and how they might study it. But sooner or later, it’s necessary to put theory to the test. Let’s jump into a submarine, let’s go down two miles and let’s look at stuff that might be an analog for what might find on other worlds.”

With this goal in mind, Cameron worked with researchers at NASA and Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) to find a project that would not only make an entertaining film but bring the latest advances in the search for extraterrestrial life to audiences around the world.

Cameron says, “I asked, ‘Do you have experiments you could be doing at hydrothermal vent sites that will allow us to tell the story of how the extremophile life that’s living in these very harsh, very strange conditions might relate to the search for life out in the cosmos?’And they responded very enthusiastically.” As a result, Cameron is joined in the expedition in “Aliens of the Deep” by young men and women in the fields of marine biology, astrobiology, and space science. “I want to put a spotlight on what they do,” says Cameron.

“These people have dedicated their lives to this mystery. You don’t go into this field for fame or to make a lot of money; you do it because you want to know. You do it because something inside you says that you have to be a detective, to find out about the great mysteries of life, the Earth, and the universe.

“I carefully selected the ‘cast’for this film,” says Cameron. “I definitely wanted people who were good scientists and could explain things in technically correct language, but who were also appealing as people and good communicators to the audience. I approached young people who still have that sense of wonder, that eye of the tiger—I wanted to capture that sense of excitement, that idea that science is an adventure.”

“I know when everybody thinks of the scientist, they think of the glasses and the lab coat, but we also have a lot of fun,” says Dijanna Figueroa, a Ph.D. student in Marine Biology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, who joined Cameron on the journey.

“Science is also about getting into the field, and seeing things in strange places that people had never seen before. And this expedition has been great for that—it was months of work, but there was a huge scientific payoff. I think it was that way for all of the scientists—getting to go down and do our science was a great adrenaline rush.”

But in addition to having a great adventure and providing a spotlight for scientists who are working on the great questions of extraterrestrial life, Cameron also sought to make an entertaining film.

“There are six billion people on the planet, and they’re all not going to get into a submersible and go down to the bottom of the ocean to see these amazing creatures. So, we shot it in 3-D, with high-definition cameras, so we could put it up on the big screen, and audiences around the world can share in the experience. “

And—honestly—it’s a more satisfying experience in 3-D, because our camera can tilt and pan and look around; it can follow something that goes swimming by. In the submersible, all you have is the porthole,” Cameron adds.

“Sure, it’s exciting to be down there, but you get to see the magic of this world better on an IMAX ®screen and in 3-D.”

Next: Sea and Space

The "WOW" Factor

Meet the Crew

Meet the Scientists

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