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‘Aliens of the Deep’ fascinating, but too short

James Cameron explores the sea in 3-D IMAX. By Christy Lemire
/ Source: The Associated Press

James Cameron goes down with the ship, again, in “Aliens of the Deep,” his latest 3-D IMAX extravaganza.

The “Titanic” director, who previously married his loves of filmmaking and underwater exploration in the 2003 documentary “Ghosts of the Abyss,” takes his high-tech toys and a team of scientists and dives deep one more time.

The results are frequently dazzling and sometimes even amusing, especially when creatures jump out at you from the screen. Chunks of coral jut toward your face, and a jagged monstrosity that one researcher describes as “the ugliest fish in the world” seems to swim right into your lap. And it has feet!

(To make the three-dimensional effect work, you have to wear enormous plastic glasses that will make you and everyone else in the theater look like former Paramount Pictures chief Robert Evans, but it’s worth the embarrassment.)

Other life forms are far more beautiful, both for their mystery and for the astonishingly sharp way in which they’re shot. A translucent jellyfish-looking thing — even the scientists admit they have no idea what it is — bobs and weaves in a way that recalls the dancing plastic bag from “American Beauty.” A pastel pink creature (which might be an octopus — who knows?) floats like a delicate ballerina through the deep ocean, and scads of shrimp swarm around chimneys that spew ultrahot water.

It’s all fascinating, and it makes you wish the film lasted longer than 47 minutes.

Cameron intended the film to be visually arresting, but he also compiled his crew of marine biologists and astrobiologists to prove that underwater expeditions are crucial for preparing to study the solar system. Life forms exist in unknown, underwater places on Earth where no sunlight has ever shone, and yet they thrive. Couldn’t this be true on other planets, as well?

That’s an excellent point, but one that he and his researchers reiterate a few times too many. Yes, the work they’re doing is mind-boggling and important, but sometimes the images alone are more than capable of speaking for themselves.

At the same time, it would have been helpful to know a little more about some of the creatures they encounter 3,000 feet under the sea, and to know where in the world they are.

And we could have done with less Cameron on camera, rallying his troops and navigating unknown oceans worlds from the cockpit of his glassed-in bubble. Here’s a typical comment from the Oscar-winning director: “I’m Jim Cameron and here’s the deal: I love this stuff.”

And we know that, and it’s hard not to appreciate his enthusiasm, but a truism of reality TV applies here, too. Regular people who we can relate to can be more compelling than big-name stars.