* 'Culmination of a lifelong dream'
* Bottom 'completely featureless and uniform'
By Steve Gorman
March 26 Returning from humankind's first solo
dive to the deepest spot in the ocean, filmmaker James Cameron
said he saw no obvious signs of life that might inspire
creatures in his next "Avatar" movie but was awestruck by the
The Oscar-winning director and undersea explorer said his
record-setting expedition to the bottom of the Mariana Trench, 7
miles (11 km) beneath the surface of the western Pacific, not
only capped seven years of painstaking preparation but was the
"culmination of a lifelong dream."
Cameron, 57, spoke to reporters in a telephone conference
call from a yacht en route back to shore from the dive site
hours after returning safely to the surface from his voyage to
the floor of the immense undersea canyon at a point some 300
miles (480 miles) southwest of the U.S. Pacific territory of
He described a flat, desolate landscape, 50 times larger
than the Grand Canyon, "devoid of sunlight, devoid of any heat,
any warmth," where the pressure was so great that it squeezed
the height of his submersible vehicle by several inches.
He looked out on the sea floor, illuminated by the lights on
his submarine, through a small window.
"When I got to the bottom ... it was completely featureless
and uniform," he said. "My feeling was one of complete isolation
from all of humanity. ... More than anything, (it's) realizing
how tiny you are down in this big, vast, black, unknown and
The only free-swimming creatures he saw near the bottom were
tiny shrimp-like arthropods, but little else in the way of life
was immediately visible. Cameron said further exploration would
be required to discern what other organisms might dwell there.
Asked if he encountered anything he might use in his next
feature film, he replied, "I can't answer that question right
now." But he said, "Anything that I've ever seen underwater goes
into the hopper of imagination that gets refracted out into the
things that I write."
He also recounted the discomfort of his seven-hour journey
into the ocean depths and back, wedged into a cramped, cold
capsule at the bottom of a specially designed vehicle that
stands 24 feet (7 metres) tall and descends upright and rotating
at the speed of about 500 feet (150 metres) per minute.
The craft functioned flawlessly, he said, except for an
unexplained failure of the hydraulic system that idled the
vehicle's robot arm and prevented Cameron from collecting most
of the biological and geologic samples he had hoped to retrieve.
NOT GIVING UP MOVIES
Better known as the director of such blockbuster films as
"Titanic," "Aliens" and "Avatar," Cameron made history on Monday
as the first person to venture alone to the so-called Challenger
Deep, the lowest-known point of the Earth's crust, nearly 36,000
feet (10,970 metres) beneath the ocean surface.
He also was the first individual to make that journey since
1960, when the only other explorers to reach the bottom of the
Mariana Trench - U.S. Navy Lieutenant Don Walsh and the late
Swiss oceanographer Jacques Piccard - spent 20 minutes there
together in the submersible craft Trieste.
Cameron said he was inspired as a boy by the original feat
of Piccard and Walsh - a mentor and part of his support team at
the surface - and by the adventures of French undersea explorer
Jacques Cousteau, to take up diving at age 16, even though he
lived "in a small, landlocked village in rural Canada."
"Most people probably know me as a filmmaker, but really the
ocean and the idea of exploration has been the stronger driver
in my life," he said.
By his count, Cameron has made 72 ocean dives in various
submersible crafts over the years, including 12 trips during the
making of "Titanic" to the famed shipwreck in the North
Still, Cameron insisted he had no plans to give up his movie
career, saying, "I'm going to be turning my attention to 'Avatar
2' and 'Avatar 3' as soon as I finish up with this expedition."
His venture to the Challenger Deep is being chronicled for a
3-D film set for theatrical release and for subsequent broadcast
on the National Geographic Channel.
(Editing by Tim Gaynor and Peter Cooney)