Review: Volcanoes of the Deep Sea (2003)


Director: Stephen Low | 45 minutes | documentary | Actors: Peter Rona, Dolf Seilacher | Original voice cast: Ed Harris

Imagine walking on the bottom of the ocean! Aside from the scientific discoveries you might make there, the trip would be a gift for your visual sense alone. It is, of course, pitch black, but when it is lit up, it must be a great experience to explore this immense aquarium. Filmmaker Stephen Low has a predilection for underwater films, in his ‘Titanica’ (released two years before James Cameron’s ‘Titanic’, who by the way acted as executive producer on ‘Volcanoes…’) he showed the audience the remains of the famous shipwreck . Not surprising, then, that he was interested in the project to document the voyage of discovery of the famous deep-sea submarine Alvin.

Two claimed to be ancient fossils – marine biologist Peter Rona and paleontologist Dolf Seilacher – embark on a mission to find the world’s oldest living fossil, the Paleodictyon Nodosum. Fifty years ago, Seilacher found the hexagonal-shaped fossils on the coast of Spain during his honeymoon. “I didn’t mean to be unfaithful,” he says. Yet the young geologist at the time fell under the spell of the fossils he found and the grip of his “mistress” – as he jokingly calls the Paleodictyion Nodosum, he had not let go of him all these years. Seilacher takes the opportunity to explore the Mid-Atlantic Ridge with Rona, looking for surviving specimens of the creature apparently so strong it survived dinosaurs, with both hands.

Rona found mysterious holes at the bottom of the sea, so the team combines knowledge and passion. It is great to see the two old gentlemen at work so enthusiastically: the two are not yet thinking about retiring, even though they are long past retirement age! The Alvin was equipped with high resolution cameras and 4000 Watt lighting for this mission. This is necessary to explore the roughest place on Earth, as the Mid-Atlantic Ridge is called here. This longest mountain range in the world has been explored before, but for years each dive raised more questions than answers. The two scientists hope to find a living copy of the fossil, but whether they will succeed remains a mystery for a long time. The documentary also examines other bizarre finds that have been made during expeditions to the bizarre ocean landscape. In fact, living things are found near the volcanic rocks at the bottom of the ocean, which is most remarkable. The water is not only boiling hot (lead would melt there); it is also very poisonous. The creatures found range from anemones to mussels and octopuses (including one with Dumbo-like flaps on its body, hence the name Dumbo) and a whole host of worms, including white fan worms and tube worms.

“Volcanoes of the Deep Sea” pays a lot of attention to the question of how these animals can survive in these extreme conditions. It turns out to be a form of chemosynthesis, in which bacteria are converted into food. The research does have some points of contact with the quest for the Paleodictyion Nodosum and its way of life. This animal, too, appears to have thrown itself into consuming less, which is most likely his secret to surviving all the disasters that have plagued other earthlings for billions of years. Will Seilacher and Rona manage to capture the animal alive? The underwater scenes show a world so distant from ours that they might as well be shots of a strange planet. Unbelievable that this piece of nature was just filmed on earth!

The film is provided with a voice-over by the always reliable Ed Harris, who again appears to be a valuable addition here. It must be said that the CGI predominates more often than desired. It is as if you are browsing their holiday photo albums with family and the holidaymaker suddenly starts drawing what a certain building looked like, while you would much rather browse through the second album that you see on the shelf. On the other hand, this choice of the filmmakers is justifiable, because the CGI animations allow them to present the story in a clear way.

“Volcanoes of the Deep Sea” is not only exciting learning material for a geography class, it is also worth buying for the home theater. The unique images of the bizarre underwater journey are not only beautiful, the story told is also interesting. Incidentally, the reception of “Volcanoes of the Deep Sea” was not always warm. Some IMAX theaters in the United States refused to include the documentary in their program because it adheres to the theory of evolution. The DNA van the microbes found in the shafts of the deep-sea volcanoes appear to be the same as those of humans.

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