ocean's 2

What Exactly Is Going on Between James Cameron and This Diver?

Photo: Eamonn McCormack/Getty Images

For two days now I have wondered something: Why do I keep seeing headlines about James Cameron — director of Titanic, loser of Oscar to his ex-wife, Kathryn Bigelow — fussing with some random diver? What could they possibly have to argue about, and why are they arguing about it so publicly? I would very much like to be removed from this narrative, except the curiosity has taken up so much space in my brain! I’m watching Hustlers, sobbing over Antonio Banderas — and yet, there in the back of my mind is the reminder that I absolutely must know what is going on between James Cameron and this diver, what they’re arguing about, and why.

You might’ve missed it. Listen, there’s a lot going on, and I get it. Succession is getting even better. The Emmys are Sunday. But this random feud between James Cameron and a diver — ahem, sorry, superrich adventurer — is unmissable. It has drama! Science! Emails! I don’t think we’ve taken enough time for it. We live in a society where two incredibly rich men are fussing over their mutual hobby in the pages of the New York Times. Once upon a time, James Cameron said he literally only cared about Avatar: “I’m in the Avatar business. Period. That’s it.” But he’s in another business now, too: sending a rich guy emails disputing a very rich achievement. Sometimes there is a beef so delicious — a little too absurd, a little too banal — to ignore. It’s not as good as the great unseasoned rap beef of last year, but it’s close: Let me welcome you to the rabbit hole that is James Cameron versus Victor L. Vescovo.

Hunter. Let’s start with the players: Who is James Cameron?
First of all: Lol. You know exactly who James Cameron is, you clown! He’s a very famous director, the big personality behind Titanic and Avatar, and eventually those Avatar sequels he’s been talking about for almost a decade.

Right, right. And Victor L. Vescovo? I hate to say it, I hope I don’t sound ridiculous. I don’t know who this man is!
Victor L. Vescovo is a very, very rich guy. Kind of like a Renaissance man who looks like Donald Sutherland. Vescovo, who is from Dallas, is the co-founder and managing partner of private-equity company Insight Equity Holdings, according to The Guardian. (You can find his LinkedIn here.) When he’s not making a lot of money — and I mean, like, Succession money — Vescovo is an explorer and adventurer. He’s only the 12th American to reach both North and South Poles and climb the seven summits.

So what is he exploring this time?
Vescovo’s current goal is to dive to the deepest point of each of Earth’s five oceans.

But why?
I really don’t know why anyone does anything, to be honest. I’m just on a life journey that takes me from one BLT to the next.

So what’s the drama here? Why are Vescovo and James Cameron fussing?
Well! In April, Vescovo said that he’d piloted a submersible into the ocean’s deepest area, the Challenger Deep in the Pacific Ocean. According to a statement from Vescovo’s team, his expedition reached a “maximum depth of 10,928 meters / 35,853 feet deep, 16 meters.” Vescovo said his dive was 52 feet deeper than any previous manned dive.

Last month, according to the New York Times, Vescovo said that he’d completed “the world’s first manned expedition to the deepest point in each of the five oceans,” which includes the Challenger Deep. This whole thing will be a Discovery Channel miniseries.

What does James Cameron have to do with that?
Known ocean stan James Cameron has also ventured down to the Challenger Deep, and holds the previous record for the deepest solo dive ever. On his own 2012 expedition, Cameron even tweeted from it:

The whole thing became a documentary for National Geographic.

Tell me what this known shade queen, James Cameron, said about Vescovo’s dive.
“What he’s done is quite remarkable,” James Cameron told the Times. “Where I take exception is his saying he went deeper.” He implied that Vescovo misrepresented the depth of his own dive, and of the Challenger Deep: “You can’t go deeper. [The Challenger Deep is] flat and featureless,” he said. “So his gauge may read differently from mine, but he can’t say he’s gone deeper.”

But wait, why would James Cameron talk about this at all? Isn’t he in blueface on Pandora, working on Avatar?
Excuse me, please don’t silence him. Instead, enjoy this truly enviable paragraph, from the Times:

The interview was done at Mr. Cameron’s request and marks the first time he has publicly criticized Mr. Vescovo’s claim. He did so from Wellington, New Zealand, where he was filming an ‘Avatar’ sequel. The initial email inquiry from an assistant read, ‘Request to Speak.’

I know, right?

But is James Cameron technically correct? Is it possible to go deeper?
He’s probably right — James Cameron happens to know more about the ocean than I do, and also other smart ocean people seem to agree with him. According to the Times, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution on Cape Cod agrees with the director. The leader of Woods Hole’s robot team told the Times that it doesn’t seem probable that Vescovo found a deeper part of Challenger Deep.

Meanwhile: Vescovo said the depth of his dive has been revised to be 13 feet shallower, but he’s still claiming that his dive was deeper.

What’s the extent of the beef? Have they exchanged words in person?
James Cameron sent Vescovo an email to address his misgivings about the record. Vescovo told the Times that he planned to respond “in the next day or two.”

Fjkaldfjkdla; jfdlafja
I know, right!!! “Perhaps we will never know,” Vescovo said in a follow-up email to the Times. “All I can do is stand behind the actual data.”

Oh my God, I’m loving this.
Did you ever expect to learn so much about the ocean today?

Who’s side are you on?
Between a man making 19 more Avatar movies and a man not making 19 more Avatar movies, I must choose the dark-sided, chaotic neutral of James Cameron. It is morally incumbent that my allyship lie with any person who employed Billy Zane in the ’90s.

Update, 1:56 p.m.: Some days you don’t get a call from a very rich adventurer to discuss the ocean, but some days you do get a call from a very rich adventurer to discuss the ocean! Today is one of those days: Victor Vescovo, our new favorite diver, Renaissance man, and Donald Sutherland look-alike, emailed Vulture to say that he read our coverage of the James Cameron ocean dispute, and was happy to phone and discuss it all in more detail.

Vescovo, delightfully jovial over the phone, first gave some background on the dive in question. “[James Cameron’s] argument isn’t that he dove deeper, he’s saying there’s no way I could dive deeper. It’s pretty flat, but it’s a three- to four-square-mile area,” Vescovo said of the Challenger Deep. “We went a little bit deeper. We published what the instrument said. We dove that area three or four times, and our sensors said we went to this depth.” Vescovo added that his sensors were calibrated by an outside agency, and he’s offered to submit his readings to a third-party scientific panel for review.

A third-act twist in this story: Cameron and Vescovo have corresponded before! “He can be remarkably engaging and helpful,” Vescovo told Vulture over the phone. Ahead of his own Challenger Deep dive, he and Cameron exchanged emails about the ocean and diving, and Vescovo said that he has a lot of respect for the Titanic director. “I love the Terminator movies,” he said. “I love Avatar. I watched Titanic on the Titanic!” Let it be known that Vulture has formally revised our allegiance: Until I get a call from James Cameron, we are team Vescovo, baby!

James Cameron’s Ocean Feud, Explained