Over the weekend, James Cameron became the third person in history to venture to the deepest point on Earth, the Mariana Trench's Challenger Deep. He was also the first person to ever make the trip alone. This is the first footage to be released from his dive.

The short segments of footage showed no evidence of deep sea gigantism, nor was there any trace of monstrous, otherworldly ocean beasts — both of which Cameron and others had joked about discovering prior to the dive.

As Cameron puts it, the deepest point on Earth was actually very barren and lunar-looking; with the exception of some small, shrimp-like crustaceans, the seafloor appeared to be entirely bereft of life. On the other hand, just because you can't see life doesn't mean it isn't there. Unfortunately, the mechanical arm that would have been used to collect biological samples malfunctioned during the descent, and was inoperable by the time Cameron hit the ocean floor.

Some people have called this preliminary footage underwhelming. That's up for debate. Sure, there were no deep-sea behemoths waiting to gobble Cameron up the moment he hit the seafloor, but just think for a second about what you're seeing here: this video was shot almost seven miles below the ocean surface, and reveals a vast alien landscape (located right here on Earth) that we know almost nothing about.

For all we know the ocean's deepest regions are home to never-before-seen geothermal activity, or teeming with a previously undiscovered microscopic extremophile. And when you get right down to it, the fact is that Cameron spent just three hours exploring a positively vast subsurface marine landscape — there's still so much of the Trench that remains to be explored, and in greater detail.

"This is the beginning of opening up this new frontier" said Cameron shortly after extricating himself from his cramped deep-sea submersible on Sunday. Cameron says that the glitches in the mechanical sampling arm just mean he'll have to go back and get more samples.

"I see this as the beginning ... of opening up this frontier to science and really understanding these deep places," Cameron said.

[National Geographic]