Coming on the heels of The Terminator and Aliens, James Cameron’s The Abyss was a much more ambitious project, with over half of the nearly three-hour film being shot underwater. For those who don’t know, my poem and review are for the extended version of The Abyss, which includes a half hour of additional scenes and a better-explained ending than the original 1989 version. These scenes give greater detail to various relationships and a more full understanding of the finale, which explains why the alternate version has largely replaced the original.
Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio stars in what I consider her best role as the hardheaded rig designer Lindsey, and Ed Harris is similarly fantastic as her irritated husband Bud. Their relationship is the most intimate and personable, and little touches such as Bud’s wedding ring saving his life add a lot to their characters. Michael Biehn is increasingly wild-eyed as the impaired SEAL Coffey, but these three are the only fleshed-out characters in the film. While the extended version helps, the rest of the crew are pretty much just a collection of eccentricities. Their names don’t really stick like their actions or appearance, making them just “the tall coma guy,” “the black sub lady,” “the conspiracy guy with the rat,” and “the guy who looks like a truck driver.”
Regardless of the lack of secondary character development, the Oscar-winning special effects are often extraordinary, especially considering when it was released. The set pieces involving the crane and the submarine fight are truly impressive and kept me on the edge of my seat. The NTIs (Non-Terrestrial Intelligence) are also well-realized creatures that are kept out of sight for most of the film, and the grand score by the great Alan Silvestri creates tension and mystery, though less scarily than in Aliens.
Weak points include the language and the ending. Even with the extended climax, with an anti-war message foreshadowing that of Cameron’s Avatar, the end is overlong and rather convenient. The NTIs’ benevolence in light of Bud’s sacrifice carries an important and touching message, but it’s a tad hokey as well. Without the anti-war elements, the end made even less sense and drew the bulk of critics’ ire. Also, while the F-words are minimal, The Abyss has quite a bit of profanity and other bad language, plus some non-sexual nudity, so a cut version is definitely preferred in my house.
I’ve heard that, with all the safety issues and long shoots required, Cameron and the actors did not enjoy making The Abyss at all. It may have been hard on them, but it gave Cameron some experience shooting with water, preparing him for Titanic, and it gave us an excellent sci-fi thriller.
Best line: (Bud) “Hippy, you think everything is a conspiracy.” (Hippy) “Everything is.”
VC’s best line (one she has reused many times since): (Bud) “I’m comin’, I’m comin’. Geez, keep your pantyhose on.”Artistry: 7 Characters/Actors: 7 Entertainment: 8 Visual Effects: 9 Originality: 8 Watchability: 7 Other (language, nudity, and overlong ending): -8 TOTAL: 38 out of 60
Next: #241 – Sister Act
© 2014 S. G. Liput
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