Summer Double Feature Movie Review: The Abyss

Our summer double features continue with reviews of Contact and The Abyss.

Cast and Crew

Main Cast

Ed Harris as Virgil ‘Bud’ Brigman
Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio as Lindsey Brigman
Michael Biehn as Lt. Coffey
Leo Burmester as Catfish De Vries
Todd Graff as Alan ‘Hippy’ Carnes
John Bedford Lloyd as Jammer Willis
J.C. Quinn as Arliss ‘Sonny’ Dawson
Kimberly Scott as Lisa ‘One Night’ Standing
Captain Kidd Brewer Jr. as Lew Finler
George Robert Klek as Wilhite
Christopher Murphy as Schoenick
Adam Nelson as Ensign Monk

Main Crew

Directed by James Cameron
Written by James Cameron

Synopsis

During the Cold War, a US nuclear submarine collides with a fast-moving object underwater. After she sinks, the US Navy enlist a group of deep-sea oil prospectors to locate and investigate the submarine, conveniently located 2,000 feet underwater at the edge of a 2.5 mile deep abyss, 80 miles from Cuba. To assist the operation, a small group of Navy SEALs are rushed to join them, and they quickly discover that they’re not the only living things down there.

Note

This is a review of the DVD special edition of the film, which is longer and features a major subplot not in the cinematic version. I don’t know how they could have left it out and still had the film make sense; perhaps I’ll watch the other version some time and find out.

High Point

  • The liquid breathing stuff is just too cool, and something that’s undergoing real trials in hospitals at the moment
  • Two unarmed electric submersibles having a fight

Low Points

  • Oh look, it’s a military commander, wants to blow things up
  • Did I miss a couple of minutes at the end, or were people on the surface assuming the existance of the aliens before they’d even been told about them?

The Review

So how much originality do you expect in a sci-fi film about finding a race of aliens living on the bottom of an ocean on Earth? Well, you can expect quite a lot, because to my knowledge this hasn’t really been done before – certainly not as a movie of this scale. There are, however, some decidedly unoriginal and extremely predictable elements alongside those which feel fresh and unique. Four out of six.

I didn’t expect too much of the effects – this film was made in 1989, after all. That said, they hold up extremely well. Although the aliens look a bit like clear plastic wrapped in cling film, everything is generally very well done – probably because it was filmed in the largest underwater set ever constructed at the time. Five out of six – you can spot them all, but none of them ever get in the way.

I liked the story. The basic premise and structure work very well, although as mentioned for originality above, some of it’s very predictable. An extraordinary amount actually happens during the film, which makes the story feel full and fast-paced, especially when you’re reminded just how much time isn’t passing in the film’s world. Perhaps the ending was a little too easy, perhaps it wasn’t… difficult to say, but it was certainly satisfying and avoided some things I was hoping they wouldn’t do. Despite this, however, it fails to really set me on fire with enthusiasm for it. Four out of six.

With regard to acting, everyone performs their part very well. Everyone on the main cast, that is. I would like to know where they found the people who played the US Navy officers on the surface, because they didn’t come across as genuine military types to me at all. Perhaps my expectations are all wrong – I have, after all, very little experience with real members of the military. But then would your average person have any more than I do? Probably not, and its their impressions which make money for the filmmakers. Five out of six.

This film evokes a lot of emotional response. There are numerous near-death encounters for characters you come to empathise with (not to mention the ones who actually die). There are romantic scenes, angry quarrels, rage-driven fights and scenes of sheer wonder. Certainly, parts of this film will make your heart beat faster. Five out of six.

The production is worthy of a big-budget Hollywood movie. Oh wait, this is a big-budget Hollywood movie. Let’s just say there’s nothing wrong with it, shall we? It doesn’t give me enough to give it the magic full marks, but you can’t point at any particular part and say ‘that’s wrong’. The underwater filming gets particular praise here, as does the sound mix, which came over extremely well on my 5.1 system. Five out of six.

Overall, it leaves a buzz, but I’m afraid it’s a bit like a small chocolate bar when you want a big one. Four out of six.

In total, The Abyss recieves thirty-two out of forty-two.

15 replies on “Summer Double Feature Movie Review: The Abyss”

  1. J_W_W says:

    Theatrical Version
    The theatrical version is actually a much tighter film with total focus on the one location. Tying in the suspense of the tidal wave, really didn’t work and I think Cameron was right to leave it out. It doesn’t ruin the film in any way, its just a subtle change and a little bit of a jolt away from focusing on the main characters during the climax of the movie.

    • Abednigo says:

      Re: Theatrical Version

      The theatrical version is actually a much tighter film with total focus on the one location. Tying in the suspense of the tidal wave, really didn’t work and I think Cameron was right to leave it out. It doesn’t ruin the film in any way, its just a subtle change and a little bit of a jolt away from focusing on the main characters during the climax of the movie.

      In my opinion the added footage helped a lot. Before you were just left with the impression that the aliens were just kind of saying, “can you please stop fighting with each other?”, but with the added footage you see that they basically threaten mankind and are saying, “either knock it off, or we’re going to wipe you out”. It added a lot for me.

    • chad says:

      Re: Theatrical Version

      I prefer the theatrical version as well. It was tighter, more focused, and didn’t have the distraction of the tidal wave. The video montage of the human atrocities was sufficient. Also, it left a bit more suspense at the end, because until the alien ship surfaced, only Harris/Bud had contacted them directly. What would they do next? Would they go to the UN or the White House? Would they make demands? There was a lot more suspense and potential than in the extended version.

  2. y42 says:

    CPR
    My own high point, as a former first-aid volunteer: The only realistic CPR scene I’ve ever witnessed on film outside of a CPR training video.

    Arms straight, good rythm. Even hospital shows don’t come close to this level of realism. Kudos!

    P.S. What’s with you and military types who want to blow things up? It’s like fat people who want to eat chocolate: Not so much as a cliché, more like their very nature.

    • y42 says:

      Re: CPR

      é

      Weren’t you people talking about a site upgrade? Maybe one where @[email protected] doesn’t screw up your post’s HTML would be good, huh? ;-)

      …Cliché

      • Eldhrin says:

        Re: CPR
        Actually that looked to me like someone inputting text in UTF-8 but the site assuming it was in some 1-byte character set instead (probably iso-8859-1).

        • Eldhrin says:

          Re: CPR

          Actually that looked to me like someone inputting text in UTF-8 but the site assuming it was in some 1-byte character set instead (probably iso-8859-1).

          And there I eat my words as I see it was you both times. Preview’s probably munging the character set then.

          • y42 says:

            Re: CPR

            Actually that looked to me like someone inputting text in UTF-8 but the site assuming it was in some 1-byte character set instead (probably iso-8859-1).

            And there I eat my words as I see it was you both times. Preview’s probably munging the character set then.

            Preview renders the input HTML in the typing window. which turns into garbage when you post, if you forget to change it back to the code.

            Oddly enough, when I previewed my reply to myself, the garbage turned back into the rendered character (firefox on OSX… not the most common setup, I admit).

            • Eldhrin says:

              Re: CPR

              Preview renders the input HTML in the typing window. which turns into garbage when you post, if you forget to change it back to the code.

              Oddly enough, when I previewed my reply to myself, the garbage turned back into the rendered character (firefox on OSX… not the most common setup, I admit).

              Could be less common – I’m using Camino on OS X – same rendering engine!

            • chad says:

              Re: CPR

              Preview renders the input HTML in the typing window. which turns into garbage when you post, if you forget to change it back to the code.

              Explain that again. You mean if I do something like this: © and don’t preview it, then it will show up correctly? (I have not previewed this, so is should show up as the copyright symbol.)

              • chad says:

                Re: CPR
                Okay, thanks. I was wondering how to make HTML entities work. Thought it was a bureau42 problem.

    • chad says:

      Re: CPR

      My own high point, as a former first-aid volunteer: The only realistic CPR scene I’ve ever witnessed on film outside of a CPR training video.

      My high point too. Only, and I do mean only, CPR that I’ve ever seen in a movie or on TV where they actually take off the entire shirt, bra and all, for a woman. Which is how I was trained to do it. Sorry ladies, it all comes off. I recently watched a TV show where they used the electric paddles over a shirt. As I understand it, skin contact is quite important for those to work. Oh well, I guess it makes sense for network television and family-friendly movies…

      On a side note, I have heard of people sucessfully performing CPR during an emergency, with no prior training at all–they were just mimicking what they had seen on TV. So I guess you don’t have to do it perfectly in order for it to work.

      • J_W_W says:

        Re: CPR

        My own high point, as a former first-aid volunteer: The only realistic CPR scene I’ve ever witnessed on film outside of a CPR training video.

        My high point too. Only, and I do mean only, CPR that I’ve ever seen in a movie or on TV where they actually take off the entire shirt, bra and all, for a woman. Which is how I was trained to do it. Sorry ladies, it all comes off. I recently watched a TV show where they used the electric paddles over a shirt. As I understand it, skin contact is quite important for those to work. Oh well, I guess it makes sense for network television and family-friendly movies…

        On a side note, I have heard of people sucessfully performing CPR during an emergency, with no prior training at all–they were just mimicking what they had seen on TV. So I guess you don’t have to do it perfectly in order for it to work.

        All this talk about the CPR in the show reminds me that when I saw this in the theater they spliced the film wrong and at one point we jumped right into the CPR scence from way earlier in the movie. It was really jarring as the scene was fairly intense. It also kind of robbed the suspense after they got the right roll fed and went back to the part of the movie we were supposed to be in.

  3. octa says:

    .
    Hrrm I can see the connection between the double feature but wouldn’t it have been better to review Leviathan with The Abyss? Ahh well :)

    I really liked this movie, it’s a permanent part of my VHS collection. The ending was very fitting and my VHS copy has the scenes with the tidal waves, didn’t realize they took it out for the theatre release. I actually thought the water breathing thing was real, that’s how well they pulled it off I guess :)

    • Eldhrin says:

      Re: .

      Hrrm I can see the connection between the double feature but wouldn’t it have been better to review Leviathan with The Abyss?

      The intent was that they are two movies about first contact with an alien civilisation. There are of course numerous other pairs we could have done on that subject!

Comments are closed.