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.