James Cameron is one of those directors that I forget I like. I was one of the few people that dodged the Titanic bullet (one of the few bonuses of not having a girlfriend in 1997 or all of high school for that matter) and I really couldn’t tell you anything else he’s done recently besides Dark Angel which I never watched and fell off the radar pretty quickly. So, why did I add The Abyss to my queue? I didn’t actually know he had anything to do with it. Underwater stuff kind of freaks me out and I’ve always heard the effects were great, so I just went with it and it was freakin’ GREAT. Let’s hope Cameron can kick things up a notch and do another movie like this, Terminator or Aliens.
THE ABYSS (1989)
Written and directed by James Cameron
Starring Ed Harris, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Michael Biehn and Chris Elliot
So, the basic premise (I say that a lot, don’t I?) is that this underwater drilling team gets co-opted by the government to check out a sub that went down carrying a nuke (making Armageddon almost the exact opposite of this movie). A group of navy dudes including Michael Biehn board the ship and dive deep down with our heroes. Ed Harris and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio play a married couple who hate each other but are both experts on underwater stuff.
Like I said above, I’m actually pretty freaked out by underwater stuff, especially sunken ships with dead people floating limply inside. So, this movie had more potential to actually scare me, but it’s not really a scary movie, which is cool. There are definitely suspenseful chases, both in scuba-like suits and in underwater vehicles, though the scene where they go into the sunken sub and are surrounded by corpses was pretty creepy.
It’s really more of a psychological movie as Biehn starts going crazy. And really, how do you not go crazy when you only have a few inches of steel between you and certain death? Anyway, you’ve got chases, bare knuckle fights, great underwater filming and a pretty convincing relationship between Harris and Mastrantonio that feels really familiar now, but also fresh somehow. Oh, it’s also got aliens (lower case, “A”). The whole thing’s kind of complicated and I’m not sure I caught everything but way deep down in the ocean this huge spaceship of tiny aliens driving jellyfish-like vehicles has been hanging out. They can also manipulate water somehow in one of the coolest and best effects I’ve seen in a while and this was from 1989!
Fun fact, the filmed all the underwater stuff with the actual actors in specially made suits so you can see their faces in a nuclear reactor they filled with water. The sun kept getting through so they had to put at tarp over the top of it. Knowing that going in added a bit more of a creepiness factors because these people probably could have died if one or two things would have gone wrong. I really appreciate the actors doing their own stunts too. Can you imagine this being done today? Everything would be crummy CGI and just wouldn’t have that fear of imininent danger (like the scene after the underwater station starts taking on water, Biehn’s gone over the edge and Harris actually has to swim out an air lock up to another one and then ANOTHER one. Holy cats, that’s crazy.
This feels like a pretty rambling review, but I highly recommend the movie. I watched the theatrical version to save time, but would definitely check out the director’s cut next time.