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Abyss, The

Entry updated 7 December 2016. Tagged: Film.

Film (1989). Twentieth Century Fox. Directed by James Cameron. Produced by Gale Anne Hurd. Written by Cameron. Cast includes Michael Biehn, Todd Graff, Ed Harris and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio. 146 minutes. Colour.

Despite the largest budget of the period's fantasies set Under the Sea (see Deepstar Six; Leviathan) at about $60 million, and despite director Cameron's impressive track record with sf, this was not a box-office smash. A nuclear-missile-armed US submarine crashes at the edge of the Cayman Trough and the crew of an experimental, submersible drilling rig are asked to help rescue any survivors. A hurricane cuts communications with the surface; the laid-back, joky rig workers clash with a paranoid team of naval commandos who blame everything on the Russians; and Aliens dwelling in the Trench (looking a little like angels, and therefore good) teasingly appear to some people but not others. The peace-lovers clash stereotypically with the "nuke the aliens" group, and mayhem is followed by transcendental First Contact. Cameron is good at the low-key establishment of team camaraderie among working people, but the cute-alien theme and the relationship between estranged husband and wife have traces of marshmallow softness. The moral-blackmail finale of an earlier version of the script (aliens threaten world with tidal waves if world peace is not restored) is replaced by something that looks more like divine intervention. The film's moralizing is attractive but simplistic. More interestingly, most of the miraculous Technology on display is either actually possible today or plausible for the Near Future. The novelization, whose author not unfairly calls it "a real novel", is The Abyss (1989) by Orson Scott Card.

In 1992 the director's cut The Abyss: Special Edition was released, at 171 minutes more than half an hour longer than the original. The restored climax (tough-minded version) may be more interesting in theory, but in practice is marred by unconvincing special effects in the tidal wave. Richer characterization and more cold-war politics do not compensate for the now sluggish pacing of this bloated variant edition. [PN]

see also: Cinema; Jean Giraud; Monster Movies.


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