People will say Terminator 2 or Aliens, the romantics might go with Titanic, some people swear by Avatar, but for me, my favorite James Cameron film will always be The Abyss, and I’m so happy I got to revisit it for the 101 Sci-Fi Movies list.
Featuring the largest underwater set ever built, in a half completed nuclear reactor, and filled with action scenes, stunts, and some amazing performances, perfectionist Cameron’s director’s cut is the preferred viewing experience.
When a U.S. nuclear sub is mysteriously lost, an underwater oil rig, is moved to its location, with a government assigned SEAL team to make sure they get on site and recover it before the Russians do.
The civilian rig is crewed by a bunch of roughnecks, led by Virgil ‘Bud’ Brigman (Ed Harris) and he’s joined by his ex-wife, Lindsey (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) who pilots the SEAL team led by Coffey (Michael Biehn) down to the rig in a mini-sub.
Tensions begin to arise immediately, as the two alpha males Bud and Coffey butt heads over how to run the rig, especially since Coffey is beginning to suffer from high pressure nervous system due to the rigs depth, and becomes an increasingly dangerous threat.
She starts to see things that challenge her though, after locating the sub, Lindsey sees something. Something not us.
This puts Coffey into an even more heightened state and then recover a nuclear warhead from the sub with the intention of detonating it at the bottom of the abyss, the rig is hanging over, and where they suspect this Non-Terrestrial Intelligence to be residing.
Cameron is a master of the action scene, and this film is filled with them, a nail-biting sequence features the rig being dragged across the ocean floor to the edge of the abyss, while its anchor, the ship on the surface, is being pounded by a hurricane. There’s a mini-sub chase and fight, there is tension galore…
No matter how many times I see it though, there is a sequence that always gets me, and that is the section of the film where Bud is forced to let Lindsey drown right in front of him, it’s heartbreaking, and the subsequent scenes only reinforce that.
The NTIs are trying to warn us to grow up a bit, and are ready to give us all a little smackdown even as Bud leaps down into the abyss, on a seemingly suicidal mission, to stop the nuclear warhead from detonating.
The film is claustrophobic with the low sets of the rig, tension filled due to a tightly paced story and excellent performances, and is a little more emotional than most Cameron films (save perhaps Titanic) and despite not having watched it for a number of years, as soon as I put it on, I berated myself for not having watched it more recently, still so amazing!
And the tech of course is just cool, if you think about the behind the scenes stuff, and the fact that very little work was done by stunt people, most of it was the actors, the fact that the helmets were designed specifically for that movie so you could see the actors faces, and now that design is kind of the standard, the CG work with the water tentacle, the fluid-breathing system (which actually exists – though whether humans could use it…).
The film is still amazingly epic, has the perfect balance of action and emotion, with a bit of Close Encounters and Day The Earth Stood Still thrown in for good measure.
Yeah, I think I’ll be watching this one again soon…