The Abyss (1989) Poster


Frequently Asked Questions

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  • When a nuclear submarine, the USS Montana, crashes into an underwater cliff and sinks into an abyss, the US Navy asks the workers on the Deepcore, a nearby submersible oil drilling platform, to investigate. Suspecting the Soviet navy to be responsible, the US Navy sends in a group of SEALS along with Lindsey Brigman (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio), the designer of the platform. Conflicts arise when the platform workers clash with the SEALS and when Lindsey clashes with her estranged husband, Virgil "Bud" Brigman (Ed Harris), foreman of the platform workers. Everything comes to a head when they discover that the cause of the crash is a "non terrestrial intelligence" (NTI) living in the abyss.

  • The Abyss is based on a screenplay written by Canadian film-maker and deep-sea diver James Cameron, who also directed the movie. However, Cameron's inspiration came from an 1897 short story "Into the Abyss" by English science fiction writer H.G. Wells. The movie was subsequently novelized by American novelist Orson Scott Card.

  • Yes. In fact, the scene where Hippy's (Todd Graff) rat is used as test subject is a very real scene. Five rats were filmed while being submerged in oxygenated fluid for an extended time, and they all survived. The only drawback not shown in the movie is that the process temporarily dissolves a protective fluid covering the insides of the lung, making the subject more susceptible for airborne infective agents; which can be prevented by giving the subject prophylactic antibiotics (which is what the rats were given). Ironically, the rat that portrayed Beany in the rest of the movie died just before the movie's premiere, but the death was age-related and had nothing to do with the oxygenated fluid exposure.

  • He didn't breathe the liquid like the rats did. It was just pink water in his helmet and he was holding his breath. He was wearing a specially designed helmet that allowed the faceplate of his helmet to be flipped open so they could bring in a regulator for him to breathe with. This is shown in the "Under Pressure: Making The Abyss" documentary on the special edition laserdisc and DVD. Harris also mentions that he almost drowned at one point during filming because one of the dive team gave Harris his regulator to get him some air, but the diver put it in his mouth upside down, so Harris was breathing half air and half water.

  • Lt Coffey (Michael Biehn) was suffering from High-Pressure Nervous Syndrome (HPNS), which causes hand tremors and also causes a state of paranoia. As Lindsey says early on, "One in four people can't handle it. They just go buggo." Coffey insists that he and the rest of his SEAL team will be fine and that they all "checked out", i.e., they had been tested for the condition. However, Coffey turned out to be that one in four who did suffer from the condition. Also, Coffey, despite being a SEAL and having gone through some of the toughest military training there is, might not have had the opportunity to dive to the depth for this mission. Also, consider the pressure Coffey suddenly found himself dealing with: after being ordered by his superior to salvage nuclear bomb from the Montana and possibly detonate it, Coffey slowly starts to lose his judgment and reasoning, partially because of the HPNS and also because he's being saddled with an immense responsibility: to destroy anyone or anything that can be deemed a threat to the mission and to do it with a weapon that will destroy him along with the enemy. He's also cut off from his superior officer on the Benthic Explorer and has to begin making serious command decisions on his own. With reports of Soviet forces moving into the area, possibly to steal the warheads from the sub and after Lindsay insists she saw an alien, Coffey believes everything to be a threat. When the water tentacle appears, Coffey is convinced the NTIs are after the nuclear warhead that they salvaged, and insists they must be destroyed. The team is heavily against this idea, and they become yet another threat to Coffey himself.

  • When Lindsey explains the symptoms of HPNS, Coffey says that they have all been briefed about it, that his team has been checked and they turned out okay. He never says that HE has been checked. The mission could have been so delicate and urgent that they simply needed their best man to lead the team, to ensure he would fulfill the mission to the very end. Perhaps only Coffey was a viable candidate and there was simply no time to get him checked first. It's quite possible that Coffey himself had never gone to a depth of approximately 2000 feet before. Though he'd probably been diving before (and he couldn't very well be a US Navy SEAL without being certified to dive) this depth might have been what triggered his HPNS. Additionally, Coffey was placed under a tremendous amount of pressure by his commanding officer, Commodore DeMarco, when he was ordered to retrieve the nuclear warhead and arm it. There's a short scene where he's given the order just after the rig crew and his team make contact with the aliens AND he's told by his commanding officer that a Soviet submarine might be in the area. At that point, DeMarco tells him to go into war mode. Saddling a lieutenant with that much responsibility could also contribute to Coffey's psychosis.

  • Firstly, Coffey and the team probably didn't know that the Deepcore team needed the claw on Flatbed to unhook the umbilical cable from the rig. Though it's plausible that they'd have been briefed fully on the operations and procedures by Lindsey, Bud and the crew, when they arrived on the rig, the writers may have just left this out for the convenience of the plot—if Coffey hadn't taken Flatbed, then we wouldn't have the disaster and story that follows. Also, Coffey is a strictly by-the-book officer and felt that he didn't have to ask permission from Bud or Lindsey or anyone before he took the sub. However, in a deleted scene that was restored for the 1997 theatre and home video release, we see precisely why the SEALs wanted Flatbed: it's much larger and has more power than the smaller subs, plus it has the mechanical arm and claw. If you watch the deleted scene closely, you'll see that Coffey is piloting Flatbed and is using the claw to hold the Trident missile up while the rest of the team removes the warhead. Presumably, the team needed the claw to open the missile hatch and lift the missile itself, something they couldn't do without the powered claw.

  • This may be because of the film rating at the time. When it was first released, The Abyss had a PG-13 certification, so only so much violence and gore could be shown. Another possibility is that Cameron didn't want to show any gore, or as little blood and gore as possible, and that's why there is no blood in the bubbles as Coffey's ship implodes.

  • Just like Lindsey says, swimming in freezing cold water can slow the body's metabolism drastically. This is called cold water drowning. There are rare but documented accounts of people surviving drowning for extreme lengths of time. One 18-year-old man survived for 38 minutes under water. Deep hypothermia is used in medicine, especially during surgeries which require stopping circulation for repairs, such as Aortic Arch reconstruction and giant cerebral aneurysm clippings. The body is cooled to less than 18 degrees Celsius and the heart is stopped. Studies have shown this can be done up to 45 minutes without neural damage. According to the novelization of The Abyss, the NTIs preserved Lindsey's life because they had perceived her good nature through their first contact. A hint of this can be seen in the film as a blue glow that emanates from the moonpool after our heroes believe Lindsey is dead.

  • Believing Bud to be dead at the bottom of the trench, Lindsey is astonished when he suddenly starts texting her again. "Virgil Brigman back on the air," he types. "Have some new friends down here." He goes on to explain that it bothers the NTIs to see us hurting each other and that they sent the tidal wave to us as a message. "Hope you got it," Bud texts, then adds, "Keep pantyhose on. You're going to love this." Suddenly, the Deepcore starts to rumble, and the Benthic Explorer on the surface begins receiving signals of something big rising to the surface right under them. As everyone watches in amazement, the alien vessel lifts the oil rig, the Benthic Explorer, and the rest of the naval fleet right out of the water, balancing them on its massive hull. The platform crew and remaining SEALs are surprised that they have been lifted to the surface without having to decompress, assuming that the NTIs "did something to us." In the final scene, Bud exits the alien craft, and he and Lindsey walk to each other. "Hi, Brigman," Lindsey greets him. "Hi, Mrs Brigman," Bud replies and kisses her.

  • They are at such a depth that bubbles would form in their blood due to the expansion of nitrogen gases going from a higher-pressure to a lower-pressure environment, causing a fatal condition known as "the bends". Therefore it would be necessary for them to decompress before returning to the surface.

  • A very elaborate ending was indeed scripted and filmed for the theatrical version of The Abyss. It starts off after Bud is saved by the aliens. They show him the news on a giant video wall about the imminent war between the USA and the Soviet Union. This changes into a special report about giant tidal waves that appear everywhere around the globe, threatening all mankind. Bud instantly understands that the aliens are responsible for these tsunamis, and he asks why they want to destroy mankind. They respond by showing him images of the many wars and atrocities committed by humans in their seemingly never-ending route to self-destruction. But, as the waves are about to hit the land, they stop and retreat; the aliens have stopped them. Bud's sacrifice has showed them that humanity may have the strength and wisdom to make it after all. The movie then ends with the spaceship rising up towards the ocean surface.

    This ending, together with many other deleted scenes, was restored in the Special Edition of The Abyss. The reason that these scenes were deleted from the earlier version is that they would have made the movie almost 3 hours long. In those days, a running time that long was generally considered too big a commercial risk, especially for big-budget, action-packed, special effects-heavy blockbusters that have to earn a lot of money to break even, let alone make a profit. A general rule is that movies make the most money in the first week(s) or weekend after the premiere. A long running time has the disadvantage that cinemas can hold fewer screenings per day, which diminishes the box-office per day of showing. Furthermore, conventional wisdom at the time was that audiences were not very enthusiastic about remaining focused for such a long time, following the commercial failures of Novecento, Heaven's Gate and Once Upon a Time in America; a notion that was largely disproved since then, with many fine examples of 3-hour-plus movies that became huge box-office hits, e.g. Dances With Wolves, Lord of the Rings, James Cameron's own Titanic and Avatar. Also, it was originally released during the summer film season of 1989, albeit very late in the season, and most summer films then didn't run much longer than 2 hours.

    Contrary to what may be thought, the omission of the wave scene was not a studio decision; director James Cameron and producer Gale Anne Hurd had final cut as long as the movie was kept under an agreed-upon length of 135 minutes, and according to Cameron, the studio was even disappointed to see the wave scene go. However, the special effects of the scene had not been finished, and reactions from test audiences to the unfinished scene were mixed. So Cameron and Hurd were faced with the decision to either trim shots and parts of scenes away from other parts of the movie, or remove an entire subplot. They decided upon the latter, feeling that the first option would hurt the movie's focus and character development, and they also thought that the movie's theme still work without the wave scene, although less overtly. So the tidal wave scenes were never completely finished during post-production.

    However, a favourable response to the Special Edition of Cameron's Aliens in 1991 prompted him to revisit The Abyss in 1993 and restore the deleted scenes with fully-finished special effects and a slightly re-recorded soundtrack.

  • No, it does not. The Deepcore exterior set was built inside the unfinished containment building of an abandoned nuclear power plant project in Gaffney, S.C., and left behind after filming. The entire area where The Abyss was filmed has been changed to make way for a new nuclear plant. The structures that were used in the filming of the movie were demolished in 2007, including the Deepcore set. You can still spot it on "Google Earth" or in "Google Maps" by entering the coordinates 35° 2′ 13.2″ N, 81° 30′ 43.2″ W. Wikipedia has an article on the abandoned Cherokee Nuclear Power Plant and its use as a film set, including links to reports and photos of past visits to the site.

  • Comparable to James Cameron's effort to recreate his preferred version of Aliens, he began working on an extended version of The Abyss that was subsequently released on VHS, laserdisc and DVD, and includes several extended scenes missing in the theatrical version. The original ending and several prolonged plot sequences throughout the movie have been added, the most significant being an entire additional story element in which the aliens manipulate tidal waves to intimidate humankind into conflict resolution.

  • No, it isn't. For the UK version, the scene in which a rat is being put in breathing liquid was removed. This scene wasn't done with a trick, the rat really breathed the liquid. Despite director James Cameron's statement that the rat wasn't hurt during the scene, it was cut in the UK (perhaps in the interest of not giving people there ideas, in the fear that somebody might try to recreate the scene without the proper tools).


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