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When we think about aliens in the movies, I guess everybody immediately
thinks about the series of "Alien" - movies, but there are some other
fine examples and "The Abyss" may well be the best alternative I can
come up with. Even though this was made by James Cameron, the same
director who gave us "Aliens", both movies are very hard to compare.
When an American nuclear submarine is attacked during the cold war and crashes, the navy is convinced that it was the work of the Russians. They want to salvage the wreckage as soon as possible, because a storm is coming, but they aren't able to send a diving crew of their own that quickly. That's why they contact a group of workers of a nearby underwater oil rig, who reluctantly accept the job. They are joined by some navy SEALS who will help them to locate and investigate the cause of the crash. But they do not only find the crashed sub, they also find out that there is more down there in the deep than what they had ever expected to see.
What I liked so much about this movie was that this time the aliens didn't feel threatening at all. It was something completely different from what we were used to see and it worked perfectly. This was a beautiful, well-crafted movie with some very fine acting and with some excellent special effects. Even though this movie was created in 1989, the computer animations were still marvelous and breathtaking. In fact, this entire movie is breathtaking. It is very touching and powerful at the same time and I'm sure that many people will have a lot of difficulties not to show any emotions while watching it. I give this movie an 8/10. It sure doesn't deserve any less.
This movie is extremely well made. Make sure you get the original director's cut, or Special Edition as they are calling it on the DVD. It includes the real ending, along with more than 20 minutes of additional footage. The morons from the studio in Hollywood decided that the public wouldn't want to see a nearly 3-hour underwater adventure, and forced James Cameron to cut it down and change the ending. The ending the studios insisted on is your typical boring old done-a-million-times happy ending, and does not work. It betrays the message of the film, and makes it nothing more than a good underwater shoot-em-up. This movie is much more than that. See the REAL ending to understand why it is so important to this film. As opposed to the canned studio ending, the REAL one makes you think. Well, what did you expect? Hollywood executives make movies for the common herd, they dumb them down to make sure every patron goes away feeling happy. God forbid that anyone actually may have to think a little. At the time, despite a few solid hits (such as the original Terminator), James Cameron wasn't enough of a power in La-La land to force the studios to release the movie as he wanted it to be. After Titanic, they will do whatever he says, so we can now expect some great Cameron films to look forward to, rather than having to wait for the REAL movie to come out years later on a Special Edition DVD.
Though I prefer The Terminator and Aliens, this film is James Camerons
most artistic film. The visual imagery of this film is stunning, with
no half measures taken, it is such a pleasure to watch. The aliens look
as beautiful as an alien can do and the underwater scenery is so
picturesque that I just wish I could be there.
The special effects are stunning. As with a lot of Cameron's hits, this was an innovator in special effects. If it wasn't for this film, films such as The Matrix and Lord of the Rings would not be here or at least would not have been able to express themselves in a visual sense.
Cameron is the ultimate director. Although he is a pain to work with, he gets his image across and proves why he is such a hit machine. No one compares to him when it comes to picking a cast. Even though most of this cast were, and still are, unknown, the performances in this are fantastic. I know I always praise him but Michael Biehn as Coffey is one of the best acting performances I have ever seen and the fact that Biehn was not even Oscar nominated is a travesty! He is great to watch as the maniac who is irate and just plain horrible. Ed Harris is on par with his good performances in The Rock and Apollo 13. You just want to be his mate in this movie despite the fact he is another pain (see Rock out takes) which is why him and Cameron have not spoken a word since this film. Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio was a bit of a fad. She didn't last very long being in good films but she is good as the hard nosed estranged wife who near the end, becomes wonderfully vulnerable and loving.
Cameron is a great writer and The Abyss, along with The Terminator and Strange Days, shows off his talent to a great extent. As with all of Cameron's Sci-Fi screenplays, behind the technology lies a distinctively human element. This enables The Abyss, despite the extra terrestrial goings on, to approach the audience on their level and suck viewers in to the film. The character of Coffey is a great obstacle character because he is losing his mind and is getting engulfed by paranoia to the point where he can not trust anyone. The way Cameron uses Coffey to build up suspense is very effective and the culmination of this is one of the most frantic underwater chases there will ever be. Spectacular is the only word that comes to mind. The ending of this film has been heavily criticised but this is unfair as it carries a decent message regarding humanity and fits the mood of the film. It may have been slightly rushed but the best bits of the film are all under water anyway.
Anyone who likes their special effects, a great story and terrific acting need look no further than The Abyss. The contrast of the breathtaking beauty of the ocean between the claustrophobia of a vessel should be enough to captivate most audiences. A fantastic visionary piece.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
James Cameron is mostly known for his blockbuster hits like The Terminator(1984), Aliens(1986), Terminator 2:Judgement Day(1991), True Lies(1994), and Titanic(1997). Those films contained fast paced action as well as tense moments of human emotions. One film by Cameron that doesn't seem to get the same kudos as the films mentioned above is the beautifully crafted, The Abyss(1989). A more character driven and humanistic film than any of the blockbuster features of James Cameron. Seeing it in the Special Edition version is the best way because situations and people become filled with more depth. Low Key epic picture that is driven by the excellent acting of its cast. Certain scenes like the reviving and "Bud"'s commuication with aliens moments make the film into an interesting constructed vision of human nature. In some ways The Abyss(1989) follows some ideas that echos The Day the Earth Stood Still(1950). Especially true in the film's message about the dangers of nuclear weapons. Michael Biehn perfects his sterotype persona in The Abyss(1989) as the battle and take charged obsessed Lt. Coffey. Maybe the finest directed feature film James Cameron has put forth. The Abyss(1989) is way better than the overrated and less than average Titanic(1997). Minor weakness is that the film at times drags towards the end. Ed Harris produces a performance of human depth and quality as Virgil Brigman. Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio as Lindsey Brigman is the perfect counterpart to Ed Harris's Virgil Brigman(which is why the two characters make a good couple). The Abyss(1989) is a very good Scifi film from the 1980s that is a pleasure both emotionally and visually to experience.
The Abyss is one of the best sci-fi action/adventure movies ever made.
Besides the "usual" ingredients of excitement, characterization and
great narrative technique, the movie really scores on the wonder
factor. The amazing, jellyfish-like aliens and their manipulation of
water... A superb story incorporating the use of a then-recent SFX
breakthrough to absolute perfection. A timeless story with great
actors, great characters, great emotional substance.
The story is fabulous. It is about the very survival of humanity, drawing on that time-honored science fiction trope: will we be so stupid and disorganized that we cause our own destruction, or will love and reason prevail, inaugurating a great and harmonious future for our species? In thinly veiled symbol terms, this movie demonstrates how we will reach the brink of destruction due to our own folly, but can be redeemed if we rediscover the love and wonder that we once lost.
My rating: A clear 10 out of 10.
P.S. Coffey's first name is... Hiram?!?! BWAAAH-HA-HA-HA!!!!
I like short reviews so I will try to keep this short!
Let me begin to tell you this movie is original! Not to many movies are being made that have an underwater setting.
The movie is about a drilling team who operate a high tech underwater drilling station deep under the sea. As soon as they become cut off from the surface in a storm near an underwater crevice things are getting a weird.
Strange in a way that the movie slowly shows that something scary and silent is there with them on the ocean floor. It builds suspension gradually until it ends within a climatic ending of the movie which I really liked (but some people have other opinions about that!)
Acting is great and the story very original with just enough action!
**** out of five!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
THE ABYSS : DIRECTOR'S CUT (1989) **** Ed Harris, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Michael Biehn, Todd Graff, John Bedford Lloyd, Leo Burmester, Kimberly Scott, Chris Elliott. Director James Cameron's best work (bar none) and his most complex piece of filmmaking about an oil rig crew led by gruff yet vulnerable Harris and his estranged wife Mastrantonio to head a Navy SEAL expedition to unearth a sunken nuclear sub with some unusual otherworldly presence deep beneath the ocean. Great ensemble, state-of-the-art special effects (early morphing of the "sea alien" prior to "T2") and unexpected emotional turmoil. Harris and Mastrantonio are top notch in Tracy/Hepburn mode as is Biehn as the crazed SEAL out to start WW III. In this extended version the aliens show Harris their plan of action and global warning for Earth to cool it with all the hostility. --- Personal note: I actually cried during the resuscitation sequence of unabashed love sacrifice by Mastrantonio.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
James Cameron as a director is a bit of a mixed bag. He has created
some of the most phenomenal action showcases cinema has ever seen. His
movies make loads of money and create spectacle like no other. He has
been part of the Alien quadrilogy, Terminator, and there was that
little movie that could about a couple of lovers on a sinking boat. For
that little picture he even won an Oscar. However, as a writer he has
also given us some patently ridiculous dialogue. It's like he can
create some pretty interesting story concepts, generate a great deal of
tension between characters and pull of amazing action, but when it gets
to finding the heart and soul of a character he pulls out the cheese.
It is interesting then that my favorite Cameron movie would be so
character driven with only a few moments of grandiose action.
The Abyss came out in 1989 with a trimmed down 146 run time. Later when the movie came to video Cameron released his directors adding a significant amount of footage and bringing the time to 171 minutes. Most of this extra footage comes in at the end of the film and stands to clear up some major confusion wrought in the theatrical version. It seems that there are some creates living at the bottom of the ocean and are rather perturbed at humanities prevalence for violence. It seems these creatures (aliens?) can manipulate water and have forced giant tidal waves to start approaching every major port. Humanity is saved when the creatures see the true love between the two main characters. It reminded me of the quote from Genesis where God agrees to save Sodom and Gomorrah if He can find just 10 righteous people. In their case He didn't, and the cities were destroyed by sulfur and fire, but in Cameron's tale it seems that the rekindling of love between Ed Harris and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio does save humanity.
What Cameron does extremely well in this picture is create tension. From the claustrophobic setting of an underwater oil rig to the potential nuclear meltdown each scene slowly tightens the screws of suspense. The cold war plot raging outside of the main action reminded me a lot of 2010. In both pictures the main characters are isolated on vessels (a spaceship on 2010, an underwater oil well in the Abyss) while the USA and Russia bring conflict close to nuclear war back on earth (or above water). In both movies this helps to add tension as it also dates the movies since the cold war is now over.
One of my favorite scenes involves the flooding of parts of the rig. Water comes rushing into the rig and several of the characters scurry to make it to safety and close off the doors to isolate the flooding. Ed Harris is saved by his wedding ring. One of the doors automatically starts to close and Harris sticks his hand in to stop the door, which normally would have crushed his hand, but because he still wears the ring his the door does not fully close. This give him enough time to be saved from the flooding waters. There was an earlier scene in which his wife asks him why he still wears the ring since they have separated. When I chose my own wedding ring I opted for a titanium band known for its extra strength. I can't help but think of that scene every time I look at my own ring.
Much of the dialogue in the Abyss is of the heavy handed, clichéd variety that Cameron brings to pretty much all of his movies. Some of the extemporaneous characters bring little to the overall movie and help distract the viewer from the main plot. I think Cameron has done a very good job with the two main characters though. Ed Harris does a remarkable job playing his role as 'boss' on the rig while still hackling with his wife. Mastrantonio also does a fine job of portraying the tough as nails "Lindsay" while still remaining feminine and sympathetic.
The directors cut ending is much debated in the online world. While it serves to clarify what was a rather abrupt and confusing ending in the original it also becomes quite preachy and is at a loss for any type of subtlety. Cameron attacks his anti-war message like Ripley against an Alien.
Even with some awful dialogue and a preachy ending the Abyss has still managed to be one of my favorite sci-fi movies. James Cameron creates a tension like a master auteur and creates two of his best characters to date.
Towards the end of the Cold War the USS Montana, a nuclear submarine
runs straight into an underwater cliff after an encounter with what
they believe was a new beyond state-of-the-art Russian submersible. The
Navy dispatches a SEAL team (lead by Michael Biehn) to record and
survey the situation and to find some answers. The commission a nearby
(or is it hijack?) deep sea oil drilling platform run by the estranged
Brigman's, Bud and Linsey (Ed Harris and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio).
During their mission things aren't quite as they seem as they discover
that they are not alone deep in "The Abyss". On the verge of war
topside and below with themselves the SEAL and workers struggle to come
to terms with an unbelievable situation that could lead them to a
"The Abyss" is a richly constructed story that puts well thought up and executed characters into a situation that looks to be a schmaltzy, love story set under the sea. The aliens or NTI's pretty much take a backseat to the human element and our old conflicting ways, these NTI's are non-violent and they want to teach us the error of our ways and they mean business (especially in the Special Edition cut). The whole cast does a wonderful job and most of the leads give Oscar-caliber performances. Harris and Mastrantonio do it so well you think their actually married. James Cameron establishes his love for the ocean in "The Abyss" will fully succeeds on all the technical levels. The production design is amazing with the full-size Deep Core set that was submerged at the bottom of an unused nuclear reactor building. Cameron shows his affinity for technology as the "pseudo pod "soon championed in the new wave of computer generated imagery. Highly recommended.
The Abyss was a movie of destiny. First off, this movie either began or was the result of a lifetime obsession James Cameron has the ocean (see later Titanic and his IMAX deep sea movies). The Abyss is also full of echos of claustrophobic thriller/adventure movie Alien, in which Cameron directed the sequel. So combining one of Cameron's old movies with his new obsession, we get The Abyss, a solid sci-fi thriller starring Ed Harris and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio. Ed Harris plays Bud, the head of an undersea oil rig where very little actually happens and the people on the rig are only there in case something goes wrong. Well, wouldn't you know it, but an American nuclear submarine patrolling the US coast near the oil rig suddenly sinks, killing the sailors on board. The Americans suspect it's the Soviets, but we know better. Something pink and glowing does something to the submarine causing it to sink. A team of Navy seals, ferried down to the rig by Bud's ex-wife Lindsey (Mastrantonio), boards the oil rig and uses it as a command base for their mission to recover the submarine. And that is when the fun begins. Of course a hurricane has to enter into the plot, in movies like this, there is always a hurricane, but beyond, The Abyss is a solid sci-fi thriller, where the oil rig becomes a character in the movie. Much like the Nostromo in Alien or The Discovery in 2001, the tight spaces adds flavor to the movie, bringing the setting in as another character of the movie. The special effects were groundbreaking at the time and hold up well today. The scene of a column of water snaking its way through the oil rig still creeps me out to this day.
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