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Breathtakingly beautiful
Philip Van der Veken18 April 2005
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.
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Patience is Required
marquis de cinema2 November 2001
Warning: 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.
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An excellent movie
Rooster9929 December 2001
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.
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Lt_Coffey_18213 October 2003
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.
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Underwater Adventure
MatBrewster2 March 2005
Warning: 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.
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Enjoyable hokum (spoilers throughout)
Ricky Roma10 March 2006
Warning: Spoilers
I wouldn't recommend watching the Theatrical Cut of The Abyss. It's a decent film but the ending is so butchered that it has you wondering what the hell happened. It just doesn't make any sense. However, the ending to the Special Edition isn't perfect either. It clears things up, it tells you why there are these florescent aliens swimming about, but in the extended edition they're less likable - in the original cut Bud (Ed Harris) disarms a nuclear warhead, is saved by aliens and then meets them for about two seconds before being taken back to the surface; it's nonsensical but at least the aliens seem helpful and friendly. In the Special Edition, though, you see that these aliens are on the brink of destroying the world. They can control the waves so they're going to flood everything. And when Bud asks why they're going to do this they show lots of shots of nuclear bombs going off on some watery video screen. Here they seem a bit preachy and just a little bit psychotic. But then inspired by Bud's love for his wife they change their mind and the waves dissipate. The aquatic nutballs realise that we're not all bad and that there's no need for watery genocide. Suddenly they're a bunch of extraterrestrial hippies.

But although the message of the Special Edition is pap in the extreme (war is bad, okay? Why can't we all just get along?), it's at least an acceptable resolution. You're not left scratching your head.

But the aliens are perhaps one of the least satisfactory aspects of the film. In parts the film becomes Close Encounters underwater, yet the wide-eyed wonder is just a little bit cornier than it should be. Much more successful is the Cold War paranoia and the working class banter amongst the characters. Cameron is no Spielberg.

For me, the most enjoyable parts of the film are those dealing with Coffey (Michael Biehn). He's a Navy Seal who has to hitch a ride on Bud's underwater drilling platform to locate a sunken nuclear sub. At the beginning his mission is just to look for survivors, but when the aliens show up he thinks they're Russians. Cue psychosis.

The progression from normality to lunacy isn't exactly handled with subtlety (Coffey goes mad almost instantly; a reaction to being so deep underwater), but it's fun. One of my favourite bits is when the divers are talking and Coffey is discretely cutting his arm under the table. Mental just doesn't describe him adequately. And I also like it when the divers confront him after he brings a nuclear warhead onto the rig. He says something about them doing an 'about-face', but Biehn delivers the line superbly; he hisses it like a snake. And then once they leave you see that he's been holding a gun behind his back all the time. Again he's just completely lost the plot. But what makes him such a good character is that he doesn't think he's mad. He thinks what he's doing is for everyone's good; he thinks there are commies down there. So as dangerous and crazy as he is, he ends up being something of a pathetic figure. Indeed, even his death isn't cause for celebration. After an excellent submarine chase he falls down into the abyss and dies when the sub cracks under the pressure. Soldier boy just couldn't take the strain.

But although Coffey is the most fun character (if fun is the correct word), Ed Harris is the person who makes the film work. You can feed him the corniest lines and he'll somehow make them seem genuine. And he'll give them a ring of truth because he's so damn intense. Just take the resuscitation scene. It's silly in the extreme. Bud's wife drowns after the chase with Coffey and Bud then takes her back to the rig. He then resuscitates her. It really shouldn't work, and we've seen so many resuscitation scenes that they're clichéd beyond belief, but Harris jumps into the scene with such vigour that it ends up being one of the best scenes in the film. He gives CPR like a madman and yells "Fight!" at the top of his lungs before slapping his wife across the face. It's pretty hardcore. And then when his wife wakes up (after an interminable length of time), a shaking of the head, which would be the normal reaction, is replaced by a goofy grin.

And credit also has to go to Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio as Bud's wife Lindsey. She gives an excellent performance and she joins Ripley and Sarah Connor as female characters that are genuinely tough. These days there are tons of annoying lipstick heroines that are supposed to be 'empowered' – women who can fire over-sized guns and 'kick ass'. But they're usually anorexic models with balloon tits; they're about as tough as a glass of water. But Cameron has a habit of creating genuinely tough female characters, ones that feel like the real deal.

However, as good as Harris, Biehn and Mastrantonio are, the rest of the cast are far from stellar. In fact, some of the acting is downright dire. But it's weird, although there's some cringeworthy "Oh my god!" moments, and although there's some unconvincing crying and some bad line delivery, there's genuine chemistry between the actors which makes up for some of the shortcomings when it comes to craft.

But to be fair, the bad acting isn't limited to the supporting cast. Mastrantonio suffers in the scene where she has to talk to Bud as he's journeying down the abyss to disarm the nuke. But then again, the script doesn't help her much. She has to talk some nonsense about candles. However, that's Cameron for you. He's a master at action but an amateur at emotions. Just watch Titanic for another lesson.
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Superb sci-fi action adventure
sarastro715 January 2005
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!!!!
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Wow that was a fantastic movie!
Stitchthingy16 December 2003
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!
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S10 Reviews: The Abyss (1989)
suspiria1017 April 2005
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 nuclear confrontation.

"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.
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Epic original sci-fi adventure with a lot of heart, action, suspense, and brains
mstomaso5 July 2005
The Abyss is one of my all-time favorite sci-fi films. It mixes hard science with abject fantasy to make moral and philosophical points about the human condition and our place in the universe without the usual clichés. And it does so with good dialog, strong characterization, and intensely emotional acting. Harris and Mastrantonio are absolutely electric together and dominate the screen, but the entire cast deserves plenty of credit. The production itself is mesmerizing despite its vast scale and tastefully used special effects. The film is long, but worth every second of the experience, and the slightly lengthier, more detailed Special Edition version is even better than the original.

Ostensibly, this is a film about first contact with non-terrestrial intelligence. But the story allegorically deals with an amazing array of themes common to great dramas - violence, love, capitalism, war, courage and cowardice. The hardest, most obedient soldier in the film, played spectacularly by Michael Biehn, is a coward, and a man who is hopelessly in love with his estranged wife (Harris) turns that love into an act of suicidal heroism which might unintentionally save the world. And yet nothing is exactly as it seems to be, and there are really no spoilers in this review. There are so many subtle and sensitively developed themes in this film that it is hard to imagine a more epically human drama in the sci-fi genre. Even so, this is a film which entertains at every level, and will satisfy the action fan as much as the wannabe film critic. ;-)

Most of the film takes place on an experimental submarine drilling platform owned by a petroleum company. A nuclear sub has been lost in "the abyss" - a subduction trench near the Caiman Islands - after encountering an impossibly fast object. Soon, the US military commandeers the platform and its command ship - The Benthic Explorer - to attempt a rescue mission. As everything begins to go wrong, and the encounters with strange phenomena continue, the Navy SEAL in charge of the rescue attempt begins to crack. Meanwhile, on the surface, accusations concerning the sub are escalating between the USSR and USA, and nuclear war seems immanent. This describes just a small segment of the deliciously complex plot that unfolds in The Abyss. You'll have to see it to enjoy the rest.
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george.schmidt21 February 2003
Warning: 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.
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Massively over-rated nonsense
Patrick Bateman3 March 2010
Warning: Spoilers
I watched this movie based primarily on my love for other Cameron movies and the mostly highly positive reviews here. What a mistake! This movie is deeply, deeply flawed, both as science fiction and as a matter of film-making. It suffers from many of the worst clichés of 1980s American films, and displays none of the sense of atmosphere, imagination and style which are present in Cameron's best work. I find it almost unbelievable that he followed the amazing Aliens with this movie.

So what are the problems? First, the plot. It is clichéd, silly, and resolves with a laughable deus ex machina. Like many a poor action/sci-fi movie, it relies almost entirely on coincidence and contrivance to develop the story, rather than being driven by strong characters with believable motivations. For example, we are presented with a series of pathetically derivative stories - the estranged husband and wife who we know are going to get back together from the first second; the psycho, chain of command-loving military guy; the rag-tag bunch of lovable tech specialists who find their beloved undersea rig taken out of their hands; and on and on. Characters live or die based on unlikely coincidences, the worst of which is undoubtedly Ed Harris' character being saved by his wedding ring, which he never takes off - symbolism doesn't get much more obvious or ridiculous. The main action sequence, an underwater sub-fight, drags on and on for no real reason. Nothing here is remotely new or interesting. Not content with that though, we also have "man's folly with nuclear weapons" and "is man inherently good or evil?" thrown in for good measure. Ultimately we get a preachy, silly ending which gives virtually no resolution to those questions - the characters learn nothing, except that if we're naughty the aliens are going to drown us all.

Second, the characters. They are just totally implausible. In Aliens Cameron gave us a more believable bunch of characters, despite the fact that they were billions of miles away and hundreds of years into the future. Here they are just clichéd, boring, unappealing and predictable. The 'lovable' undersea cowboys talk in ridiculous slang and catchphrases. The military guys (perhaps presaging Avatar) are robotic and wholly defined by crew cuts and personal aggression. Of course, there is the 'crazy' guy who no-one takes seriously but who turns out to be right, the cold-but-sexy woman who knows how to take control, even a sassy black chick. It's all so predictable, and there are no surprises at all.

Thirdly, as a matter of "science" fiction, this movie is an epic failure. We learn little to nothing about the science allegedly involved. The undersea creatures display no characteristics which reflect their environment (why would they have technology to control water through the air when they live entirely UNDER water?). The physics on display is awful (a huge station presumably weighing hundreds of tonnes is rapidly dragged by the weight of a small crane, for example). Even the science of deep sea diving is largely ignored - things crack and crumple when it is convenient from a plot perspective, but other times the characters and equipment seem to be immune to the effects of being deep underwater. Where, incidentally, there is no life, and the water is a pleasant, clear aquamarine colour.

Fourthly, and most importantly, this movie is simply boring. When you have a silly plot and characters who are far from engaging, the last thing you should do is have a film which drags on and on and on, but that is precisely what this one does.

A word about the special effects - they are OK by 1989 standards, but pretty awful by contemporary standards. The undersea creatures look like a bad children's cartoon, and the much celebrated water effects definitely show their age. Much more impressive are the underwater and flooding scenes, but even these are fairly average by current standards.

This movie seems to hint at what was eventually going to be done much better in Avatar (right down to the fluro blue aliens). Although Avatar repeats some of the mistakes listed above, it is a far more coherent and, more importantly, engaging film. This film has plenty of defenders, but the truth is that even amongst Cameron's own body work there are many films which are far, far better than this. I refuse to believe anyone can watch Aliens and then watch The Abyss and come away thinking that this film is even half as good.
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Good Sci-Fi Flick
travisimo31 December 2003
I've never really heard of The Abyss except in Fox DVD commercials. When it came out, I was only 8 and not into sci-fi movies that weren't titled Star Wars. However, now I decided to check it out and was quite pleased with this solid sci-fi movie.

At first, I wasn't quite sure why this was considered sci-fi. It seemed pretty normal with the sinking of a nuclear sub and the hiring of an oil crew to save it. It wasn't for a while till we really got to meet the "extraterrestrial" creatures. The special effects for representing these characters were quite good, and I especially liked the water creature that toured around the rescue vessel. It's also neat to see that effect inspire a similar one used in Terminator 2.

As I said, the story took a little while to gain steam, but it was pretty interesting from then on. The acting was good too, most notably by Ed Harris and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio. The other actors didn't do anything really extraordinary but serve as solid supporting characters.

Overall, I wouldn't say The Abyss is the best sci-fi movie out there or that it will dethrone Star Wars anytime soon, but rather it's a solid addition for any sci-fi fan's collection.

My IMDb Rating: 8/10. My Yahoo! Grade: B+ (Memorable)
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"These guys are about as much fun as a tax audit."
Ryan29 April 2005
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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One of the greatest films of all time.
richard.n.smith1 June 2001
The special edition of this movie must rate as one of the best movies ever made.

Everything is present in it's correct quantities: Action Romance Adventure Sci-fi Black Comedy

This film is head and shoulders above every other film because of it's attention to detail and the excitement and drama it delivers

This is a DVD must have.
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Special Edition is a must
LordBlacklist8 February 2006
Warning: Spoilers
In it's original form The Abyss is an absolutely brilliant film. I cannot begin to explain how different my viewing experience of the Special edition was from the severely truncated theatrical version. To sum it up, the special edition is a richly thematic and far more resonant experience, the difference between a good movie and a truly great film. Perhaps Cameron spends too much time in the beginning of the picture explaining the technology and how it works but I believe that knowledge only helps one immerse themselves into the world of the characters. The Abyss is actually three films; a technological thriller, a love story, and a lesson in basic morality. This is definitely a movie that warrants your full attention since the details are so vastly important to the whole that if you were to step out for five minutes (which no one should ever do!) you would become completely lost. This film has some of the most amazing scenes I have ever seen in film, and they are quite diverse. One would have to be the scene where Linsday chooses to drown and be taken back to the rig by Virgil...the real human element of that scene that struck me was when the water level started to rise over her neck, she doubts that it was a good idea. I can feel her fear as she desperately tries to keep her head above the rising water. Immediately following is the scene where Virgil revives Lindsay, screaming for her to fight while everyone else thinks he is crazy for trying to bring back what appears to be Linsday's corpse. That entire scene is so gut wrenchingly emotional that it's a good thing that there are a few quiet scenes afterward...we need to catch our breath, but then this also has to do with Cameron's storytelling, he knows we do too. The biggest moments of goose bump inducing awe that this film gave me came only from the special edition...the whole reason for the NTI's being there is explained and the reason they didn't go through with using the wave to wipe out mankind was because of Bud's own self sacrifice. It's hard to comment on a movie you love without getting incoherently jumbled, but this one will always be special to me because it does one thing that many films these days do not: it makes me feel something.
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kranbot13 December 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Just watched this film for the first time in years. Wow, is it a yawner. The characters lack dimension entirely--we're supposed to buy into a deep love between the two main characters just because they swoon at each other a lot? Secondly, it's so cliché. What saves the world? The hero calling a woman his wife. Note the giant zoom in on the word "wife" as it's projected onto the wall of water. Way to reinforce convention--on one hand it's nice to see a film reinforce relationships, but on another, it's just another boring nondescript pairing. I get that the aliens were impressed that he'd give himself a "one way ticket" into the abyss to deactivate the bomb, but really, isn't that a bit pat? And how many other thousand times have we seen this story done better and with more depth of feeling? This movie left me as cold as the water it's submerged in.
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i want to see more films that explore the underwater!
peter holm30 January 2004
what a good movie! i put on the Special Edition - first time seeing the film - and i had no idea what to expect. i had no idea i was in for such breathtaking imagery! and talk about drama! i was laughing with them all when they brought Lyndsey back to life. and the underwater city almost brought me to tears. a must-see!
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Kind of boring
galocke7 January 2012
Mr. Cameron is fond of portraying military people as somehow vacuous and monstrous at the same time, as in "Avatar," where he drives the point home with a vengeance. He gets another golden opportunity at military-bashing here, and his fans probably won't be disappointed. I, for one, got tired very quickly of the characters constantly yelling at and bickering with each other. None of them are particularly likable, especially the female lead. The constant efforts by the female lead's "ex" to make her like him again grow equally tiresome. As a subplot his obsession ends up overshadowing the rest of the story-line. The special effects in this film received a lot of critical praise, but by now they look a bit dated and predictable. Worse yet, they're simply too cutesy to be taken seriously. There were times when I thought I detected the telltale influence of Spielberg in this movie -- and I don't mean that as a compliment.
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There's a phenomenally original thriller stuck somewhere inside this unconvincing Sci-Fi epic.
Clive-Silas29 October 2003
The movie I'm talking about is about the absolute deepest depths of the ocean, with pressures so enormous that a tank would be crushed like a soda can. This is distinctly different from other undersea dramas which just deal with strange and dangerous flora and fauna a few metres below the surface; here the danger is from the power of the water itself.

In 1969 Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed and walked on the moon, a different planetary body from the one on which we live, a quarter of a million miles away. Over the next three years 10 more men walked on the Moon.

Further back, though, in 1960, Piccard and Walsh reached the deepest part of the deepest ocean, the Marianas Trench in the Pacific - a total depth of 35,810 feet (or less than seven miles.) Despite the fact that the distance travelled was 0.00003 as far, this feat has never been remotely equalled in 43 years. And they found life down there. This is a truly alien environment.

Given a background in which the defining danger is water pressure and the sometimes surprising consequences of that - like the fact that a fall off a cliff deep underwater is just as dangerous as one above the surface - a normal contemporary human plot about the dangers of nuclear weapons in the wrong hands makes a truly original thriller.

Unfortunately, Jim Cameron had new toys to play with, to whit the CGI optical effects system, which necessitated the creation of alien intelligence in the bottom of the ocean which was completely superfluous in the context of the genuinely strange worlds available home grown by our own planet. The result was a sub-par touchy-feely "aliens tell us peace is better than war" plot which deadens the effect of the entire movie. Instead of assuming that aliens are superior to us in every way (as every other alien movie does), why not depict the difficulties any creature used to living at such a depth, would have with our measly 15lb/in² atmosphere. But instead the aliens have no difficulty in manipulating water against gravity at our atmospheric pressure, which would be rather like us being able to carve a face in a soap bubble.

All this movie needed was a human ending, as opposed to an alien one, and it would have been simple to cut all the alien scenes out and make a completely different (and far more satisfying) movie.
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Awe Inspiring Spectacle
bkoganbing7 March 2010
The story of The Abyss starts with a mysterious crash of a US nuclear submarine that is armed with the appropriate nuclear weaponry for its time. With reports of it down, we want to get it before the Russians do.

When it rains it pours, literally in this case. A fast moving storm forces the Navy to use the crew and equipment from a nearby underwater deep sea drilling platform and the oil roughnecks are promised some big government checks for their help.

Crew chief Ed Harris gives his reluctant consent, made even more reluctant by the fact that his estranged wife Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio has designed some new equipment for use in the really deep waters of The Abyss of the Atlantic Ocean.

The Navy people and the oil people are a bad fit to start with, but when the deep depths effect Navy SEAL Michael Biehn by bringing out the worst aspects of the military authoritarian personality things get real interesting down in the deep.

The spectacle does dwarf the story which is the only real criticism I can make of The Abyss. What the submarine made accidental contact with is some incredible alien life form which I can't go into further because that's the whole point of the film. Of course Biehn still believes it's all a Russian plot of some kind and therein lies the conflict exacerbated by the extreme paranoia he develops.

Unlike Cameron's Titanic, the spectacle at the end just overwhelms the human players in this film. But it was those special effects that go The Abyss its Academy Award recognition. The Abyss was also nominated for Sound and Art&Set Direction and Cinematography. It could have been a winner in any of those categories. In fact the biggest mistake you can make which is the one I did make, to see The Abyss on the small screen and formatted. This film is what IMAX was developed for.

Though the story does get lost somewhat in the special effects the point is still made about man being ready and open to all kinds of possibilities of life that can exist anywhere. See The Abyss, but wait for a revival showing at a theater.
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Ambitious and "deep" undersea adventure
Quebec_Dragon30 June 2009
This review is for the special edition of Abyss that adds 28 minutes of footage especially near the end according to Wikipedia. I had seen it many years ago but although I remembered it was underwater and had a particularly cool and original creature, I didn't remember much else from it. After watching it again recently, I wonder why. This is one of the best undersea adventures I've seen, certainly the most ambitious. This was made before computer effects became so prevalent so most of the action underwater is actually shot underwater on sets and in diving suits. State-of-the-art computer effects (at the time) are used to portray most of the strange deep-sea creatures and they still look great today. The Abyss starts as the rescue operation of a nuclear submarine but veers more into good first encounter science-fiction as it goes along.

What struck me was the great underwater setting that at times made you feel claustrophobic and isolated as if you were deep underwater yourself. It's not the most action-packed film and it can feel slow at times so try to be relatively awake before watching it. The first half sometimes somehow made me feel contemplative and relaxed but it might bore some people. You should be warned that most of the film takes place in a relatively confined location so there's no undersea exploration a la Cousteau per say. It's also a character-driven conflict between reason and open-mindedness (the rig crew) VS ignorance and destructive impulses (the military). As it went along, my appreciation of the film went from only good to remarkable. There are strong suspenseful and dramatic character moments extremely well played by Ed Harris (rig captain), Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio (creator of the rig and future ex-wife of the rig captain) and Michael Biehn (leader of the navy seals). I particularly liked the shuttle scene between the captain and his future ex-wife. Because of the creatures, there's also a feeling of mystery and sense of wonder at the unknown which is rarely seen in modern sci-fi but that I often enjoy. The characters are not the type to shoot first and ask questions later which I found refreshing.

What I also found noticeable is that there are several "false" endings, as in it might stop there but it doesn't, going further into the "abyss" as it were. This is a great humanistic and human sci-fi flick that gets better as it goes along. It's closer to 2001 than Aliens but it's not really like either one. The extra footage in the ending makes for a more satisfying conclusion that helps things make sense. However, your appreciation might vary on how cynical you are, I can see it ruining the film for a minority. In my opinion, it's worth owning but be careful of which DVD version you pick, the "special editions" don't necessarily have a second disc with the extras and the covers don't tell you how many discs there are (you want the 2-disc version).

Rating: 8 out of 10
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russem3120 December 2005
Warning: Spoilers
The Abyss is a grand epic of a movie from movie making genius James Cameron. Though this isn't Cameron's best (I would say Titanic and Aliens are his best) it definitely isn't his worst. The main problem with this film is its length - it clocks in at 146 minutes (and a whopping 171 minutes for the special edition!) which makes it hard to watch without at least one bathroom break. I very much enjoyed the performances by the superb actors Ed Harris and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, whose character interactions are quite heartfelt especially near the end. And talking about the ending, it's one of the best climaxes I have ever seen (won't give it away but I LOVED it!). And special mention goes to Alan Silvestri for his superb score. A solid 8 out of 10.
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The additional footage makes the film one to watch
hatesdragons28 May 2001
The addition of extra footage into the Special edition of the Abyss makes the film much better. I remember seeing the original version when it was first released and thought the ending seemed to be tacked on just to end the movie. Now, with the Special Edition we get to see what Cameron intended. Although this film has incredible visuals, the story was a tremendous disappointment. With the addition of the 28 minutes, we are treated to a whole new film. This one a tad darker then the original, and much more meaningful. It now has the flavor of other cautionary tales like "Day the Earth Stood Still". Not the best of the Camerion epics but well worth a watching.
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A little more sedate than Cameron's other work, but every bit as good...
Howlin Wolf12 April 2001
By far James Cameron's most personal work, it takes at least half an hour for anything conventionally 'exciting' to happen, but by then we're so involved with the characters and their situation that it makes the drama all the more intense.

Cameron is a master of the 'pared down' screenplay, giving us all the elements necessary for the story but no frills. "The Terminator" epitomises this technique. Rarely does the story slow down long enough for the characters to indulge in reams of exposition; but then, that's what makes it such a visceral experience. Cameron's dialogue is made up of either bold statements of fact or smart wisecracks. Never are the audience or characters allowed to think "I wonder if they meant this..."

So it is with "The Abyss". Only with the story being naturally slower, non-stop action is not contrived to take the focus off the dialogue. It is left to the visuals to do this; and what stunning visuals they are. The reputed 'hell' that Cameron put his cast and crew through during the shoot would doubtless by judged worth it by the director, pointing to these as his evidence.

The film is no less interesting when things are confined to the interior of the sub. The actors convey their uneasiness with their surroundings and each other perfectly. No, the relationship between the characters of Harris and Masterantonio isn't very credible, but this is more down to Cameron's shunning of backstory than any deficiencies in performance. In any case, it doesn't damage the drama at all.

There are some (not very subtle) allusions to the Cold War for those who want them, but for those who don't, "The Abyss" proves surprisingly difficult to categorise. One thing that can be said about it is that it is consistently entertaining throughout its running time. Cameron hasn't lost the knack of providing for his audience. Fans will find something different to his usual style, but pleasingly, this at least remains the same.
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