The Abyss (1989) - Plot Summary Poster



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  • A civilian diving team is enlisted to search for a lost nuclear submarine and faces danger while encountering an alien aquatic species.

  • Formerly married petroleum engineers who still have some issues to work out. They are drafted to assist a gung-ho Navy SEAL with a top-secret recovery operation: a nuclear sub has been ambushed and sunk, under mysterious circumstances, in some of the deepest waters on Earth.

  • An American nuclear submarine encounters an alien species, which coincidentally causes massive electrical and hydraulic malfunctions, causing the sub to crash into an underwater cliff and sink. The navy asks the workers of a nearby underwater oil rig who are joined by a number of navy SEALS to locate and investigate the cause of the crash. As the crew embark on their mission, they encounter a number of difficulties and discover that they may not be alone. There is something else down there.

  • When an American nuclear submarine crashes, the United States Government believe the Russians to be responsible. They enlist the help of a team of underwater drilling platform workers who are to help the deployed Navy SEALS locate the crash site. As they get closer to their destination, the friction between the two teams increases. When some workers report seeing UFO's underwater, the SEALS grow increasingly suspicious and suspect a Russian mini-sub. After a series of near-fatal disasters, the workers find that they are the only people who are capable of stopping World War III. But they are not the only inhabitants of the deep, and strange things are happening back at the surface...

  • When the crew of an underwater oil rig are enlisted to assist in the rescue of an American nuclear submarine at the height of the Cold War, they discover a strange and mysterious force living in the deep and their rescue mission becomes an adventure into the wondrous and the unknown.

  • During the height of the Cold War the USS Montana, a US nuclear ballistic submarine, sinks into an ocean abyss due to unknown circumstances. The US Navy scramble to the scene to rescue survivors and recover the nuclear missles on board before nearby Russian forces do. Their best hope are a team of divers attached to a submersible drilling platform not far from the crash site. During the operation freak weather conditions damage the platform and sever its communication with the surface. As World War III looms above and tensions rise between the divers and a deployed SEAL team the rescuers discover that there is something else besides the submarine in the Abyss.


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • The Montana, a U.S. Navy nuclear missile submarine, operating deep in the Cayman Trough in the Caribbean Sea, encounters an unidentified submerged object moving at high speed. The object passes very close to the submarine and the vessel loses power. Power is restored after a few moments, however the sub has drifted too close to the underwater canyon wall, skimming it and throwing off the sub's trajectory. An officer is able to launch the sub's emergency beacon before the sub collides head-on with another rock wall and floods, sinking further and killing the entire crew.

    As Soviet ships and submarines head toward the area in an attempt to salvage the sub and its missiles, and with a hurricane moving in, the Americans decide that the quickest way to mount a rescue is for a US Navy SEAL team to be inserted onto a privately owned experimental underwater oil drilling platform, the DeepCore, which they will then use as their base of operations. The platform's designer and chief engineer, Dr. Lindsey Brigman (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio), is furious at the notion of her rig being commandeered for the mission. Her estranged husband, Virgil "Bud" Brigman (Ed Harris) is the foreman of the platform. However, Benthic Petroleum, the rig's financier, has already agreed to cooperate with the Navy and has promised the rig's crew substantial bonus pay. Lindsey herself travels down to the rig with the SEAL team to oversee the operation personally. After eight hours in a compression chamber, Lindsey and the SEAL team emerge; no one, however, sees that SEAL leader Lt. Hiram Coffey (Michael Biehn) has developed High Pressure Nervous Syndrome (HPNS) when he has a slight hand tremor. He steadies his hand and joins the rest of the crew. Lindsey and Bud promptly begin arguing with each other, revealing that they are a separated married couple. Bud becomes furious and throws his wedding band into a chemical toilet. He relents after a few moments and fishes it out, staining his hand blue with the toilet's sanitation fluid.

    The rig and SEAL teams prepare to investigate the submarine wreck. One of the SEALs shows crew members Hippy (Todd Graff) and Catfish (Leo Burmester) a high-tech underwater breathing system that uses oxygenated fluid instead of air. The system allows its wearer to survive at extreme ocean depths without succumbing to the intense water pressure. Coffey himself leads the entire operation, issuing orders and angrily reprimanding the roughneck crew when they begin joking with each other.

    While searching the sub for survivors, the collective team encounters strange creatures they can't identify, the same beings that inadvertently caused the submarine to sink. Lindsey, piloting one of the rig's three mini-subs, experiences the same type of power loss that the Montana did. While searching a compartment on the Montana, Bud's partner, Jammer (John Bedford Lloyd), the rig crew's biggest member, sees a strange, glowing creature and panics. When he tries to escape the chamber, he damages a valve on his breathing apparatus and begins to convulse. Bud and his comrades are able to save Jammer, but the accident puts him in a coma.

    As the storm intensifies, Coffey and his team communicate with their commanding officer on the surface, who tells them that a Russian attack sub was detected in the area. The team is ordered to retrieve a Trident missile warhead from the Montana and arm it as a contingency if the Russians get too close to the Montana.

    Coffey and the SEALs take the rig's largest mini sub without authorization. Using the sub's large, mechanized arm, they are able to open a launch door of the Montana and extract one of the Tridents. However, the mini sub they commandeered was the only vehicle capable of disconnecting the station's umbilical cord to its parent surface ship, the Benthic Explorer. Upon their return, the SEALs remove the warhead and turn the sub over to its pilot, "One Night" (Kimberly Scott), who takes it out in an attempt to disconnect the umbilicus.

    By this time, the Explorer is in the middle of the hurricane, and being tossed violently by powerful winds and waves generated by the storm. The ship's motion makes it impossible for One Night to disconnect the cable, which is jerking about with such power that it begins to drag the station along the bottom towards the Cayman Trough. As they approach the drop-off, the station catches on an outcropping, stopping it from tumbling over. However, the stress causes the derrick crane that supports the umbilical to break away from the ship and sink toward the rig. Bud gives the order to brace for the impact and sounds the alarm throughout the station. The crane lands on the bottom, narrowly missing the rig. The crew are temporarily relieved that the crane didn't hit the rig, however, it rolls into the chasm and the rig is violently yanked towards the precipice again, causing massive damage and flooding, killing four of the station's crew, one of the SEAL team, and injuring some of the surviving crew and SEALs. The rig is not pulled into the trench, stopping a few feet short of the drop-off, but water begins to flood the interior in immense volume. The bay where the subs are launched and retrieved becomes submerged and one of the minisubs sinks, taking one of the SEAL crew with it. Two of the rig's crew also drown. As Bud retreats from the rising water, his fingers are stuck in a closing hatch; his retrieved wedding band prevents the door from closing completely and he's rescued by Catfish and Sonny. All three make it to another hatch they can seal.

    Tensions mount as the platform has lost contact with the surface and anger of the crew towards the SEALs intensifies over the deaths of their friends and co-workers. The crew begins to experience more strange encounters from what appear to be underwater beings (referred to as non-terrestrial intelligence, or NTIs by Hippy), which the paranoid Coffey determines to be a threat. While activating oxygen tanks outside the rig, Lindsey encounters one of the smaller probes she'd spotted while at the submarine & then a much larger and brilliantly illuminated vehicle which she touches. As both vehicles sputter out of sight into the chasm, she is able to get a few pictures. When she shows the pictures to the crew, they're quite astonished but seem to believe her story. Bud takes her aside, thinking she may be having hallucinations, but she assures him that she isn't nor is she suffering from HPNS.

    Later, Hippy uses one of the rig's ROVs (remote observation vehicles) to peek in the chamber where Coffey and one of his men are rigging a detonator to the warhead. Hippy shows the video footage to Bud. While they view it, they notice that Lindsey has been watching and, infuriated, she marches to Coffey's quarters and pounds on the hatch with a fire extinguisher until he opens the door. She immediately gets into a verbal battle with Coffey, ordering him to take the nuke off the rig. Coffey, who seems very anxious, orders her out of the chamber. As they walk away, Bud suggests that Coffey is suffering from HPNS, a theory that Lindsey seems to accept.

    Another incident involves an encounter with a tentacle that appears to be made entirely of water but can move like a snake. It also morphs into the faces of both Lindsey and Budd in an apparent attempt to communicate. The tentacle also briefly inspects the warhead. When Coffey finds the tentacle's origin in the rig's diving pool, he panics and closes one of the hatches, cutting it off, and the remainder sinks into the depths. When the end of the tentacle "looks" at him, Coffey becomes even more terrified and paranoid.

    Secretly strapping the warhead to Big Geek, another of the platform's ROVs, Coffey makes a fateful decision to send both of them down to the bottom of the trench where the NTIs appear to be coming from. He has one of his team, Schoenick, force the rig crew and Lindsey into the rig's kitchen and lock them in, leaving Schoenick behind to keep them from escaping. Lindsey tries to reason with him through the door when it suddenly opens and Jammer appears, having come out of his coma and taken Schoenick down.

    Meanwhile Coffey has dogged and jammed the door to the rig's sub bay and waits until it's time to launch Big Geek, which has been attached to the Flatbed minisub. Due to the damage caused to the rig, Bud and Catfish have to swim to the sub bay under the rig in freezing cold water. Bud makes it to the bay, having to leave Cat behind at another hatch. Bud tries to sneak up on Coffey, intent on hitting him with a large pipe but decides to grab the pistol Coffey had tucked into his belt. Coffey spots him and tries to shoot Bud but the pistol is empty: one of his SEAL team, Monk, had previously unloaded the pistol. Bud and Coffey fight hand-to-hand with Coffey gaining the upper hand by wrapping a cable around Bud's neck. Suddenly, Cat appears and punches Coffey in the face, knocking him on his back. Coffey retreats to the sub and escapes, moving into a position where he can launch Big Geek.

    Bud and Lindsey intervene; Bud dons a diving suit and chases after Coffey, finally tying the runaway ROV to a railing on the rig. He is picked up by Lindsey piloting one of the rig's smaller subs. After a furious chase along the sea bottom, Lindsey disables both subs and stops Coffey, who falls off the edge of the trough and is crushed within his submersible by the pressure. However, they cannot stop the ROV from taking the warhead down into the trench. Trapped in their rapidly-flooding sub, Lindsey orders Bud to use the ship's sole diving suit to swim back to the platform, towing her body. While she will drown, she banks on the very cold water preserving her via hypothermia and the mammalian diving reflex until she can be resuscitated in the platform. A very tense situation develops while her comrades try to resuscitate her. When using emergency equipment fails, Bud frantically begins to shake and even slap Lindsey, who regains consciousness, much to the relief of the entire crew.

    Being the most qualified and strongest diver left, Bud then dons an experimental diving suit given to him by the remaining SEALs, in which the diver breathes an oxygenated fluid instead of air: Bud will be able to descend to incredible depths without injury, as his body will not be crushed by the pressure by having liquid in the lungs rather than gas. Bud's mission is to dive to the bottom of the trench, two miles down and deeper than anyone has ever gone before and disarm the warhead before it detonates.

    The drop to the bottom takes a significant amount of time. The pressure does affect him, but Lindsey helps him regain control by talking to him about their personal life. Bud touches down and dismantles the bomb after a few tense moments where his glow stick makes it impossible to determine the color of the wire he has to cut. He cuts the proper wire, disarming the bomb. However, when he checks the gauge for the remainder of his breathing liquid, he finds that he doesn't have enough to make it back to the rig. Lindsey becomes distressed, telling Bud to start back, hoping that he can breathe shallowly enough to make it. Bud tells her, via a wrist keypad, that he always knew it "was a one-way trip", but that he had to go to save both the platform crew and the NTIs. He transmits a final message saying that he loves her and still considers her to be his wife, and she tells him how much she loves him before assuming he's dead.

    The NTIs find Bud as his oxygen runs out and bring him onto their ship, an immense, glowing city on the floor of the crevice, where their technology is far advanced. They provide him with air to breathe at his normal pressure and engage in silent communication with him. They then show him several television clips they have stored of humanity's destructive behavior, silently explaining that they have left humans alone but now believe humans are too self-destructive to continue this behavior. They also show Bud a few current newscasts of an incredible phenomenon along continental coasts on the surface. The NTIs are using their ability to control water to form 1000' high tsunamis off the coasts of every continent on Earth, threatening to destroy humanity. Bud asks the NTIs what right they have to judge the human race. He is shown historical clips of Hitler, war, and genocide. However, when the the NTI's had intercepted Bud's transmission "LOVE YOU WIFE" they decide to stop the storm and tsunamis, realizing humans do possess compassion for each other.

    Back on the rig, everyone is saddened by the loss of Bud and are waiting for Benthic to begin a rescue operation. However, they pick up a typed message from Bud telling them that he's alive and well and that they should brace themselves. The NTIs raise their entire city from the chasm, but it is so massive it lifts most of the naval fleet patrolling the area above the water, including the Explorer. The rig is also on the city, and everyone seems fine, including the underwater crew, who should have died without decompressing -- Hippy and Lindsey conclude that the NTIs had prevented them from experiencing the bends. Lindsey sees Bud emerge from the NTI city and they rush to each other. Greeting each other as a newlywed couple would, they engage in a passionate kiss.

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