Turn Back the Clock

Science Fiction

The Abyss

Distributed by 20th Century Fox

Reviewed by Melissa Minners


                Being a huge Michael Biehn fan in the late 80s/early 90s, I went to see The Abyss in the theaters soon after the movie's release date.  I enjoyed most of the film, but wasn't thrilled with the ending.  Years later, a Special Edition of the film was released and I learned why I had reservations about the initially released film - there was something missing...something very important.  So, when I decided to watch the movie again decades later on DVD, it was the Special Edition of The Abyss I chose to view.

                In The Abyss, the USS Montana, a ballistic missile submarine, sinks at the edge of the Cayman Trough in the Caribbean Sea.  The sinking is due to an encounter with an unidentified submersible object, worrying the United States government into thinking the Russians are involved.  The military wants to recover the submarine, but with a hurricane moving into the area, time is of the essence.  They decide to use whatever resources are closest to the sub's location...Deep Core, an experimental underwater oil drilling platform run by Foreman Bud Brigman (Ed Harris).

                A SEAL team led by Lt. Hiram Coffey (Michael Biehn) is taken down to the Deep Core by the oil rig's designer and Bud's estranged wife, Lindsey (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio).  The mission should be a piece of cake, but a series of unfortunate accidents make the mission a disaster.  First, Lt. Coffey suffers from decompression sickness, but hides it from everyone else involved in the mission.  The decision to hide this medical issue proves to be a critical mistake on his part as it severely impairs his mental abilities later on during the mission.  Second, while investigating the wreck of the USS Montana, an encounter with the alien species who accidentally cause the collision that resulted in the Montana's sinking, causes crew member/diver Jammer (John Bedford Lloyd) to take in an overload of oxygen, placing him in a coma.  Third, the hurricane above wreaks havoc on the Benthic Explorer, the Deep Core's surface support ship.  The ship's crane tears loose, falling to the bottom of the sea and over the abyss, nearly dragging Deep Core with it, severely damaging the underwater oil rig and killing one of the SEALS and four members of Bud's crew.

                While attempting repairs and rerouting of oxygen supplies, Lindsey encounters more of the alien species occupying the Cayman Trough.  To her, they appear to be a peaceful species, but to a severely compromised and paranoid Coffey, this is a threat that must be destroyed.  He decided to arm the warhead he has retrieved from a Trident missile on board the USS Montana and use one of Deep Core's two Remotely Operated Vehicles to send the warhead straight into "enemy" territory.  Can the surviving crew of Deep Core stop Coffey's plan in time to save the alien life forms they have encountered, or will the aliens retaliate, showing their true strength to the world?

                Now, the reason I enjoyed the Special Edition over the original airing of The Abyss will be clear to anyone who has seen both films, but to the individuals who have only seen one version or haven't seen either, I must make things clear.  Many scenes were cut from the original version because the film was deemed too long at the time.  Now, a three hour film is par for the course, but back then, this was a risky venture.  Problem is, they cut out parts that explained the aliens intentions and actions throughout the film.  Without those scenes, the movie's ending is flat and somewhat meaningless.  With them, we get a broader understanding of the species that the Deep Core encounters and what they are really after.  There is a special meaning for us in this Special Edition ending...a message for everyone about the need to achieve a peaceful coexistence amongst ourselves before we can ever think of obtaining a peaceful coexistence with any species outside the planet Earth.

                But whether or not you have scene the original version or the special edition, there are a few things about The Abyss that are clear.  The action is intense and will have you on the edge of your seat wondering who will survive by the end of the film.  The acting is...well, interesting.  There are some terrific performances.  Anyone who has seen the body of Michael Biehn's work knows that he can do intense and that he has a penchant for military roles and extremely sexy psycho roles.  His is a performance worth seeing.  Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio is not one of my favorite actresses, but I must say that she is believable in the role of vulnerable, caring person hiding behind an intense bitch exterior.  Ed Harris is incredibly believable as the tough, but caring, foreman of the Deep Core.  His character is just so likeable as to be huggable and Harris actually manages to be fairly sexy in this role as well.  Couple the fact that it has been said the filming of The Abyss was an actor's nightmare thanks to the extreme conditions it was made under and we have some incredible acting here.

                 The special effects on The Abyss would seem cheesy to someone watching the film today, but were actually state of the art back in 1989 when the film was released.  The scene in which Lindsey and the crew are confronted by a "water tentacle" that takes on the appearance of Lindsey and Bud in an effort to communicate was something never before seen in films.  It represented some of Industrial Light and Magic's most cutting edge computer animation work at the time and is still somewhat impressive today. 

                The DVD of The Abyss that I watched didn't contain much in the way of extras.  You can chose from the original edition or the special edition, so there is no need for a deleted scenes section here.  Commentary is available, but only in text format, which is annoying.  You can check out information about the various actors and important members of the film crew on the DVD, but for storyboards and scripts, you have to insert the DVD into your computer. 

                Watching The Abyss after all these years brought back an enthusiasm for the science fiction dramas of my youth.  James Cameron films like The Terminator, Aliens, The Abyss - these were cutting edge films with terrific storylines and great acting.  Follow ups like Titanic and Avatar presented things that Cameron had learned from earlier films and even more cutting edge technology.  If anything, The Abyss was a stepping stone for what Cameron was able to do with Titanic, making it a must see for any fan of the latter film.  All-in-all, watching The Abyss: Special Edition was a lot of fun and a great Turn Back the Clock experience.


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