Before Pandora, there was THE ABYSS.

Aug 13, 2010
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Special effects, even now, performances of Biehn, Harris and Mastrantonio.  Great story.

Cons:Nothing.  You can nit pick, but this stands up to the test of time.

The Bottom Line: Rock solid Sci Fi that stands up as well today as it did twenty three years ago.  A true classic.

The Abyss (1989) Directed by James Cameron
"We all see what we want to see. Coffey looks and he sees Russians. He sees hate and fear. You have to look with better eyes than that."  Lindsey Brigman
James Cameron is a name that matters in Science Fiction.  With Terminator, and Aliens to his credit he has proven himself in the field.  (Then there was this little film called Titanic he did for the mainstream crowd.  Let's not even get into Avatar.)
However, he has proven that he can navigate any element of the unknown with equal aplomb.  Now, he has taken us to the most hostile environment of all, our own deep oceans.
Deep Core is an experimental deep sea mining rig.  Crewed by a merry group of misfits (and let's face it, it takes a certain kind of crazy to do this kind of work) it is led by Virgil ‘Bud' Brigman. (Ed Harris).  A nuclear submarine has an accident and the Deep Core is the closest and best option they have for salvage and investigation purposes.  At the very least, the Nukes have to be retrieved.  To make problems worse, there is hurricane brewing topside..
So Lindsey Brigman (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) is coming down with a team of Navy SEAL deep sea retrieval specialists.  Not only is she the designer of Deep Core, but she is Bud's very estranged wife.
Now Lt. Coffee (Michael Biehn, a Cameron favorite, and one of mine too.) is a competent military man, but Nitrogen Narcosis does not respect rank, and as they settle into the briny deeps, we see his hand tremble....
There is a sharp divide between the egalitarian oil riggers and the disciplined SEALs, but everything goes more or less okay, until Coffee takes the big rig down to the sub for the salvage operation.  Of course that is when the hurricane kicks the heck out of the platform ship above them, and sends the crane down on top of them.  They needed that sub to disconnect the umbilical.  Well the crane missed them, but when it plays over the abyss, it nearly drags them all into the chasm.  Now they are in trouble.
But it gets worse.  Coffee is going psychotic, and while some of the SEALs are intelligent and cool, like Monk (Adam Nelson), others are good little soldier meat puppets who follow orders, no matter what.
And then the water tentacle rises out of the moon pool, and starts exploring the ship, and all bets are off.  For Lindsey and Bud and the Riggers, it is a moment of wondrous discovery.  For Coffee, a moment of purest terror.  And each one reacts from their basic viewpoint, setting in motion a series of events leading to an unbelievable conclusion.
Part of the reason that the movie works so well is because the characters are so workaday.  Hippy (Todd Graff) is a genuine technogeek, who loves his rat, Catfish De Vrees (Leo Burmester) is a good old boy mechanic with big talk and a lot of patience, Lisa ‘One Night' Standing (Kimberly Scott) is a laid back girl, who loves country music, and manages a crew full of men with no problems. I love her laugh. They are just folk, living in a tin can at the bottom of the sea, getting along because there is no alternative, and having a good time doing it.
Even the SEALs are people, not stereo types.  It would be real easy to play Lt. Coffee off as a gung ho killer from the get go, but Biehn is such a good actor with emotional subtlety and nonverbal communication, that he shows us how this is a strong man ruined by his own strengths and his fears.
Of course the incredible undersea world doesn't hurt; it was actually shot in a couple of cooling tanks for a power plant.  Looks like the Marianas Trench to me.  The effects won the Oscar that year.  One of the secrets of his success; spend the money where it does the most good.
With a realistic script to work with and a plot full of more hope than is usual for a Cameron film, the actors take us to a world as alien as any in outer space, and as full of possibilities.

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