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The Abyss (1989)

December 10, 2009

7/10 Deep Encounters

It’s kinda like Armageddon, only it’s under water, and it doesn’t suck.

The Abyss is about a group of deep-sea drillers that are commissioned to escort a team of Navy SEALs down to the bottom of the ocean so that they can investigate a sunken U.S. submarine that was believed to be shot down by the Russians. So they make camp in a high-tech research station, they check out the sub, and the SEALs put everyone’s lives in jeopardy when they start hijack a nuke and lose their shit. Oh, and it turns out that the Russkies had nothing to do with it. It was aliens all along!


It’d been a long time since I’d seen this and I wasn’t too keen on it the first time around, but since it’s “James Cameron Rules The Universe” month according to every media outlet on Earth, thought this was as pertinent time as any to give this one a second chance. And while I’m happy to say it was better than I remembered, Cameron’s still done better.

I recently watched a 60 Minutes segment about Cameron where Morley Safer (or whoever it was) got to talking about how this movie was, and probably still is, regarded in the movie biz as one of the most notoriously grueling and insane film shoots anyone’s ever had to get through, and considering almost all of it was filmed under water in an abandoned nuclear reactor, I’m not surprised in the least. The scale and vision of this thing is nothing short of freakin’ epic as Cameron pretty much has the entire depth of the ocean to work with, turning it into this experience that seems as foreign and awesome as a movie shot in space. But that’s old hat for Cameron, dude knows what he wants and he gets it done.

And while the special effects are still pretty good and had me going, “Wow, that’s cool,” from time to time, they’re no T2. Kinda goes without saying anyway.

But the coolest thing about this movie is probably all these neat little futuristic ideas Cameron comes up with. The diving suits look like mini versions of Ripley’s cargo suit in Aliens, then there’s the aliens, of course, and this brilliant concept of oxygen-infused water that you can breathe into your lungs and keep on trucking instead of making you drown on the spot – which in turn allows you to dive to superhuman depths. Now that was really cool.

So as per usual with Jim’s movies, there’s a lot of kickass stuff going on. Unfortunately, his script kinda sucks. It’s fine for the most part, but it doesn’t do anything to really stand out. The action scenes and the life-or-death scenarios are great, but the dialogue, the characters and the relationships amongst them all just feel like any old script from the ’80s. Considering how unreal everything else is, it’s kinda strange how effing corny this movie gets (e.g.: trying to revive someone using CPR for a full ten minutes then finally bringing them back to life by slapping them in the face and screaming at them to “FIGHT!“).

Get ready to roll those eyes, folks.

The acting is also fine. I like Ed Harris for the most part, but he’s just alright here as head driller “Bud” Brigman. Same thing goes for Michael Biehn (aka: Kyle Reese from The Terminator; what the hell happened to that guy?) as the head SEAL who goes batshit crazy. Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio (who I’ve never heard of) is fine too as his ex-wife, Lindsey. The problem is that since the script gets so ridiculous, everyone’s forced to start overacting at some point, and that’s just no good.

But all in all, The Abyss is still a pretty wild and intense ride for all its faults. It’s over-the-top without being ridiculous, it still holds up really well even by today’s standards, and it’s a James Cameron movie so it’s probably regarded by the world’s top scientists as the greatest thing to ever happen to mankind since fire. If it had the awesome dialogue of some of his other scripts, I’d consider changing my tune to follow suit.

And has anyone heard of this movie Avatar? I hear it’s gonna be the indie hit of the season.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. December 10, 2009 2:24 pm

    Mary Elizabeth Mastratontontonio just isnt in enough films – shes great
    i love Class Action where her and Gene Hackman are father and daughter lawyers who square off against each other

  2. December 15, 2009 5:06 pm

    I LOVE this movie! The visual is just gorgeous, perhaps the most mesmerizing looking alien ever, perhaps to balance things out with his terrifying version in Alien?

    Yeah, what happen to Michael Biehn?! I kept wishing he’s in Avatar, but it turns out Cameron almost did cast him but he’s afraid it’ll be ALIEN all over again as he’s already cast Sigourney.

    Mastrantonio was also in Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood as Marian, she’s a pretty good actress IMO.

  3. June 25, 2012 2:19 pm

    how are you all forgetting about scarface?

    • June 25, 2012 2:21 pm

      I, for one, would be happy forgetting about Scarface, period.

  4. Joel permalink
    August 11, 2012 4:20 am

    I thought this movie was awful, but even I have to defend the script (or fault it because “bud” should have noticed this?). Chick said he would be able to revive her after 10 minutes, but apparently he forgot that part, and you missed it? So , after ten minutes, why was it a miracle again?

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