A firstrate underwater suspenser with an otherworldly twist, The Abyss suffers from a payoff unworthy of its buildup. Same sensibilities that enable writer-director James Cameron to deliver riveting, supercharged action segments get soggy when the 'aliens' turn out to be friendly.

A firstrate underwater suspenser with an otherworldly twist, The Abyss suffers from a payoff unworthy of its buildup. Same sensibilities that enable writer-director James Cameron to deliver riveting, supercharged action segments get soggy when the ‘aliens’ turn out to be friendly.

Action is launched when a navy nuclear sub suffers a mysterious power failure and crashes into a rock wall. Bud Brigman (Ed Harris) and his gamy crew of undersea oil-rig workers are hired to dive for survivors.

At the last minute Brigman’s flinty estranged wife, Lindsey (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio), who designed their submersible oil rig, insists on coming aboard to lend an uninvited hand.

Crew finds nothing but a lot of corpses floating eerily in the water-filled sub, but meanwhile, Lindsey has a close encounter with a kind of swift-moving neon-lit jellyfish she’s convinced is a friendly alien.

When turbulence from a hurricane rocking the surface cuts off the crew’s ties to their command ship, their underwater stay is perilously extended.

The Abyss has plenty of elements in its favor, not least the performances by Harris as the compassionate crewleader and Mastrantonio as his steel-willed counterpart. Not even the $50 million-plus pic’s elaborate technical achievements can overshadow these two.

[In 1993 a 171-min. Special Edition — later renamed Extended Version — was released on homevideo. Restored footage was spread throughout the pic but primarily during the final two reels, including the original ending.]

1989: Best Visual Effects.

Nominations: Best Cinematography, Art Direction, Sound

The Abyss

Production

20th Century-Fox. Director James Cameron; Producer Gale Anne Hurd; Writer James Cameron; Camera Mikael Salomon Editor Joel Goodman; Music Alan Silvestri Art Leslie Dilley

Crew

(Color) Widescreen. Available on VHS, DVD. Extract of a review from 1989. Running time: 140 MIN.

With

Ed Harris Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio Michael Biehn Leo Burmester Todd Graff Kimberly Scott
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