A U.S. Navy nuclear sub, following an unusual sonar echo deep in the Atlantic, suffers an unexplained power loss that leaves it powerless to avoid a collision with the wall of a sub-oceanic trench. The sub plummets into depths it was never meant to descend, takes on water, and the crew is killed. The Navy commandeers a deep-ocean oil exploration rig operated by Benthic Oil, trying to beat a hurricane to the coordinates of the downed sub. Ed “Bud” Brigman, in charge of the Deep Core underwater platform, is less than thrilled when he learns that he and his crew will be taking orders from the Navy for a rescue operation, but he’s even less pleased when his ex-wife Lindsey joins the Navy SEALs who are paying a visit to Deep Core. The cocksure leader of the SEALs, Lt. Coffey, suffers from high-pressure nervousness syndrome as a result of the dive to reach Deep Core, and slowly loses control, growing violent and paranoid. Upon reaching the submarine, Coffey finally reveals that the vessel was carrying hundreds of megatons of nuclear weapons, giving Deep Core’s divers cause for concern – especially when they find that something other than the dead crew inhabits this part of the ocean. Another power loss occurs, and one of Bud’s crew sees something so startling that it renders him comatose. Lindsey also sees something, but she is unable to describe or explain it.
Unknown to Deep Core’s divers, Coffey has been ordered to recover one of the sub’s nuclear warheads, believing that whatever the diving team saw must have been a Soviet submarine. On the surface, international tensions are reaching a boiling point as Soviet and American military forces brave the hurricane to form a line of scrimmage that could explode into World War III. And worse yet, the huge crane which connects Benthic Explorer to Deep Core is torn away from the Explorer and crashes down into the 20,000 foot deep trench, dragging Deep Core right along with it. The platform comes to a shattering stop on a ledge halfway down the trench, out of contact with the surface, short on oxygen and power, and with no hope of rescue. The increasingly delusional Coffey intends to use his salvaged nuclear warhead to attack whatever has been causing the power losses.
When the unknown force proves itself fully capable of boarding Deep Core without harming any of the crew, they begin to wonder which is the greatest threat – an unknown life form buried in the depths of the Atlantic, or the human impulse for violent acts against anything or anyone unfamiliar?
screenplay by James Cameron
story by James Cameron
directed by James Cameron
music by Alan Silvestri / additional music by Robert Garrett
Cast: Ed Harris (Ed Brigman), Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio (Lindsey Brigman), Michael Biehn (Lt. Coffey), Leo Burmester (Catfish De Vries), Todd Graff (Alan “Hippy” Carnes), John Bedford Lloyd (Jammer Willis), J.C. Quinn (“Sonny” Dawson), Kimberly (Lisa “One Night” Standing), Captain Kidd Brewer Jr. (Lew Finler), George Robert Klek (Wihite), Christopher Murphy (Schoenick), Adam Nelson (Ensign Monk), Richard Walock (Dwight Perry), Jimmie Ray Weeks (Leland McBride), J. Kenneth Campbell (DeMarco), Ken Jenkins (Gerard Kirkhill), Chris Elliott (Bendix), Peter Ratray (Captain), Michael Beach (Barnes), Brad Sullivan (Executive), Frank Lloyd (Navigator), Phillip Darlington (Crew Member), Joseph Nemec III (Crew Member), Joe Farago (Anchorman), William Wisher (Bill Tyler), Marcus Mukai (Anchorman #2), Wendy Gordon (Anchorwoman), Paul Cross (Young woman), Thomas Duffy (Construction worker), Chris Anastasio (Truck driver), Emily Yancy (Woman reporter), Michael Chapman (Dr. Berg), Tom Isbell (Wave reporter), Super Sea Rover (Big Geek), Mini Rover Mark II (Little Geek)
LogBook entry and review by Earl Green
Review: I still think that James Cameron has yet to top The Abyss. I mean, sure, the guy did Titanic, Aliens, and both Terminator movies, but this is the Cameron film I have always enjoyed the most. One must admit, the mere fact that The Abyss was made at all, with at least two thirds of the movie shot underwater, is an incredible technical feat – much more impressive, in my book, than reconstructing an ocean liner with CGI. I can’t even begin to imagine how dangerous it was to shoot in such an environment, even if it was nothing more than a large water tank. But this movie isn’t all about special effects and underwater photography. The script is very well written, and even the studio-bound scenes are tense and well-shot. And for what it’s worth, the effects are indeed awesome, including some of the earliest good CGI work of a translucent water-based extension of the undersea creatures.
The Abyss was also my introduction to the outstanding Ed Harris, who also starred in The Right Stuff, Apollo 13, and The Truman Show. Michael Biehn, though he hams it up a little bit too much for my tastes, follows up admirably on his string of rugged hero roles with a wild and scary portrayal of one demented son of a bitch. Though a little stiff at the beginning of the movie, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio positively carries the entire movie on her shoulders toward the end.
The Abyss is a much better movie than Twister, but like Twister, it benefits greatly from the skills of the supporting cast. All of these characters have quirks, and they come across as absolutely real, even the guy with the pet rat. Where Harris, Mastrantonio and Biehn sometimes seem to be playing stock characters, the supporting cast keeps The Abyss from slipping into the depths of clichÃ¨ by adding much-needed color commentary to the proceedings. And when one character wears an Arkansas Razorbacks cap, and another wears a Green Bay Packers jacket, this is a movie than can appeal to me no matter where I happen to be living at the time!
If there’s any one thing for which I fault The Abyss, it’s the occasional bit of preachiness that Cameron slips in. I’m usually a pacificst myself, but there are a few moments – namely the fabricated man-on-the-street news interviews seen about halfway through the movie – that are too obvious, too didactic for my tastes.
In case you haven’t guessed, I didn’t review the theatrical cut of The Abyss, but the extended home video edition. I strongly recommend you seek out the widescreen home video version with added footage – far superior to the original theatrical cut, but also far longer, approaching three hours. But those three hours will be well-spent – this is an amazing movie.