The Abyss – music by Alan Silvestri

The Abyss soundtrackI’ve been enjoying the hell out of the new double DVD release of James Cameron’s 1989 underwater opus, and that prompted me to dig out my CD of the soundtrack. With other major films such as Roger Rabbit and Contact to his credit, Alan Silvestri is hardly an obscure composer. But The Abyss may be one of his most under-appreciated scores. The opening notes, which accompany the otherwise credit-less opening title of the film, proclaim the main choral figure of the entire score, an inspirational wall of voices that sounds appealingly like a hymn that should already belong to the classic musical canon, but doesn’t. This brief statement quickly gives way to a sustained burst of military snare drums, shattering the moment of wonder as the story begins. The next few tracks take place much further into the movie, as Michael Biehn’s character leads Ed Harris and his civilian divers on a recovery mission into a wrecked nuclear sub. The music takes on foreboding and mysterious atmospheres in turn as the threat of Beihn’s paranoid Navy SEAL character grows, and as the presence of the undersea beings becomes more evident with time. “The Fight” is much more percussive and electronic, and the relentless “Sub Battle” track leads into two of Silvestri’s best works ever: “Lindsey Drowns” and “Resurrection”. Those who have seen the movie will no doubt remember exactly what scenes this music covers.

If there are but two drawbacks to the CD release of The Abyss soundtrack, they are that Varese Sarabande is notorious for cutting corners and producing very short-duration releases that take up only a little over half the storage capacity of a compact disc (this one runs a mere 47:02, thirty minutes less than a CD’s maximum storage), and that the CD was pressed three years before the Special Edition, which contained many extended and missing scenes that Silvestri rescored. I’m hoping that, as with other scores such as Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Superman, The Abyss may see a more 4 out of 4complete re-release of its score, perhaps prompted by the DVD release. But realistically, I’m not expecting this, since The Abyss has enjoyed cult success, but not a critical mass of public appeal. It’s a pity the DVD doesn’t contain an isolated score track – the CD will simply have to do. But for what’s there, it’s definitely worth a listen.

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  1. Main Title (1:31)
  2. Search The Montana (1:56)
  3. The Crane (2:00)
  4. The Manta Ship (6:23)
  5. The Pseudopod (5:37)
  6. The Fight (1:46)
  7. Sub Battle (3:18)
  8. Lindsey Drowns (4:43)
  9. Resurrection (1:59)
  10. Bud’s Big Dive (6:09)
  11. Bud On The Ledge (3:14)
  12. Back On The Air (1:40)
  13. Finale (6:46)

Released by: Varese Sarabande
Release date: 1989
Total running time: 47:02