Monday, April 28, 2014

1PanelReview The Abyss

In 1989, 5 (no less!) horror films taking place underwater and seeing a crew face some supernatural danger while testing the strength of their teams were released simultaneously, one after the other.

These films were in theatrical release order: DeepStar Six, Leviathan, Lords of the Deep, The Evil Below and finally The Abyss.

This is one of them.

What it is: The Abyss 

Which is: A science fiction/adventure film
Directed by: James Cameron
Year: 1989

The Abyss was written and directed by James Cameron in-between the first two Terminator films. It was released in August 1989 and produced by 20th Century Fox solely because of James Cameron's love for the subject first and foremost (Cameron himself went on several underwater missions including actually breaking a Guiness record the film plays with). It starts starring Ed Harris, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio and Michael Biehn. The story, like all the previous above films, follows a team of scientists on an experimental underwater rig that comes into contact with some strange creatures...

What's Good about it: People aboard an experimental underwater oil rig are tasked to check on a submarine that was damaged by an unidentified object. Some trigger-happy Navy SEALs are dispatched to oversee the situation. They think it's the Russians, almost happy to trigger the Cold War. But it turns out it's something.. else, altogether. 
The film takes place in a slighty-science-fiction-ysh submersible oil rig that can be sealed and hooked along under the ocean.
Michael Biehn's character develops HPNS (high pressure nervous syndrome), and the problems arise...
Like Lords of the Deep before (the production on that film certainly were able to get their hands on an early screenplay of The Abyss), the creatures here are not "evil". In fact they're here to help humanity (although the Director's Cut certainly change our perception of the end goal being at play here...).
As much as you might not feel this movie at first, this is pure James Cameron at best. With some slight horror-ysh science-fiction film. 
You gotta love the fantastic underwater environments. The film was fantastically directed, it has a deliberate slow pacing. There's a real sense of danger. Ultimately our most dangerous foe is man itself.... 
Always on the front scene of innovation, Cameron & co actually developed a new form of scuba helmet, to better capture the actors' face on film.
The film was shots on one of the biggest budgets at the time (and to this very day!). 
And it shows! It introduced the world to an actual ground-breaking liquid breathing technology (only at an experimental state to this day, although they really made several rats breath it during the production - with no casualties!). Supposedly using those diving suits with this liquid rich in oxygen would help deep diving under pressure.
James Cameron always loved the ocean. He developed some filming techniques that would be put again to use much later on Titanic and its related documentary. The film contains lots of complicated dive shots. 
ILM worked on the special effects, some early modest but effective CGi effects. The NTI's (aka the non-terrestrial intelligence) look eerie but impressive. Out of this world. 
The film features an amazing score composed by Alan Silvestri who juggles musical cues in-between Predator-like deep tense atmosphere and BTTF-style action scenes.
Simply a must.

What's Bad about it: The Abyss was originally planned as a 2-parter where the original would have ended on the contact with the actual alien species and the sequel would then have started from there. But budget issues and other projects on the pipeline forced the entire second film to be squished along the final act of this first one.
As such it really seems like The Abyss ends a third from the actual finale. Then the film seems to drag on way too long before we get an actual true final ending...
Those NTIs... are they hostile or friendly? Our heroine makes a leap of faith regarding the deep-sea invaders... Speaking of these alien creatures are a bit strange compared to the general realistic tone of the film and almost seem to come out of nowhere.
The film seems a bit too slow at times. This is a reaaaally long film (released back in the day when 1 hour 30 was the norm unlike today's standard 2+ hour-long films). I can understand why a lot of unnecessary scenes were cut for the theatrical release. (And sure, they could probably time it a bit more if they really wanted..)
Speaking of, the "Director's Cut" or "Extended Cut" to be more precise is kind of a mixed bag. While it added some welcomed depth to the characters' motivations, it also ends on a more abrupt ending. The film opens on a new quote and adds several more scenes of interaction. But the real game changer is that it reveals how these creatures were going to kill humanity... but didn't. Because... huh.. love? That was really cheesy and unnecessary...
Finally, as good as it is, I know this isn't probably for everyone. It's an acquired taste. Personally, it's not one of my all-time favorite science-fiction (or James Cameron's) films. (That honor would probably go to the first Terminator to be honest!)

Overall: Released alongside the equally fun DeepStar Six and Leviathan, it had, of course, the much bigger budget and Cameron directing and writing it sure helped. Obviously it turned out to be the most successful of the bunch.

Not only making a ton of money but also grabbing some Oscar nominations along the way. It did never truly made its entire budget back though.. 

The Abyss would go on not only to help boost James Cameron's career but establish some ground-breaking technology he would later again use in both Terminator 2 (the special effects of the water-tentacle being the basis for the T-1000) and Titanic (not counting the fact the entire environmentalist message is kind of reminiscent of his own later Avatar as well). 

If the previous films ranged from simple B-movies to small budget horror flicks this one is the real big budget-picture blockbuster of the bunch.

Ultimately it's a great movie that probably didn't even need the aliens in my eyes...
I give it: 3 / 3 Quacks!
[How does my Rating System work?]

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