Review by Michael Jacobson
Stars: Ed Harris, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Michael
Director: James Cameron
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround
Video: Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Features: See Review
Length: 145 Minutes (171 Minutes Special Edition)
Release Date: March 21, 2000
One of the many reasons I love The Abyss is because every frame of the film
instills you with the thought of just how hard a movie this was to make. Or if it doesnt, the supplemental features
on this disc will drive the point home. But
more on that further down.
No other underwater picture has the look or feel of The Abyss. True,
its a marvel of action, suspense and special effects, but for me, the biggest asset
of the picture is in the unique lighting style. Most
of the story takes place several fathoms deep, so the conventional use of surface lighting
could not be employed. Lighting instead had
to be mostly from underneath, and carefully controlled.
It had to be dark without being so murky that the audience couldnt tell what
it was looking at. The overall effect is
atmospheric and effective
youre seeing a definite master of his craft at work.
When a U.S. nuclear submarine is lost at sea, the only chance of
searching the rig for survivors before an approaching hurricane hits is a team of off
shore drillers located nearby, led by Bud (Harris). Before
the team goes down, they are joined by his estranged wife, Lindsey (Mastrantonio), the
woman who engineered their submersive unit, and a couple of military operators, led by
Coffey (Biehn). During the course of the
operation, we get to learn the whys and whats of deep sea diving, including the dangerous
effects of improper adjustment to the increased pressure
something Coffey shows early
The downed sub is perched precariously on the edge of a 2 ½ mile
deep precipice in the ocean floor. And two
things become apparent during the exploration: the
army is chiefly interested in keeping the nuclear weapons out of the hands of the
Russians, and the divers are not alone down there.
When a spectacular accident leaves the crew cut off from the surface
and their vessel beginning to deteriorate, the alien being makes its presence more known,
to the delight and fascination of most of the crew. Coffey,
however, getting sick from the pressure and growing paranoid about the outcome of his
mission, fears the creature, and send their lone rescued warhead down into the abyss to
destroy it, just as its making contact. It
will be up to Bud, using an incredible procedure to dive further than any human has ever
gone, to prevent the catastrophe.
Those are the basic plot schematics, but the plot is not really the
films strong suit. In fact, my only
real complaint about the picture involves the alien creatures, which were created as a
catalyst for the story, but for my money, were the least interesting part of it. And that finale could have used some major
they make contact with an intelligent, other worldly race in a scenario that
plays out way too literally, and is rather preachy and ham-handed.
Where the film succeeds is with the unbridled imagination Cameron
brings to his project. He correctly realized
that the ocean floor is as treacherous and wondrous and as filled with possibilities as
any artificially created outer space setting. Here
he creates a world that is both real and surreal, beautiful and haunting, and perhaps best
of all, dealing with an expanse beyond comprehension, yet constantly claustrophobic in
nature. The movie may be about the big hole
in the floor, but most of it takes place in tightly cramped quarters, emphasized with POV
shots from inside helmets and such, and an environment constantly made threatening by
accidents and disasters and near drownings. Its
a long journey to the end, and most of it is spent in good old fashioned white knuckled
And though it is boringly typical for a picture like this to thrown
in the obligatory love story element, few, if any, movies have done it as well as this. At the heart of the bittersweet love tale between
Bud and Lindsey is a surprising amount of genuine emotion, most of which bursts forth in
powerful spurts, and anchored superbly by two magnificent performances by Harris and
Mastrantonio. And give James Cameron
he may be most noted for his explosive and over the top action sequences, but
he knows when to let tender moments have enough time and space to breathe.
This disc allows you the option of watching either the theatrical
version of the movie or the expanded special edition, which runs 28 minutes longer. These versions are on the same disc, and work via
seamless branching so that the shorter version could work around the extra scenes, with no
pauses apart from the layer switch. Personally,
I prefer the longer version (and my rating applies to it).
As with the special edition for Aliens, what
was initially left on the cutting room floor actually served the films back stories,
and led to better overall development and pacing. This
disc includes a booklet with a chapter by chapter detailing of the differences between the
two versions. Try them both, and decide for
Once again, Fox continues to dumbfound DVD fans. Theyve obviously put more care and attention
into this disc than any other theyve released (and it shows), but
anamorphic enhancement? (The package claims
its enhanced, but it definitely isnt.) It
would seem Mr. Cameron cant catch a break in this department, since Paramount
inexplicably forewent the feature on Titanic last
year. I would also suggest that Fox is
damning the reputation of the THX logo, by continuing to sport it on non-enhanced
how can THX represent the highest possible home theatre quality without an
I was more than ready to damn yet, in all fairness, I must praise. This is one spectacular looking transfer, even without the enhancement. Scene after scene, in extremely varying lighting conditions, I found images to be breathtakingly clear and beautifully rendered in terms of sharpness in color. The interior detail is amazing, the exteriors with selective sparse lighting are even more impressive. No grain or compression evident, and the print itself is remarkably clean. It was a joy to watch.
The 5.1 soundtrack is
multi dimensional and dynamic. The constant use of the rear
channels for sound effects and bits of music keep you in the center of the action from
beginning to end. There's also plenty of work for the subwoofer, with lots of low
rumbling sounds emanating from the big machines at work here. Balance and signal
crossover maintains high integrity throughout, and the range from highs to lows is very
expansive. A great listen all around.
Hope you have a few days to kill:
disc one contains a text only commentary, which is actually pretty interesting and
entertaining. Disc two contains the rest of
the features. They include an hour long
documentary and a ten minute featurette, the complete screenplay, some multi angle special
effects sequences, storyboards, DVD ROM games, a gallery of trailers (including some
hidden ones), and a virtual library of information about the actual technologies the film
employed, special effects, and much, much more. All
encompassed in incredible 3D animated menus with sound.
Theres so much on the extras disc that even IT is dual layered. No question about it, this is one of the best
overall packages ever produced for DVD.
The Abyss is a powerhouse of action, drama, and technical perfection enclosed in an entertaining package as only James Cameron could deliver. The film is a knockout, and the disc is even more so, with incredible audio/video quality and an unbeatable extras package. Forgive the lack of anamorphic enhancement this time, and consider this one a must own.