In 1989, James Cameron directed The Abyss- a science fiction film set under water in the Caribbean sea. He was already making rounds as his preceding films - The Terminator and Aliens - placed him among the Hollywood elites. And with The Abyss, Cameron wanted to make his own version of 2001: A Space Odyssey, sans the outer space drama.
Most of Cameron's science-fiction films depict stories leading towards the future. The Abyss, however, is an exception. It explores people's fear and angst of meeting alien life in the 1980s. This film is a rare misfire in Cameron's career, mostly for its climax and anti-war allegories.
Watch the trailer of "The Abyss" here
Years after its release, The Abyss was granted multiple director's cuts which allowed it to reach a larger audience. For genre aficionados, this film is like a treasure awaiting to be discovered.
The film begins with a scene where a US nuclear submarine is navigating through the Caribbean sea and suddenly the vessel comes in contact with an unidentifiable object. Moments later, the ship is destroyed - killing its entire crew.
As the submarine carried nuclear warheads, the US government wanted to recover whatever was left of the ship. Fearing that their Soviet counterparts will try to get a hold of the nuclear missiles, they prepare for an emergency mission led by a Navy SEAL team. As a base of the emergency operation the team selects an underwater drilling platform designed by Dr Lindsey Brigman. Acclaimed actress and singer Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio played the part.
The SEAL team, led by Lieutenant Hiram Coffey, played by Michael Biehn, do not bother for friendliness when they meet the blue collar workers of the rig. Virgil "Bud" Brigman, played by Ed Harris, is the leader of the rig workers and gets involved in an egoistic trash talk with Coffey. As the film progresses, tension between the two groups only thickens.
Adding to the bitterness of the movie is the fact that Dr Lindsey and Bud were married, but separated long ago. Their post-divorce socializing becomes a nuisance amid the imminent mystery they were about to face.
The rig workers and the SEALs collectively start an investigation to locate the nuclear submarine. But Coffey's true intention is not only to find the missiles, but to fulfill shady orders from the government.
While scouting for the submarine beneath the sea, they encounter the same unidentifiable creature that caused the submarine to sink. In a turn of events, the entire team loses contact with the surface. They get stranded in the rig while the world above the surface gets hit by a deadly hurricane. To their utter surprise, Coffey, Bud and Lindsey encounter a potential alien life form. Meanwhile, bigger threats inch closer.
The ending of the film will polarize the viewers, to say the least, but the high stakes thrill and Hitchcockian style mystery makes it worth the watch.
Before computer graphic work swept over Hollywood, James Cameron put practical effects to good use in his films. In The Abyss, underwater stunts were performed by the actors themselves. According to the New York Times, 40 percent of the film's production took place underwater inside abandoned nuclear power tanks. Cameron went to extreme lengths to make the scenes look as real as possible while focusing on the details.
Suffice to say, the actors did not share Cameron's passion. Harris was physically tormented in the arduous shooting procedure. In fact, the entire crew found Cameron's "limited sympathy" quite disturbing.
In broad strokes, The Abyss is more than a regular science-fiction film. While recalling about filming, James Cameron said, "The Abyss became more of a cult favourite when people realized that it is a great love story. Not the kind you saw on Titanic, but lovers who got married and then divorced."
Even if you do not second to Cameron, the film is highly enjoyable.
Despite its failure at the box office, it is about time that The Abyss gets a broader fandom for the sake of its originality and a heartfelt story.