Ed Harris    Bud Brigman
Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio    Lindsey Brigman
Michael Biehn    Lt. Coffey
George Robert Klek    Wilhite
John Bedford Lloyd    "Jammer" Willis
Christopher Murphy    Seal Schoenick
Adam Nelson    Ensign Monk
J.C. Quinn    "Sonny" Dawson
Kimberly Scott    Lisa "One Night" Standing
Capt. Kidd Brewer Jr.    Lew Finler
Leo Burmester    "Catfish" De Vries
Todd Graff    Alan "Hippy" Carnes
Richard Warlock    Dwight Perry

Directed by James Cameron. Screenplay by James Cameron. 1989. Running time: 145 Minutes.

feb_a.jpg (14042 bytes)"Never make a film with children and dogs," Alfred Hitchcock once warned. Had the great director lived any longer I’m sure that he would have added: "And don’t film anything on water . . ."

Ask Steven Spielberg. He’ll tell you anytime of the day. Filming on water (or underwater that matter!) is always haphazardous. On the first day of filming the mechanical shark they used in the film sank straight to the bottom of the ocean. Things went from bad to worse from there on: the film went mega-overbudget and Spielberg thought that he would never work in Hollywood again. Then the film proved to be an enormous hit and Spielberg’s career was cemented. But obviously he declined to do the sequel. Films on water - even when they go way over budget - aren’t always bombs at the box office. Ask Kevin Costner. Even Waterworld, one of the world’s most expensive movies ever made eventually got its money and in the end, with video sales, television screenings and the non-USA market, somehow even managed to generate a small profit . . .

Ask James Cameron. After his The Abyss he would probably have told you that one should never ever film anything on water. But no doubt he ignored his own advice and went on to make Titanic. The rest is movie history: although the film cost a whopping $200 million to make, it rewarded its investors handsomely by becoming one of the ten biggest box office hits of all time in less than a month. Unfortunately Cameron wasn’t as lucky with The Abyss. Costing a fortune to make the film was never really the big hit that its producers were hoping it would be.

That doesn’t make it a bad film. The first thing that strikes one about The Abyss is its sheer professionalism. Not merely on director Cameron’s part but on the part of the actors as well. While it is a special effects movie, not for a moment does it overwhelm the film’s characters. One seldom says to oneself: "Wow! Look at the special effects!" Instead one gets drawn into the story and its characters pretty quickly. Sure, some bits veer into overwrought melodrama same as happened in Cameron’s later Titanic, but unlike that film the love story element in The Abyss is much more convincing maybe because Ed Harris and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio are better actors than Leonard de Caprio and Kate Winslet.

However, in the end the film’s star is director James Cameron who does his stuff superbly: The Abyss delivers some real thrills as did his Terminator and Aliens. A fantastic creature made out of seawater is a taste of the advanced "liquid metal" terminator in Terminator 2 - Judgment Day. Perhaps he does too good a job because ultimately The Abyss disappoints because it never delivers on its premise. The film builds up to something that it can’t deliver. Suddenly it stops being a suspenseful underwater adventure and turns into Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Yet, as Leonard Matlin said of the film: it remains "a fascinating one-of-a-kind experience."

Copyright © February 1998  James O'Ehley/The Sci-Fi Movie Page




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