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Monday, 8 April 2019

Retro Review: The Abyss (1989)

The Abyss
Cast: Ed Harris, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Michael Biehn, J.C Scott, Kimberly Scott 
Genre: Science Fiction
Worldwide Box Office Gross: over $90 million 

Plot: A civilian diving team is enlisted to search for a lost nuclear submarine & face danger whilst encountering an alien aquatic species 

'Diving Into The Abyss, I Was Underwhelmed'

After cutting his teeth with Aliens, Canadian sci-fi director James Cameron had a go at the underwater concept with The Abyss by cutting and pasting the template and tropes of 1986's massive hit onto 1989's offering, with almost nothing characters that are not very well developed and few memorable performances to go with it, I can fathom why The Abyss is one of Cameron's less received films of his. Because it doesn't have enough going for it. 

An underwater UFO-type thing manages to attack a crew of oil riggers, led by Bud. The team is then joined by Bud's soon to be ex-wife, Lindsay and they figure out whether to aid it or to destroy it. 

The film doesn't get going until almost an hour into the story and more to the point, it feels much less like a James Cameron movie many are synonymous with in True Lies, Terminator 2 and moreso like a Spielberg-esque or Guillermo del Toro drama, but executed with rarely any creativity and imagination. 

Both Ed Harris and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio loathed the filming experience (with reports of Harris nearly dying and at one point, almost punching James Cameron and Mastrantonio storming off the set) and the dialogue is occasionally terrible with Lindsay being called a ''b****'', more times than being referred to by her own name, which is indicative of how lazy and misogynistic the writing is -, and this is disappointing to see coming from a director, who is highly regarded by both in the film industry and movie fans in general. The casting is uninspired (despite the inclusion of Aliens' and The Terminator's Michael Biehn as the slimeball villain named Coffee) with not one standout performance, although most of that is down to the ineffective and uneventful script, which can be a bit too melodramatic that doesn't really explode with moments and there isn't much in the way that is memorable that The Abyss could be considered as a bona fide sci-fi classic such as E.T, Aliens, Close Encounters of the Third Kind. 

Taking away the set pieces and visual effects, The Abyss - for all of its hype and talk and despite a reasonable second half, way back 30 years ago, just doesn't have enough going for it; there isn't enough genuine tension, thrills and excitement and is far from gripping with underdeveloped characterisations and this is James Cameron's less sufficient work from his filmography. It was difficult to feel and sense that emotional connection between Bud and Lindsay, which didn't truly come through and the last 15 to 20 mins made no sense to, nor had any correlation to the original plot. 

1998's Sphere was slated and crashed at the box office, but personally, it had the better casting in Dustin Hoffman, Sharon Stone, Samuel L. Jackson who, despite the not so grand screenplay, elevated it and the film. With this film, there wasn't much in the way of notable main 'stars' who could've and might've made The Abyss a tad more watchable and entertaining. The rivalry between Bud and Coffey (Coffee) ought to have been established from the beginning of the story. 

Also, Michael Biehn's moustache was distracting, he looked like the third Mario brother. 

Final Verdict:

The film is not as great as Aliens and the scare levels for what would have been considered as a PG-13 movie by today's standards, are okay. Towards the end, there is a hint of E.T detected in there. If the first half was as riveting and tense as the middle to last third with more action scenes thrown in, The Abyss would have been a far better and watchable effort. 

It might have been a big hit back in the day but as a James Cameron film, it is deemed the black sheep. By today's standards, whilst it is by no means a bad movie, unfortunately, The Abyss, in one's view, is a considerable disappointment. 


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