The Abyss

After conquering Earth (Terminator) and Outer Space (Aliens), it was only a matter of time before director James Cameron set his sights on Inner Space. Cameron knew that the deep blue sea held just as much mystery and fantasy as anything beyond the stars, and set out to make the ultimate underwater adventure.


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The effort became “The Abyss,” and like Cameron’s “Aliens” and “Terminator,” skillfully mixed science- fiction, action and fascination with the unknown.

I was privileged enough to get an advance look at “The Abyss” when James Cameron and 20th Century Fox invited publicists to a luncheon and then a screening of the film’s underwater chase scene between Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Ed Harris and a deranged Michael Biehn. Cameron was still shooting the film, but wanted the press to understand why the film’s shoot was so difficult.

Indeed, there had been reports in the daily trades about the film’s difficulties, from star complaints to numerous malfunctions with the sets and special effects. Cameron wanted us to see what he was after, and hoped that the twenty minutes he was about to show us would confirm his vision. The lights went down, and twenty minutes later, our collective jaws were on the floor.

The underwater chase, which ends with the death of one character and the drowning of another, was gripping and breathtaking. I had never seen anything quite like it. Like in all of his films, Cameron had created a total environment in which to tell his story. This underwater world was unlike any other, a world in which the actors actually were allowed to become their characters, to experience their environment from the outside in.

It was here, on the bottom of the Pacific Ocean (recreated in an incredible tank), that Cameron and his crew came to tell the story of an underwater mining expedition that encounters alien visitors. After terrorizing audiences with “Terminator” and “Aliens,” Cameron wanted to show us a kinder, gentler alien presence. The evil here came from the elements, a typhoon on the surface trapping the workers below, and a deranged Navy Seal, sent with a platoon of men to retrieve the contents of a downed nuclear submarine.

Trapped in the middle are a former husband-and-wife team played by Harris and Mastrantonio. Of course they trapped together during the crisis, forcing them to re-evaluate their relationship and priorities. Hey, I never said Cameron was a brilliant writer. He is an engaging writer, taking us places we have never been before and showing us things we never thought we would see. He’s the consummate showman, and you know whenever you enter his big top, you’re going to see something special.

I especially appreciate Cameron’s ability to create spectacle, putting the characters and the audience in the middle of situations that are awe inspiring. Cameron took Ridley Scott’s chamber piece “Alien” and turned it into a full-blown adventure. With “The Abyss,” he takes us deep below the ocean’s surface, where things should seem claustrophobic, and occasionally do. But Cameron paints on a much larger canvas here, turning the ocean floor and a nearby crevasse into an endless playground for the actors, filmmakers and their toys.

The Oscar-winning special effects are truly admirable, creating a time and place that doesn’t exist except up on the screen. The effects artists do an extremely believable job, assisted by Cameron’s insistence that the live action be filmed in natural environments. Combined, the live action and special effects elements create images that consistently dazzle and impress. Even though most of the effects have been recreated since “The Abyss” made its debut, they still hold up here.

Although some of the dialogue and situations have worn a little thin over time, the performances and direction are just as solid. Even though they’re reciting lumbering lines, the actors are always convincing.

Ed Harris is strong as the designer of the underwater mining platform, forced to make the ultimate sacrifice for the good of all mankind. There’s earnestness in his performance, the soul of a man who has seen his share of extraordinary things. Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio is on equal ground with Harris, allowed to create a strong, interesting character who is also forced to make a life and death decision. Even though her character tries to put distance between her ex-husband, Mastrantonio and Harris make it easy for us to believe that these two really belong together.

There’s a great message of hope in “The Abyss,” one delivered without a soapbox and a speech. Instead, the filmmakers rely on their ability to create interesting situations and characters to push the message home. When whatever is hiding down in “The Abyss” finally makes itself known, you feel as though you have taken the journey with the characters.

COMPLETE CHECK-UP

VISION: 20/20

check.gif (406 bytes) 2.35:1 Widescreen

check.gif (406 bytes) 16×9 Enhanced

check.gif (406 bytes) RSDL

Absolutely stunning imagery, including realistic flesh tones and impressive blacks and shadows. The blues are deep and penetrating, showing considerable depth and detail. Water is always a bitch, yet there are no complaints here. Cut from a pristine master, overall image is sharp and clear. No noticeable aging or digital artifacts. Masterfully rendered picture shows great care.

HEARING: Excellent

check.gif (406 bytes) English 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround

check.gif (406 bytes) English Dolby Surround

Powerful, evoking 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround track drops the viewer right in the middle of the action. Front sound field is as strong as they come, with a definitive dialogue mix and excellent right-to-left stereo split. Surround effects are common and strong, engulfing all speakers with powerful basses and crystal clear high ends. Rear speakers receive a lot of action, including lifelike ambient noise and surround effects. The sound is pure and clean, with no noticeable hiss or distortion. The audio flows from the speakers with assurance and authority.

ORAL: Good

check.gif (406 bytes)Closed Captions in English for the Hard of Hearing

check.gif (406 bytes) Subtitles in Spanish

COORDINATION: Excellent

check.gif (406 bytes) Like the sappy theme song to “Love Story” queries, where do I begin? The Special Edition of “The Abyss” is truly special. Here’s what you get on two DVDs:

check.gif (406 bytes) First and foremost, the ability to watch both versions of the film. You can view the theatrical release, or the special edition version with 28 minutes of extended footage.

check.gif (406 bytes) Detailed commentary option available on both version using the subtitle button. Use this feature to find out where the new footage fits in.

THE DRILL ROOM

check.gif (406 bytes) Stop by here first. This option will take you through every layer of the extensive supplements, or allow you the opportunity to dig through the vast collection of material by yourself. Both options are recommended.

IMAGING:

check.gif (406 bytes) James Cameron’s Final Shooting Script for the film. James Cameron’s Original Story Treatment. 773 Original storyboards, laid out in filming sequence. Image Gallery Menu, which allows you to select and view groups of photos and artwork from the film. This menu is extensive, as are the galleries. 10 mini-documentaries on the making of the film, including an awesome time-lapse shot of the construction of the underwater set, plus motion control and miniature photography tests, visual effects reel that was submitted to the Academy for their consideration, and physical effects reels on flooding various sets.

THE ABYSS IN DEPTH: MISSION COMPONENTS

check.gif (406 bytes) Take a journey to the very depths of the ocean during this highly informative tour which begins on the ocean surface and takes you deeper and deeper until you reach the alien spaceship on the ocean floor. Along the way you’ll have the opportunity to learn all about the various stages of production involved, including underwater diving and dry-for-wet photography. Everything you ever wanted to know about the various vehicles and sets will be answered here, and then some.

THE ABYSS IN DEPTH: OPERATIONS

check.gif (406 bytes) Go through the creative process with the various talent, including director-writer James Cameron, plus the production and design team, and an extensive lesson in the storyboard process. You’ll also learn about the casting process and character development here.

PERSONNEL LOCKERS

check.gif (406 bytes) It’s here where you’ll find the cast and crew bios, plus complete filmographies. There are also featurettes on building the set, how the diving gear was manufactured to Cameron’s specifics, and how special sound equipment was utilized to capture underwater dialogue. Also be on the lookout for alien face huggers hiding in the shadows. These little Easter Eggs will provide you with some bang up action from Cameron’s “Aliens.”

check.gif (406 bytes) A 60-minute (okay, it’s 59, but who’s counting?) Documentary “Under Pressure: Making The Abyss,” which goes a long way in explaining the complicated shoot. You’ll find interviews, behind-the-scenes footage, special effects techniques, plus much more. Totally thrilling stuff with chapter stops (18 of them).

check.gif (406 bytes) There is also a 10-minute featurette released by the studio when the film premiered, and it’s quaint to say the least.

check.gif (406 bytes) A collection of trailers from Cameron’s 20th Century Fox releases, including 3 “Abyss” trailers (Main, teaser and review), plus “Aliens,” “True Lies” and “Strange Days.”

check.gif (406 bytes) A fun multi-angle feature that allows you to switch back and forth during the “Pseudopod” sequence.

check.gif (406 bytes) DVD-ROM features that include the ability to jump from the script to your favorite scene, plus 3 games and web links.

check.gif (406 bytes) A 12-Page collector’s booklet on the making of the film.

check.gif (406 bytes) Possibly the best interactive main and scene access menus I have ever had the pleasure to encounter. Truly amazing and spectacular. Spend some time with this title. You’ll want to explore and find everything. It will take some time, but the journey is worth it.

PROGNOSIS: Excellent

check.gif (406 bytes) Possibly one of the most exciting and interactive DVDs on the market. Not adding one to your collection makes you all wet.

VITALS:

check.gif (406 bytes) $39.98/Rated PG-13/171m/Color/52 Chapter Stops/Keepcase

PATIENT: THE ABYSS: COLLECTOR’S EDITION

HMO: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

ATTENDING RESIDENT: John Larsen



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