1989. Directed by James Cameron.
James Cameron's third directorial feature, The Abyss is an amazing piece of romantic science fiction storytelling that still delights and amazes over two decades after it's release.
A US submarine is sunk under mysterious circumstances. The government, fearing a Soviet response, sends a Navy Seal team to Deep Core, an underwater drilling facility, to liaise with the rigging crew and search the submarine wreckage for a nuclear warhead. What begins as a routine mission rapidly escalates into an encounter from the beyond the stars and a desperate race against time.
The most powerful aspect of Cameron's tertiary effort is the world building. You are instantly drawn into life on the Deep Core. It's a metal palace filled with oil jockey customs and unspoken bonds of brotherhood. Cameron builds upon the dialogue and interactions in Aliens and perfects them in The Abyss. The characters are not only realistic and flawed, but you care about what they're doing and what happens to them. Michael Biehn's villain Coffey is equally engaging. It's his outsider status and precarious mental state that make him intriguingly dangerous, dominating the action every time he appears on screen.
The work of John Bruno, Denis Muren, Hoyt Yeatman, and Dennis Skotak claimed the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects for their work on the aliens, presenting them a beings of light, energy, and compassion. Mikael Solomon's cinematography is a unique approach to the underwater epic. Underwater films tend to focus on the darkness of the sea and the terror that lies there. Solomon captures the beautiful colors of the deep while also focusing on the human element at play. The camera unobtrusively gives the viewer a shotgun seat to the action, bringing the sweat and grime of the players to almost tangible levels.
Lesley Dailey and Anne Kuljian's set designs complement this. The Abyss is story about the interplay of man and nature, but from a moral point of view rather than a survival tale. The set of the Deep Core mirrors it's population. It's beat up, broken, and undeniably charming, as opposed to the cold and soulless facilities of more dubious 80's underwater films, making the film's conclusion all the more poignant.
Available now on DVD with a blu ray release forthcoming, The Abyss is a sci-fi action film that is ultimately about cherishing one another. The film's notoriously difficult production is a testament to the devotion that both cast and crew had toward ensuring the film's message reached audiences. The director's cut is superior and prime example of how sometimes a director's uncompromising vision enhances a film. Although not a thriller like Terminator or Aliens, The Abyss is one of Cameron's best films because he uses all of his abilities to deliver a film with just as much depth, and what it lacks in chills it more than compensates for with heart.