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Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||James Cameron|
|Produced by||Gale Anne Hurd|
|Written by||James Cameron|
Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio
|Music by||Alan Silvestri|
|Edited by||Conrad Buff|
|Distributed by||20th Century Fox|
|Running time||140 minutes|
170 minutes (Special Edition cut)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||James Cameron|
|Produced by||Gale Anne Hurd|
|Written by||James Cameron|
Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio
|Music by||Alan Silvestri|
|Edited by||Conrad Buff|
|Distributed by||20th Century Fox|
|Running time||140 minutes|
170 minutes (Special Edition cut)
The Abyss is a 1989 American science fiction-adventure film written and directed by James Cameron, starring Ed Harris, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, and Michael Biehn. When an American submarine sinks in the Atlantic, the US search and recovery team works with an oil platform crew, racing against Russian vessels to recover the ship. Deep in the ocean, they encounter a new and mysterious species.
A US ballistic missile submarine, the USS Montana, sinks near the edge of the Cayman Trough after an accidental encounter with an unidentified submerged object. As Soviet ships and submarines head towards the area in an attempt to salvage the sub, and with a hurricane moving in, the Americans decide that the quickest way to mount a rescue is to insert a SEAL team onto the Deep Core, a privately owned, experimental underwater oil drilling platform, located 1,700 feet (518 meters) below sea level, which will serve as their base of operations. The designer of the platform, Dr. Lindsey Brigman, insists on accompanying the SEAL team, even though her estranged husband, Virgil "Bud" Brigman, is currently serving as the platform's foreman.
As the SEALs and the platform crew attempt to discover the cause of the Montana's failure, they spot strange creatures they cannot identify, only later discovering that the creatures have intelligence and dubbing them "NTIs"—"non-terrestrial intelligence". On orders from the SEAL leader Lt. Hiram Coffey and without the platform crew's knowledge, the SEALs use one of the platform's mini-subs to retrieve a warhead from a Trident missile aboard the Montana. However, they do so at an inopportune time, as the hurricane strikes the surface and they are unable to release the tether from the rig's surface support ship, the Benthic Explorer. Tossed by the storm, the Explorer's entire crane and cable system break off and fall into the water. The crane barely misses the platform when it hits the ocean floor, but falls into the trench, its weight pulling the tether and the whole platform towards the drop-off. The rig hangs up on the very edge of the cliff, preventing a plummet into the depths. Several crew members are lost due to flooding in the platform, while the surviving crew and SEALs tend to wounds and attempt to restore the platform's critical power.
An NTI probe in the form of a living column of water explores the platform, and while the platform crew believes it to be harmless, Coffey sees it as a threat. The platform crew realizes Coffey is suffering from high-pressure nervous syndrome, which is making him paranoid. Using one of the remote operated vehicles to spy on Coffey from outside the platform, they discover he is planning on sending the warhead down into the chasm to destroy whatever may be down there. Bud attempts to subdue Coffey before he can leave the platform in one of the mini-subs, but he is unable to do so. Bud and Lindsey chase Coffey in the station's other sub; they manage to damage Coffey's sub, causing it to fall into the trench, where Coffey is killed when the pressure crushes the vehicle. However, Bud and Lindsey are too late to stop the remote vehicle and its attached warhead, on a pre-programmed course and set to explode within 3 hours, from dropping into the trench. Furthermore, their sub is flooding due to a rupture in the hull. Lindsey realizes that the sub's crippled systems, the distance between the sub and the platform, and the fact that their sole source of oxygen is a backpack and regulator that are hard-mounted to Bud's diving helmet combine to leave just one solution. After being convinced, Bud locks his helmet onto his diving suit, watches Lindsey drown, and then tows her body back to Deep Core, hoping that the cold water shocked her body into deep hibernation. The Deep Core crew, trained and equipped for medical emergencies, is able to restart Lindsey's heart via CPR and a defibrillator. The two reaffirm their lost love.
The crew tracks the warhead, finding the remote vehicle has failed from the pressure and landed on a ledge partway down the trench. The SEALs have brought along special diving equipment featuring a liquid breathing apparatus that would allow for a human to dive that far. However, only one of the two surviving SEALs is trustworthy and his injuries prevent him from using it. Bud volunteers; he will not be able to talk and is instead forced to communicate through a keypad on his suit. Bud begins his 7 km dive into the trench, reaches the ledge where the warhead sits, and is guided by the SEAL in disarming it. However, the dive has taken too long for Bud to return to the top of the trench before the oxygen in the liquid runs out. Bud, aware this could happen, writes that he has only five minutes left, and despite Lindsey's pleas to return, decides to remain on the ledge. He types his love to Lindsey in a final message, saying, "Knew this was a one-way ticket, but you know I had to come. Love you, wife."
As Bud lies on the ledge awaiting his death, bright lights appear below him and he encounters an aquatic NTI. The being reaches out and takes Bud's hand and then leads him even further down to a massive NTI spacecraft sitting 8 km deep in the trench. Deep within the ship, the NTIs provide Bud with an atmosphere that allows him to breathe. The NTIs replay Bud's message to Lindsey for him, and they exchange meaningful looks.
On the platform, believing Bud to be dead, Lindsey and the crew are surprised to find Bud radioing back to them, telling them to get ready. The crew observes something very large quickly rising out of the trench, and sees the lights from the NTI spacecraft as it rises. The enormous ship eventually surfaces, lifting many of the naval ships out of the water and leaving them aground on the NTI ship's hull, as well as the platform itself. Leaving the platform on the surface of the ship, the platform crew and remaining SEALS are surprised to find that they are fine and not suffering from decompression sickness after rising so fast out of the water, and credit the NTIs. Bud emerges from the NTI ship, and he and Lindsey rush to meet each other; engaging in a passionate kiss.
The special edition includes many more character scenes, interactions and conflicts. Bud and Lindsey are seen bickering after she arrives on the platform, which builds up to the scene in the theatrical version where Bud throws his wedding ring down the chemical toilet. Another sequence sees the crew assessing personnel losses and damage to the platform after it is dragged by the fallen crane to the drop-off. There is also more emphasis placed on the conflict between the United States and Soviet forces over the crash of the Montana, with each side initially blaming the other for the disaster. When Bud arrives on the NTI ship, he is shown images of humanity's destructive behavior on a view screen. The NTIs create enormous megatsunami-level waves that threaten every coastline, including New York City (shown by the Statue of Liberty and the Verrazano Narrows Bridge) and San Francisco (shown by the Golden Gate Bridge), but then stall them moments before they would come crashing down. After showing Bud his messages of self-sacrifice and caring and believing all humanity to be capable of the same, the NTIs cause the standing waves to harmlessly recede back to normal ocean levels. The message is that it is time for humanity to end its self-destructive ways and unite. After Bud relays this through his keyboard, the NTIs start to bring their ship to the surface.
H. G. Wells was the first to introduce the notion of a sea alien in his 1897 short story In the Abyss. The idea for The Abyss came to James Cameron when, at age 17 and in high school, he attended a science lecture about deep sea diving by a man who claimed to have been the first human to breathe fluid through his lungs. He subsequently wrote a short story that focused on a group of scientists in a laboratory at the bottom of the ocean. The basic idea did not change, but many of the details evolved over the years. Once Cameron arrived in Hollywood, he quickly realized that a group of scientists was not that commercial and changed it to a group of blue-collar workers. While making Aliens, Cameron saw a National Geographic film about remote operated vehicles operating deep in the North Atlantic Ocean. These images reminded him of his short story. He and producer Gale Anne Hurd decided that The Abyss would be their next film. Cameron wrote a treatment combined with elements of a shooting script, which generated a lot of interest in Hollywood. He then wrote the script, basing the character of Lindsey on Hurd and finished it by the end of 1987. Cameron and Hurd were married before The Abyss, separated during pre-production, and divorced in February 1989, two months after principal photography.
The cast and crew trained for underwater diving for one week in the Cayman Islands. This was necessary because 40% of all live-action principal photography took place underwater. Furthermore, Cameron's production company had to design and build experimental equipment and develop a state-of-the-art communications system that allowed the director to talk underwater to the actors and dialogue to be recorded directly onto tape for the first time.
Cameron had originally planned to shoot on location in the Bahamas where the story was set but quickly realized that he needed to have a completely controlled environment because of the stunts and special visual effects involved. He considered shooting the film in Malta, which had the largest unfiltered tank of water, but it was not adequate for Cameron's needs. The film was shot at the Cherokee Nuclear Power Plant outside Gaffney, South Carolina. It had been abandoned after a local power company spent $700 million in construction. The underwater sequences were filmed in two specially constructed tanks. The first one held 7.5 million US gallons (28,000 m3) of water, was 55 feet (18 m) deep and 209 feet (70 m) across. At the time, it was the largest fresh-water filtered tank in the world. Additional scenes were shot in the second tank, which held 2.5 million US gallons (9,500 m3) of water. As the production crew rushed to finish painting the main tank, millions of gallons of water poured in. It took five days to fill. The Deepcore rig was anchored to a 90-ton concrete column at the bottom of the large tank. It consisted of six partial and complete modules that took over half a year to plan and build from scratch.
Can-Dive Services Ltd., a Canadian commercial diving company that specialized in “saturation” diving systems and underwater technology, specially manufactured the two working craft (Flatbed and Cab One) for the film. Two million dollars was spent on set construction.
The main tank was not ready in time for the first day of principal photography. Cameron delayed filming for a week and pushed the smaller tank's schedule forward, demanding that it be ready weeks ahead of schedule. Filming eventually began on August 15, 1988, but there were still problems. On the first day of shooting in the main water tank, it sprang a leak and 150,000 US gallons (570 m3) of water a minute rushed out. The studio brought in dam-repair experts to seal it. In addition, enormous pipes with elbow fittings had been improperly installed. There was so much water pressure in them that the elbows blew off.
Cameron's choice of cinematographer on the movie was Mikael Salomon - a US-based Danish national who would go on to work on other blockbusters such as Backdraft and Arachnophobia before moving into the director's slot on a myriad of films and TV shows including two editions of the acclaimed HBO WW2 series Band of Brothers. Salomon used three cameras in watertight housings that were specially designed. Another special housing was designed for scenes that went from above-water dialogue to below-water dialogue. The filmmakers had to figure out how to keep the water clear enough to shoot and dark enough to look realistic at 2,000 feet (700 m), which was achieved by floating a thick layer of plastic beads in the water and covering the top of the tank with an enormous tarpaulin. Cameron wanted to see the actors' faces and hear their dialogue, and thus hired Western Space and Marine to engineer helmets which would remain optically clear underwater and installed state-of-the-art aircraft quality microphones into each helmet. Safety conditions were also a major factor with the installation of a decompression chamber on site, along with a diving bell and a safety diver for each actor.
The breathing fluid used in the film actually exists but has only been thoroughly investigated in animals. Over the previous 20 years it had been tested on several animals, who survived. The rat shown in the film was actually breathing fluid and survived unharmed, although the scene was censored in Britain for perceived cruelty to animals.
Ed Harris did not breathe the fluid. He held his breath inside a helmet full of liquid while being towed 30 feet (10 m) below the surface of the large tank. He recalled that the worst moments were being towed with fluid rushing up his nose and his eyes swelling up. Actors played their scenes at 33 feet (11 m), too shallow a depth for them to need decompression, and rarely stayed down for more than an hour at a time. Cameron and the 26-person underwater diving crew sank to 50 feet (17 m) and stayed down for five hours at a time. To avoid decompression sickness, they would have to hang from hoses halfway up the tank for as long as two hours, breathing pure oxygen.
The cast and crew endured over six months of grueling six-day, 70-hour weeks on an isolated set. At one point, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio had a physical and emotional breakdown on the set and on another occasion, Ed Harris burst into spontaneous sobbing while driving home. Cameron himself admitted, "I knew this was going to be a hard shoot, but even I had no idea just how hard. I don't ever want to go through this again". For example, for the scene where portions of the rig are flooded with water, he realized that he initially did not know how to minimize the sequence's inherent danger. It took him more than four hours to set up the shot safely. Actor Leo Burmester said, "Shooting The Abyss has been the hardest thing I've ever done. Jim Cameron is the type of director who pushes you to the edge, but he doesn't make you do anything he wouldn't do himself." A lightning storm caused a 200-foot (65 m) tear in the black tarpaulin covering the main tank. Repairing it would have taken too much time, so the production began shooting at night. In addition, blooming algae often reduced visibility to 20 feet (6 m) within hours. Over-chlorination led to divers' skin burning and exposed hair being stripped off.
Some of the actors did not like the slow pace of filming. Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio remembered, "We never started and finished any one scene in any one day". At one point, Cameron told the actors to relieve themselves in their wetsuits to save time between takes. On another occasion, while filming one of many takes of Mastrantonio's character's death scene, the camera ran out of film, prompting Mastrantonio to storm off the set yelling, "We are not animals!" Michael Biehn also grew frustrated by the waiting. He claimed that he was in South Carolina for five months and only acted for three to four weeks. He remembered one day being ten meters underwater and "suddenly the lights went out. It was so black I couldn't see my hand. I couldn't surface. I realized I might not get out of there." Harris said that the daily mental and physical strain was very intense and remembered, "One day we were all in our dressing rooms and people began throwing couches out the windows and smashing the walls. We just had to get our frustrations out." Cameron responded to these complaints, saying, "For every hour they spent trying to figure out what magazine to read, we spent an hour at the bottom of the tank breathing compressed air." After 140 days and $4 million over budget, filming finally wrapped on December 8, 1988. Before the film's release, there were reports from South Carolina that Ed Harris was so upset by the physical demands of the film and Cameron's dictatorial directing style that he said he would refuse to help promote the motion picture. Harris later denied this rumor and helped promote the film. However, after its release and initial promotion, Harris publicly refused to ever again discuss the film, saying "I'm never talking about it and never will." Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio has also since brushed off the film, commenting, "The Abyss was a lot of things. Fun to make was not one of them."
To create the alien water tentacle, Cameron initially considered cel animation or a tentacle sculpted in clay and then animated via stop-motion techniques with water reflections projected onto it. Phil Tippett suggested Cameron contact Industrial Light & Magic. The special visual effects work was divided up among seven FX divisions with motion control work by Dream Quest Images and computer graphics and opticals by ILM. ILM designed a program to produce surface waves of differing sizes and kinetic properties for the pseudopod. For the moment where it mimics Bud and Lindsey's faces, Ed Harris had eight of his facial expressions scanned while twelve of Mastrantonio's were scanned via software used to create computer-generated sculptures. The set was photographed from every angle and digitally recreated so that the pseudopod could be accurately composited into the live-action footage. The company spent six months to create 75 seconds of computer graphics needed for the creature. The film was to have opened on July 4, 1989, but its release was delayed for more than a month by production and special effects problems.
Studio executives were nervous about the film's commercial prospects when preview audiences laughed at scenes of serious intent. Industry insiders said that the release delay was because nervous executives ordered the film's ending completely re-shot. There was also a question of the size of the film's budget. One executive claimed $47 million while The Wall Street Journal reported a figure of $60 million. Box office revenue tracker site The Numbers lists the production budget at $70 million. None of these figures include marketing or distribution costs.
The Abyss was released on August 9, 1989, in 1,533 theaters, where it grossed $9.3 million on its opening weekend. It went on to make $54.4 million in North America and $35.5 million throughout the rest of the world for a worldwide total of $90 million.
The review-tallying website Rotten Tomatoes scores The Abyss a "Certified Fresh" rating of 88%, with 36 out of the 41 counted reviews being positive and an average rating of 7.4 out of 10, with the consensus: "The utterly gorgeous special effects frequently overshadow the fact that The Abyss is also a totally gripping, claustrophobic thriller, complete with an interesting crew of characters." On Metacritic, the film holds an average score of 62 out of 100, based on 14 reviews. As of March 17, 2013, the film has a score or 7.6 out of 10 on the Internet Movie Database, based on 88,867 votes. The reviews tallied therein contain reviews for both the theatrical release and the Special Edition. Newsweek magazine's David Ansen, summarizing the theatrical release, wrote, "The payoff to The Abyss is pretty damn silly — a portentous deus ex machina that leaves too many questions unanswered and evokes too many other films." In her review for The New York Times, Caryn James claimed that the film had "at least four endings," and "by the time the last ending of this two-and-a-quarter-hour film comes along, the effect is like getting off a demon roller coaster that has kept racing several laps after you were ready to get off." Chris Dafoe, in his review for The Globe and Mail, wrote, "At its best, The Abyss offers a harrowing, thrilling journey through inky waters and high tension. In the end, however, this torpedo turns out to be a dud - it swerves at the last minute, missing its target and exploding ineffectually in a flash of fantasy and fairy-tale schtick."
While praising the film's first two hours as "compelling", the Toronto Star remarked, "But when Cameron takes the adventure to the next step, deep into the heart of fantasy, it all becomes one great big deja boo. If we are to believe what Cameron finds way down there, E.T. didn't really call home, he went surfing and fell off his board." USA Today gave the film three out of four stars and wrote, "Most of this underwater blockbuster is 'good,' and at least two action set pieces are great. But the dopey wrap-up sinks the rest 20,000 leagues." In her review for The Washington Post, Rita Kempley wrote that the film "asks us to believe that the drowned return to life, that the comatose come to the rescue, that driven women become doting wives, that Neptune cares about landlubbers. I'd sooner believe that Moby Dick could swim up the drainpipe." Halliwell's Film Guide claimed the film was "despite some clever special effects, a tedious, overlong fantasy that is more excited by machinery than people." Conversely, Rolling Stone magazine's Peter Travers enthused, "[The Abyss is] the greatest underwater adventure ever filmed, the most consistently enthralling of the summer blockbusters...one of the best pictures of the year."
The release of the Special Edition in 1993 garnered much praise. It also helped some of the above people and others see the film as less confusing. Each giving it thumbs up, Siskel remarked, "The Abyss has been improved," and Ebert added, "It makes the film seem more well rounded." In the book Reel Views 2, James Berardinelli comments, "James Cameron's The Abyss may be the most extreme example of an available movie that demonstrates how the vision of a director, once fully realized on screen, can transform a good motion picture into a great one."
Many other film organizations, such as the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films and the American Society of Cinematographers, also nominated The Abyss. The film ended up winning a total of three other awards from these organizations.
The soundtrack to The Abyss was released on August 22, 1989.
|1.||"Main Title"||Alan Silvestri||1:31|
|2.||"Search the Montana"||Alan Silvestri||1:56|
|3.||"The Crane"||Alan Silvestri||1:56|
|4.||"Manta Ship"||Alan Silvestri||6:23|
|7.||"Sub Battle"||Alan Silvestri||3:18|
|8.||"Lindsey Drowns"||Alan Silvestri||4:43|
|10.||"Bud's Big Dive"||Alan Silvestri||6:09|
|11.||"Bud on the Ledge"||Alan Silvestri||3:14|
|12.||"Back on the Air"||Alan Silvestri||1:40|
Varese Sarabande, which released the original album, issued a limited edition (3000 copies) two-disc album in 2014 featuring the complete score.
Disc Two: Tracks 10-19 are bonus tracks.
Even as the film was in the first weeks of its 1989 theatrical release, rumors were circulating of a wave sequence missing from the film's end. As chronicled in the 1993 laserdisc Special Edition release and later in the 2000 DVD, the pressure to cut the film's running time stemmed from both distribution concerns and Industrial Light & Magic's then-inability to complete the required sequences. From the distributor's perspective, the looming three-hour length limited the number of times the film could be shown each day, assuming that audiences would be willing to sit through the entire film, though 1990's Dances with Wolves would shatter both industry-held notions. Further, test audience screenings revealed a surprisingly mixed reaction to the sequences as they appeared in their unfinished form; in post-screening surveys, they dominated both the "Scenes I liked most" and "Scenes I liked least" fields. Contrary to speculation, studio meddling was not the cause of the shortened length; Cameron held final cut as long as the film met a running time of roughly two hours and 15 minutes. He later noted, "Ironically, the studio brass were horrified when I said I was cutting the wave."
|“||What emerges in the winnowing process is only the best stuff. And I think the overall caliber of the film is improved by that. I cut only two minutes of Terminator. On Aliens, we took out much more. I even reconstituted some of that in a special (TV) release version. |
The sense of something being missing on Aliens was greater for me than on The Abyss, where the film just got consistently better as the cut got along. The film must function as a dramatic, organic whole. When I cut the film together, things that read well on paper, on a conceptual level, didn't necessarily translate to the screen as well. I felt I was losing something by breaking my focus. Breaking the story's focus and coming off the main characters was a far greater detriment to the film than what was gained. The film keeps the same message intact at a thematic level, not at a really overt level, by working in a symbolic way.
Cameron elected to remove the sequences along with other, shorter scenes elsewhere in the film, reducing the running time from roughly two hours and 50 minutes to two hours and 20 minutes and diminishing his signature themes of nuclear peril and disarmament. Subsequent test audience screenings drew substantially better reactions.
Star Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio publicly expressed regret about some of the scenes selected for removal from the film's theatrical cut.
|“||There were some beautiful scenes that were taken out. I just wish we hadn't shot so much that isn't in the film.||”|
Shortly after the film's premiere, Cameron and video editor Ed Marsh created a longer video cut of The Abyss for their own use that incorporated dailies. With the tremendous success of Cameron's Terminator 2: Judgment Day in 1991, Lightstorm Entertainment secured a five-year, $500 million financing deal with 20th Century Fox for films produced, directed or written by Cameron. The contract allocated roughly $500,000 of the amount to complete The Abyss. ILM was commissioned to finish the work they had started three years earlier, with many of the same people who had worked on it originally.
The CGI tools developed for Terminator 2: Judgment Day allowed ILM to complete the rumored tidal-wave sequence, as well as correcting flaws in rendering for all their other work done for the film.
The tidal wave sequence had originally been designed by ILM as a physical effect, using a plastic wave, but Cameron was dissatisfied with the end result, and the sequence was scrapped. By the time Cameron was ready to revisit The Abyss, ILM's CGI prowess had finally progressed to an appropriate level, and the wave was rendered as a CGI effect. Terminator 2: Judgment Day screenwriter and frequent Cameron collaborator William Wisher had a cameo in the scene as a reporter in Santa Monica who catches the first tidal wave on camera.
When it was discovered that original production sound recordings had been lost, new dialogue and foley were recorded, but since Captain Kidd Brewer had died of a self-inflicted gunshot before he could return to re-loop his dialog, producers and editors had to lift his original dialogue tracks from the remaining optical-sound prints of the dailies. The Special Edition was therefore dedicated to his memory as a result.
As Alan Silvestri was not available to compose new music for the restored scenes, Robert Garrett, who had composed temporary music for the film's initial cutting in 1989, was chosen to create new music. The Special Edition was completed in December 1992, with 28 minutes added to the film, and saw a limited theatrical release in New York City and Los Angeles on February 26, 1993, and expanded to key cities nationwide in the following weeks.
On home video, in addition to the conventional two-tape VHS release, the first THX-certified LaserDisc title of the Special Edition Box Set was released in May of 1993 and was a best seller for the rest of the year. Both the theatrical and SE editions remain available on DVD; however all available DVDs are non-anamorphic, with the exception of the Chinese DVD produced for Region 6 by Excel Media.
There has been demand for this film to be released on Blu-ray format. Talk of Cameron supervising the digital transfer of the film negative to Blu-ray format has circulated the internet, but no release date has been given by 20th Century Fox.
Science-fiction author Orson Scott Card was hired to write a novelization of the film based on the screenplay and discussions with Cameron. He wrote back-stories for Bud, Lindsey and Coffey as a means not only of helping the actors define their roles, but also to justify some of their behavior and mannerisms in the film. Card also wrote the aliens as a colonizing species which preferentially sought high-pressure deep-water worlds to build their ships as they traveled further into the galaxy (their mothership was in orbit on the far side of the moon). The NTIs' knowledge of neuroanatomy and nanoscale manipulation of biochemistry was responsible for many of the deus ex machina aspects of the film.
A licensed interactive fiction video game based on the script was being developed for Infocom by Bob Bates, but was cancelled when Infocom was shut down by its then-parent company Activision. Source Interactive later created an action video game entitled The Abyss: Incident at Europa. The game takes place a few years after the film, where the player must find a cure for a deadly virus.
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