For a long time, one of my all time favorite movies has been the Abyss. I had both the theatrical and directors cut on tape. Now, with the advent of DVD technology, both are available on one disc. The Abyss was a milestone in the art of cinematographic special effects and now it is the new high bar for DVDs. The story is concerned with a deep-sea oil-drilling rig. They are pressed into service when a military nuclear sub is downed a deep trench. The crew of the rig must work with Navy Seals to search for survivors and document the tragedy. Unknown to the oil workers, the Seals have their own agenda. Add to this some mysterious underwater aliens and you have one of the best Sci-Fi-Adventure movies of all time.
The cast is primo. Ed Harris and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio play the two leads to perfection. Add to this the incredible character portrayal of the head Seal by Michael Biehn and you have a dream cast. The characters are better fleshed out in the directors cut but even in the theatrical version the acting is top notch.
The director for this epic is none other than James Cameron. Not only are all of his movies blockbusters but they actually deserve the attention they get. His love for the water and diving are very evident here. His command of special effects, not permitting them to take over the scene but rather enhance it to the fullest, is spectacular in the Abyss. He seems to use every device know to modern directors to keep the pace of this long film moving so well you will hardly notice the hours flying by,
The real star of this release on DVD is the DVD set itself. The release is made on two discs. The first has the movie on both forms. Thanks to seamless branching both movies are shown in their entirety. The second disc is a real treasure. There are explanations of every aspect of the production. They include things such as multi-angle scenes showing the scene from the movie, the pre-production storyboards and the editors takes to demonstrate all of the work that goes into only a few minutes of your enjoyment during the film. There are DVDROM games, cast bios, and a look at the equipment used during filming. The directors comments are not supplied as a separate sound track but rather as a sub-title selection. This allows you to fully enjoy the film and read the comments during the film. As much as I enjoy listening to the director this way is very nice and I hope more discs adapt the technique. The animated menus are fun but do take a little time to get used to. You highlight speakers to select the sound (2.0 surround of 5.1), a computer monitor to select sub-titles and go through hatches for other sub-menus. This is a landmark DVD, not only for the excellent film but for the way the disc was produced. It will be a long time before this is replaced as the goal all DVDs should aspire. The video transfer was not anamorphic to the chagrin on many but it is crisp and clear. The THX certified soundtracks are wonderful. Get this disc and amaze your friends. You just have to have about eight hours to fully explore it.
The Abyss" Special Edition:
Once again, Cameron has made history with a movie, this time on DVD! I remember when I first saw the Abyss in its August 89 theatrical release, and leaving the theater awed and puzzled. Awed is easy to explain, the underwater photography set a new standard for film, and the story was deeply involving on an emotional and intellectual level, although the ending was not completely satisfying for me. I was puzzled leaving the theater though, because I felt that there was so much not explained, like the motivation for the "Non-Terrestrial Intelligence's" (or NTIs as the call them in the film), especially for the length of the film. The friends I went with felt the same frustration and puzzlement, and the films poor box-office confirmed to me that this was flawed masterpiece. I read David Brins wonderful adaptation, which had the rare distinction of being written in parallel with the film, with the first chapter actually being given to the actors by the director as background for the characters! Brins novelization satisfied my curiosity, but left more questions as to why that part of the story wasnt included. Then I saw the special edition he released in 92, most of my questions were answereda *much* more satisfying ending, with my questions about the aliens motivations answered. Now, with this wonderful special-edition DVD sets unprecedented collection of documentaries, production notes, commentary track (subtitled rather than audio), cast/crew biographies, shooting script and story treatment, story boards, even multi-angle versions of the films major effects sequences, the puzzlement is gone and the awe I feel for this great directors work is profound! With the Directors Cut, it is no longer a flawed masterpiece, but an unqualified triumph!
In case you never saw the movie, a nuclear missile submarine, the Montana, encounters a mysterious impossibly-fast-moving underwater object that causes it to have an accident and sink with all hands lost and all missile intact just off in deep Atlantic waters (just as well no Ohio-class sub bears the name of this state). The navy mounts a rescue mission by commandeering an experimental deep-diving submersible oil drilling platform, the DeepCore II, since an approaching storm will keep their deep-seal rescue ships from arriving soon enough. The crew (led by foreman Bud, played by Ed Harris) is more than willing when they hear theywill get triple pay, and they move the DeepCore platform to the edge of the trench where the sub sank and receive a team of 4 Navy SEALS (including Coffey, the team leader, played by Michael Biehn) and an attractive, intelligent and *extremely* belligerent woman, the *designer* of DeepCore, Lindsay (played by Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio), who is Buds soon-to-be-ex wife (yes, our love storywhere would an epic be without one)! The SEAL team and the crews experienced divers visit the submarine wreck is a sequence with ghost-story-like chills and thrills, capped off by another sighting of NTIs by isolated members, adding to the confusion. Most of them get back safely, but things go awry when the SEAL team receives new orders and commanders DeepCores construction mini-sub before Buds crew can disconnect their umbilical cord to the surface to prepare for the storm. More thrills, spills and chills (sorry I couldt resist) abound when the storm batters the DeepCore and her support ship on the surface until the DeepCore is crippled and her umbilical cord assembly is ripped from the support ship...and falls down the side of the trench like an anchor, pulling the DeepCore down with it! Now theres conflict abounding, with the Bud, Lindsey and their crew (our heroes) having to fight to keep the ocean from crushing their station (jeopardy), repair the stations damaged life-support systems before they suffocate and/or freeze to death (beat the clock), and stop Coffey the SEAL (our visible villain), whos got High-Pressure sickness thats driving him insane *and* an armed nuclear warhead he brought back from the sub to keep the sub from falling into "enemy" hands (can we say "suicide mission?")! So weve got a classic struggle of man vs. nature and man vs. man, brilliantly fought under 1000 feet of water, including harrowing collapses and floods on the station, a vicious hand-to-hand fight between Bud and Coffey, and one of the best chase sequences in the history of film (above or below the water) between Coffey in the construction mini-sub and Bud and Lindsey in the mini-sub she brought the seals down in, and a final, desperate dive off the edge of the trench to recover the warhead by Bud with an experimental diving suit the SEALs brought. This film is quite an emotional roller-coaster, with us learning enough about Bud, Lindsey and the crew to care deeply about them, with enough twists and turns to keep us on the edge of our seats and rooting for them all the way through, and a love story between Lindsey and Bud so powerful and moving there shouldnt be a dry eye in the house as we go through life, death, and rebirth together with them. Add to this powerful brew of human conflict the magical element of the NTIs, who in one sequence explore the ship with a water tentacle that imitates the faces and expressions of Lindsey and Bud when they meet (amazing FX sequence that is available in multi-angle on the 2nd DVD), leading Lindsey to tell the SEALs after its gone, "raise your hand if you think that was a *Russian* water tentacle!" (did I mention this film also has humor, where would an epic be without that?).
The DVDs guide page is a wonder, with the various choices laid out from DeepCores "moon pool" (the center of the station where much of the films action happens). The DVD has been remastered to 5.1 and 2.35:1 widescreen.
If you have a Dolby 5.1 system, you should choose audio options and select 5.1 (it defaults to 2.0). In addition to the features I listed earlier, I also found an "Easter egg" on the 2nd disk, in the Imaging Station, arrow down from the Image Gallery menu and youll get the message, "You know you want it, and I can give it to you, Im the magic man, Im the Santa Claus of the subconscious." Hmm. Over all, a must-buy for any serious collector, and an indescribable treat whether youve seen the directors cut before or not!
- Ed Bishop