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  • Writer's pictureSteven Pluto

Under The Radar: The Abyss (1989)

Updated: Nov 20, 2022

Director: James Cameron Writer: James Cameron Stars: Ed Harris, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Michael Biehn

When you hear the name James Cameron, words like perfectionist, ambitious, visionary and mastermind of some of the most cherished and bankable movies in history ( Terminator, T2, Aliens, True Lies, Titanic and Avatar) comes to mind.

But there is one oddity in this director's work that tends to get overlooked; his 1989 underwater sci-fi epic, The Abyss.

The Abyss holds a higher critical rating than Avatar and Titanic (according to the almighty Rotten Tomatoes, at least), but The Abyss has failed to reach the same levels of cultural assimilation as Cameron’s other works. Which is unfortunate, it is a great film and deserves a dusting off for a second viewing.

The Abyss starred Ed Harris as Bud, who leads a team on an underwater oil rig, Deep Core. When a submarine goes missing, Bud, his colleague and ex-wife Lindsey (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) and their team are co-opted by Navy SEALS to investigate. Tensions run high aboard Deep Core as Michael Biehn’s Lt. Coffey recovers nukes from the submarine wreck and the rig is visited by mysterious aliens.

Why is The Abyss forgotten by movie goers and Cameron’s legions of fans? Simply, it wasn’t the movie we were expecting from Cameron. After Terminator and Aliens, movie goers were under the assumption that The Abyss was going to be Aliens underwater; a shoot 'em up action/horror type. Most movie goers had a hard time balancing the technical marvel of the film with Cameron’s overt anti-war themes.

But the biggest issue with the film's not resonating with movie goers was the ending. Ed Harris’ character's heart-felt texts to his wife were the reason enough for the aliens to spare humanity. This seemed out of touch with the times and Cameron's style in movie making.

The Abyss may be a flawed film but it is, in my opinion, Cameron's most personal and heartfelt film in his repertoire.

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