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The Abyss (1989)

by on 2013/08/19

abyss_1989“It’s not easy being a cast-iron bitch. It takes discipline, and years of training… A lot of people don’t appreciate that.”

* * * *

The Poseidon Adventure meets The Hunt For Red October meets Close Encounters of the Third Kind meets The Day the Earth Stood Still? A disaster, espionage or alien or war movie? I didn’t know what to expect from The Abyss.

As a technology reporter way, way back in Toronto, I met with top executives of software company Alias (now AutoDesk) who spoke endlessly about their involvement with the morphing special effects in this film. I felt like I had seen the movie but I really hadn’t. I saw one sequence, over and over.

Then years later I listened to Hacker Renders talk about the behind-the-scenes action of this film. Apparently, the set was hell. The cast was driven, terrorized; the working conditions were appalling.

I had all these thoughts swimming around in my busy brain when I finally sat down the other day and watched the film end to end.  We watched the special edition with all the parts the theatrical edition axed.

I am here to tell you that my early judgements of this movie were all wrong. So very, very wrong.

First of all, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio is simply outstanding as the flinty, no-nonsense Dr. Lindsey Brigman. She’s tough, icily competent and take-charge. I really adored her in this film. I know I knocked True Lies around for disrespecting women – and I stand by that, the character Helen Tasker is seriously incompetent as a working mother who can’t shoot straight – but you can’t fault Cameron for Ripley, Sarah Connor and Dr. Brigman. Strong, capable women all.

A submarine accident, a lost nuclear missile, a deep-sea crew in crisis, industrial accidents, failed rescue attempts, alien visitations, a psychotic SEAL who stinks up an under-sea station with all kinds of self-destructive crazy. This movie is awash in sweaty tension.

This film is also a showcase for just how amazing Ed Harris (Appaloosa) really, really is. The character of Virgil “Bud” Brigman in lesser hands would not have been nearly as likeable and affecting. Another actor wouldn’t have made me cry like a baby with only a simple text message.

Also notable is the great Michael Biehn (Insatiable) as the mustachioed SEAL as an arm-slicing villain, losing his sh*t in the name of American homeland security.

If a quibble existed here it would be the look of the gummy-bear aliens who look good enough to chew and eat. There’s a pinkly pretty beauty to the alien vessels and a wonder in the water-based reconnaissance creature. It was the gummy, jujube’d faces of the aliens that took me out of the fantasy a mite.

Also there was a rat breathing breathable water. That scene with the liquid breathing technology was 100% real apparently, I looked it up. The rat survived the ordeal by pink breathable water but died of old age before the screening. You’ll see what I mean when you see the movie.

Overall, you can’t judge a film by its publicity campaign and behind-the-scenes gossip. The Abyss was a solid disaster, espionage, alien, war movie. It defies classification really.

Mostly, yay Dr. Lindsey. You rock.

* * * *

170 minutes (Special Edition)

Rated PG

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  1. A Goth’s Month in Review: August 2013 | Geek vs Goth

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