The Abyss

Year: 1989
Production Co: Lightstorm
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Director: James Cameron
Producer: Gale Anne Hurd
Writer: James Cameron
Cast: Ed Harris, Mary Elizabeth Mastrontonio, Michael Biehn

James Cameron was one of the most intelligent adult science fiction directors in the 1990's. Unlike his contemporaries in Hollywood, who all used science fiction to get in touch with their inner child and create boyhood fantasies of escaping the hassles of youth, he bought us similarly fantastic yet plausible ideas but spoke to adults about adult concerns.

Parents in Spielberg's science fiction ranged from absent to useless, leaving their clever and ambitious kids to their own devices. Cameron bought us an estranged married couple trying to reconcile their feelings for each other amid the most astounding scientific discovery of all time.

And although he goes perilously close to the oft-trod Alien path of a small group of strongly characterised people to be killed off one after the other, he writes and directs with enough realism so as to make them all believable.

The idea was summed up in the tagline; A place on earth more awesome than anywhere in space. With earth's hydrosphere so vast and uncharted, it was a stroke of genius to make it the next to last frontier and fill it's inky depths with aliens.

The Abyss does this and adds the trademark Cameron elements everyone was still so excited about from Aliens - clanking, futuristic industrial machinery, cowboy-like operators and hard science.

On the edge of a crevasse so deep nobody's ever been down it, a small band of undersea explorers in an ocean floor research station are searching for a lost nuclear submarine. They have to contend with the sudden appearance of a psychotic Navy SEAL whose intentions may or may not be peaceful, and sightings of strange objects in the depths. As the SEAL (Biehn) and his partner start behaving more strangely, the sightings continue and increase, and in one scene after another, the tension and drama are held tight.

Most people talk about and remember the CG effect of the water tentacle developed by Cameron and used later in Terminator 2 that's still standard, but there's a lot more about the film to love. yes, even the changed ending breaching of the enormous alien craft.

Brilliant performances, a brilliantly told story, fantastic science fiction sets, props and effects, real-people characters and thrilling possibilities make it one of Cameron's - and Hollywood's - finest.

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