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“The Abyss” (1989) Review

The Abyss cover

James Cameron is considered to be a visionary director. He received praise for many of his works, from “Titanic” to “Avatar”, and is a huge name in the film industry. Personally, I am not a big fan of his. None of his films have really impressed me enough to make me agree with the praise they’ve gotten. “The Abyss” is another of Cameron’s films, though prior to the closing credits, I went in blind to his role in the film’s creation. Yet, when I did see those closing credits with Cameron’s name appearing as director, I wasn’t the least bit shocked. It felt like a Cameron film the whole way through.

“The Abyss” tells the tale of a deep-sea, industrial rig crew who happen to be utilized by the government to search for a sunken US submarine that is located close to their base of operations. Due to a fast-approaching hurricane, and urgency in the mission, a group of Navy Seals are sent to help with the crew’s efforts, as the US cannot get a full salvage crew together before the storm approaches. In classic sci-fi fashion, there is a startling discovery made during their salvage attempt, and a familiar story of conflict between crew and unknown and amongst crew plays out. It is easy to say a story is clichéd (and “The Abyss” is), but another thing entirely to say a film is entirely predictable. Throughtout the story, any sci-fi fan would note that it is easy to see exactly what will happen. All of the major conflicts and plot points are quickly discerned and never a surprise. Further, the plot itself isn’t really all that exciting. Sure, there are some decent moments, but overall, the plot is simply average – not to mention the ending, which manages to avoid the most intriguing question/conflict in the film and ends this story abruptly.

The same cannot be said for the visuals, however. In typical Cameron fashion, “The Abyss” has a great visual presentation. For a film that was made over 20 years ago, the underwater scenes are quite a show. I mean, sure, the film’s effects are dated in many repspects, but its visuals still manage to do a great job of bringing the viewer into the experience. That being said, visuals cannot make up for a mediocre plot (see “Avatar”).

Many of the visuals in "The Abyss" are impressive, especially when taking into account the fact that the film is more than 20 years old.

Many of the visuals in “The Abyss” are impressive, especially when taking into account the fact that the film is more than 20 years old.

Outside of the story and visuals, there are two other notes worth making with regards to “The Abyss”. First, the acting varies widely. On the whole, it is decent and gets the job done. Still, I wish some of the supporting cast had done a better job to make their characters more natural (some of the scenes just feel too stiff) and better complement the performance Ed Harris puts forth. Second, the soundtrack is your typical brass-infused “epic” soundtrack. At times, it is too pronounced, at others it is fitting, but nothing special.

“The Abyss” is certainly an entertaining journey, albeit one that feels very familiar. Its visual greatness may have been dated by time, but the film still looks great. The plot for this sci-fi adventure is average at best, however, with some poor/unrealistic science and a disappointing ending. In the end, “The Abyss” manages to be nothing more than an average-at-best sci-fi film. Major sci-fi fans may get some enjoyment out of it, while more casual movie fans should be able to overlook its more glaring flaws. For me, it just feels like another James Cameron film – heavy on striking visuals and clichéd story elements. Feel free to share your thoughts on the film and/or James Cameron in the comments.

Final Score: 5.0/10

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