1989 Running time: 163 Certificate: 15 Rating: 3

Synopsis

With storms raging above sea-level, a submerged oil rig faces the prospect of being cut off from the surface. To complicate matters, a nuclear submarine has been downed just a few miles away, the Navy SEAL in charge of the rescue (Michael Biehn) is cracking up, rig boss Ed Harris doesn't get on with rig designer Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio - she's his estranged wife - and something very strange is lurking deep in the trench below. With absorbing characters, groundbreaking special effects (which picked up an Oscar) and a fresh crisis emerging every minute, James Cameron's first oceanic epic is a plunge well worth taking.

Director

  • James Cameron

Cast

  • Ed Harris

  • Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio

  • Michael Biehn

  • Leo Burmester

  • Todd Graff

Review

Although it won't go down in history alongside Terminator 2 and Aliens as one of Jim Cameron's greatest efforts, The Abyss still stands up to scrutiny two decades on from its release.

Ed Harris is the boss of an underwater drilling station that faces the prospect of being cut off permanently from the outside world when a storm wreaks havoc above.

Added to that, a US Navy submarine has sunk to the ocean floor just a few miles along the ocean floor. Enter Cameron favourite Michael Biehn as a Navy Seal sent down to the ocean depths to discover what caused the accident - and retrieve the nuclear warhead contained in the sunken vessel.

Was it Russian spies that downed the sub? Or was it something a whole lot more exciting?

Cameron's movie suffers somewhat at the hand of the studio - 30 crucial minutes were cut from the theatrical release - but what is on show is a slick, special-effects laden and incredibly tense sci-fi thriller, packed with memorable performances and quotable dialogue.

Harris is perfect as Bud, the put-upon boss who has to contend with out-of-control navy seals, a sinking oil rig and the presence of his soon-to-be-divorced wife, played to perfection by Mastrantonio.

While it may be a precursor to what was to follow - the CGI was a template for T2 while the sinking ship theme was good practice for Titanic - this is still riveting stuff with all the sub-water level scenes shot in a giant submerged set that was hell for the actors and crew, who eventually donned T-shirts emblazoned with "Life's abyss, and then you die."

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