Abyss, The (1989): James Cameron’s Weakest Film?

Despite the fact that most of the action occurs below sea level, James Cameron’s “The Abyss” is a disappointment, a film that largely recycles elements of blockbusters such as Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” “E.T.,” and Cameron’s own “Aliens,” all superior in integrating narrative, characters, and special effects.

Inevitable comparisons were also made with Spielberg’s “Jaws,” in 1975. Like the opening scene of that film, in “The Abyss,” instead of a big white shark, there’s an underwater UFO that propels the movie into action.

Spotted on Sonar by an American submarine, the “thing” is eerily tracked below deck, where it creates a disaster because of the crew’s panic. Indeed, The sub sinks onto the ledge of the abyss. A team of oil riggers is led by foreman Bud Brigman (Ed Harris), feeling pressure as a rescue mission.

The civilian crew is joined by engineer Lindsey Brigman (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio), who happens to be Bud’s estranged wife, and a group of navy underwater experts, headed by Lt. Coffey (Michael Biehn, who’s in most of Cameron pictures), whose top secret priority is the 150 nuclear warheads located on the sub. But the rescue takes on a new shape, when the extra-terrestrial force makes its presence know.

Like in “Aliens,” the rescue team is quite colorful and gender-balanced (sort of), including Wilhite (played by George Robert Klek), Sonny Dawson (by J. C. Quinn) and one named Lisa “One Night” Standing, (Kimberly Scott).

However, lacking the emotional impact and suspense of its predecessor sci-fi movies, “The Abyss” is further spoiled by a disappointingly inane ending. And, in the midst of the action, we get discussions of what went wrong between the Brigmans, who clearly are still in love with each other.

What give “The Abyss” some edge and pleasure are the extraordinary sets and visual effects, which deservedly won the Oscars in their respective categories, but for an actioner, it’s quite verbose.

Critics who disliked the film labeled it “The Abyss(mal).