The Abyss

Year: 1989

Production: 20th Century Fox

Director: James Cameron

Starring: Ed Harris, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Todd Graff, Michael Biehn

Screenwriter: James Cameron

Novelization (1989) by Orson Scott Card

139 minutes. Color

Despite the largest budget of the period's undersea fantasies (see Deepstar Six, Leviathan) at about $60 million, and despite director Cameron's impressive track record with sf, this was not a box-office smash. A nuclear-missile-armed US submarine crashes at the edge of the Cayman Trough and the crew of an experimental, submersible drilling rig are asked to help rescue any survivors. A hurricane cuts communications with the surface; the laid-back, jokey rig workers clash with a paranoid team of naval commandos who blame everything on the Russians; and aliens dwelling in the Trench (looking a little like angels, and therefore good) teasingly appear to some people but not others. The peace-lovers clash stereotypically with the "nuke the aliens" group, and mayhem is followed by transcendental First Contact. Cameron is good at the low-key establishment of team cameraderie among working people, but the cute-alien theme and the relationship between estranged husband and wife have traces of marshmallow softness. The moral-blackmail finale of an earlier version of the script (aliens threaten world with tidal waves if world peace is not restored) is replaced by something that looks more like divine intervention. The film's moralizing is attractive but simplistic. More interesingly, most of the miraculous technology on display is either possible today or plausible for the near future.

The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction

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