Slide THIS in Your Machine: The Abyss, Special Edition

Posted on 20 February 2009 by Quaid

Hi all.  Quaid here with the first of what we hope will become a weekly article where we plum the depths of our DVD collections to find something you can watch over the weekend.  It might be old, it might be new, it might be forgotten, but it will always be interesting.

abyss_seThis week, I’m going to ask you to take a step back to 1989.  James Cameron had just finished Aliens a few years back and was releasing his next opus…which basically amounted to a mixture of 2001:A Space Odyssey and E.T. under water.  It was called The Abyss.

The movie has problems.  I’m not going to lie.  But what it does well, it does amazingly well.  The film follows an underwater drilling team as they are sent on a mission to explore the remains of a sunken nuclear submarine that has mysteriously crashed.

In the process, the characters deal with psychologically unstable military types and inner-space aliens.

The tension is palpable and the character relationships, while simple and obvious, are played with a sweet honesty that is lacking in most “action” type movies.  Ed Harris shines as Bud, a man desperately trying to move on from his ex-wife, played by Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio.

abyss2The movie is a lot of fun, even if it does dip into melodrama.  And the DVD ups the ante with two versions of the film: the theatrical cut, and an extended cut which includes 28 minutes of additional scenes, including a radically extended ending.  Plus there are hours of special features, making this a great DVD to rent and use for killing an afternoon.

But all that is window dressing, in my opinion.  The real reason you need to slide this baby into your DVD player is the feature-length documentary included on disc two.  Under Pressure: Making the Abyss is, by far, my favorite retrospective documentary about the behind-the-scenes drama on a film.  It was made long enough after the original film was shot that the actors and crew could feel comfortable being honest.  This includes coming clean about hurt feelings, dramatic set events, and aggressive confrontations.

abyss3It’s also amazing to see how this kind of movie was put together in a mostly pre-CGI world.  The opening narration of the film claims that The Abyss came to be known as “the toughest shoot in film history,” and after seeing this 60-minute documentary, I completely buy it.

Watching this one again, I can’t help but get jazzed for Cameron’s upcoming 3D extravaganza, Avatar.  Whether you love his movies or not, Cameron always strives to push the envelope of filmmaking.  The Abyss will never be included in his list of greatest achievements, but it’s a damn fine, flawed film that deserves a look.

You can buy The Abyss: Special Edition on DVD from Amazon HERE.                              

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