Thursday, November 13, 2014
The Abyss (1989)
Who's In It: Ed Harris (The Rock), Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio (Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves), and Michael Biehn (The Terminator, Aliens).
What It's About: Close Encounters of the Wet Kind.
How It Is: For two hours, it's a perfectly constructed thriller. It's the characters' actions that continually ramp up the tension and lead them from set piece to set piece, so the story feels very organic and holds together wonderfully for most of the movie. Ed Harris plays the foreman of an underwater drilling team that's tasked with helping some Navy SEALs find a missing submarine. The SEAL commander (Biehn) grows increasingly unhinged as the story unfolds, but the best drama is between Harris and his estranged wife (Mastrantonio), who's also recruited to assist in the mission since she designed the drilling platform.
Harris and Mastrantonio's relationship is what anchors the whole story amidst all the craziness. It's hard not to get the feeling that Cameron is working through his own relationship issues, but the two characters feel like a real couple who have disconnected from each other because they're both so stubborn and independent. If there's a negative aspect to the way they're presented, it's that Harris is clearly the good guy in their relationship at first, but that becomes less true as the movie progresses and Cameron lets us get to know Mastrantonio better. By the end, all I want is for these two to survive and have a second chance at working things out.
As strong as most of the movie is though, it doesn't quite stick its landing. I'm enough of a scifi nerd to appreciate that undersea aliens are somehow responsible for most of what's happening, but honestly, The Abyss would be a stronger film without that aspect. It works best when it's focused on the characters' trying to survive. And though the aliens' appearances are mysterious and exciting during the first two hours, the resolution of that plotline in the movie's last fifteen minutes feels tacked on and hokey. It's like the special edition of Close Encounters where you get to see inside the ship. It's unnecessary and works against what the rest of the film has been building towards.
But man, those first two hours...
Rating: Four out of five water tentacles.