A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 150 – The Abyss (Special Edition)

The Abyss (Special Edition) – July 28th, 2010

When I was in high school either my chemistry class or the science club managed to convince the teacher (same teacher for both) to let us watch this movie due to the liquid breathing stuff they introduce early on in this movie. We’d found a blurb about how some scientists had managed to get a mouse to breathe in liquid (unfortunately getting the liquid out later on caused… problems) and well, our teacher was super cool and we watched this movie for credit. We didn’t even have to do an analysis of the science involved like we did when my physics class watched Speed. Pretty cool. But I think that was the only other time I’ve ever watched this, and I’m a good ways out of high school.

I guess it’s a good thing I’m fairly good at compartmentalizing my suspension of disbelief away from my scientific scepticism, because this movie is chock full of pseudo-science that’s not the sci-fi part of the movie. I would just like to recount a little exercise they had us do when I did a science program at sea one summer in high school. We had this great rig on a cable attached to a winch, and we could send it down to collect water samples at various depths. We could also attach things to it. So we all decorated styrofoam cups and put them in a net bag and sent them down. And do you know what we got back? Shriveled and twisted little bits of compressed junk. That was just a high school science voyage, so we didn’t send them all that far down. So I admit, I did poke a little at the movie’s handwaving away the pressure issues.

After all, the vast majority of this movie takes place deep in the ocean. That’s the point. It’s called The Abyss for a reason. The Navy (sort of) commandeers an experimental ocean floor oil platform and diving rig to investigate a nuclear submarine that crashed somewhere near Cuba. They send down a group of Navy SEALs to help with the operation as the crew of the rig, led by Ed Harris as Bud, aren’t really experienced with salvaging nuclear subs. With the SEALs comes Bud’s soon-to-be-ex-wife, Lindsay, who is apparently the designer of the rig they’re on and who has a very hands-on approach to its maintenance. Of course things go wrong, with a hurricane up top leading to a loss of communication and the guy leading the SEALs gets “pressure-induced psychosis” and becomes more than a little dangerous. But on top of that, something is down there with them, and they don’t know what it is.

Really, a very large portion of this movie is simply a disaster movie with suspense elements thanks to the psychotic SEAL dude. I kind of like that. The reveal is gradual. We see something mysterious reflected on a diving helmet faceplate at one point, but after that it felt like a good half hour or more before we see anything else. It’s the tensions on the rig that drive the movie. Unfortunately, in the special edition? I lost the tension. Around the 1:40 mark I really started feeling the filler. The original release of the movie was 138 minutes, which is almost two and a half hours. The release we’re watching? 171 minutes. It’s pretty and all, and I’m sure a lot of work was put into the diving scenes and I do love underwater stuff, but during what I’m pretty sure was the climax I couldn’t help but look at the clock and think “Seriously? There’s another fifty minutes?” They spend what felt like half an hour doing CPR on Lindsay, which really strains my ability to stay tense and invested. It was beginning to feel like my own personal Rock Climbing scene (I’d include a link, but as YouTube links are rather impermanent, go ahead and look up MST3K and “rock climbing,” if you dare). I’m not really up to going back and watching the 138 minute version tonight to see what was added, but I honestly don’t think whatever it was, was necessary.

Now, this isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy the movie. I did! It was a lot of fun, just a good bit longer than I think it needs to be. The acting is good – I do love Ed Harris – and so are the effects. Can you believe this movie is twenty years old? I can’t. Well, okay, every once in a while I could, but for most of the movie it just didn’t occur to me. The subtlety of the sci-fi aspect (up until the end) helps there. It keeps the effects limited so they won’t date things too much. I do have some quibbles with how the psychotic Navy SEAL plot is set up and handled. They set up the whole “pressure-induced psychosis” thing right at the outset with a speech from Lindsay and some immediate symptoms from the guy, and yet even once the rig’s crew makes it clear they know what’s up, they still act all hands off with him. Sure, he’s got a nuclear warhead, but it’s cool, right? Sure! But that aside, if you accept that they miss the symptoms and then know he’s too dangerous to take out, fine. It works.

One thing I do love is that while Lindsay, the female lead of the movie (played wonderfully by Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio), does need rescuing at one point (marathon CPR!) she’s otherwise a competent scientist and engineer who knows the rig they’re working on and isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty. Sure, she starts out in heels and the guys refer to her as the Queen Bitch, but damn if she doesn’t know what she’s doing and is unwilling to let anyone say otherwise (sadly, that’s probably why it’s so realistic that she gets called a bitch). And then there’s One Night (played by Kimberly Scott, who does a damn fine job), one of the submersible pilots working on the rig. She’s an African American woman who kicks ass at her job, and she makes it through the damn movie. Two competent female characters, working at jobs normally held by men and aside from the early labels for Lindsay, long term they’re both accepted and valuable members of the team and both of them make it through the whole movie. Do you know how awesome that is? Awesome enough that I’m willing to forgive the padding and the pseudo-science and the deus ex ctenophora and the year-long CPR scene.

All in all, it’s a good movie with good actors, decent writing, fun effects, lots of great underwater footage, some dubious-at-best science and a somewhat predictable message. But ignore the science and take the message as a given and watch the regular edition and you’re all set.


July 28, 2010 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , ,

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