Space, the final frontier. Except for the bottom of the ocean. While space fills our minds with thoughts of exploration, new resources, and green women, the ocean is a realm of the unknown. The vast depth and darkness of the ocean fills us with a trepidation and fear that makes works focused on the sea naturally disconcerting. It was not for nothing that cartographers of old simply wrote “here there be monsters” over the long stretches of uncharted waters. The ocean has been a source of discomfort for as long as mankind has put boats on the water, for it is a glorious mix of known and unknown, always there, ever secretive. We never truly know what lies just beneath its surface.
This is part of the mindset one finds themselves within when they watch The Abyss. The 1989 film takes the audience deep into the depths of the ocean, as US Navy SEALs join up with civilian researchers to recover the nuclear weapons from a submarine that sunk under mysterious circumstances. The story evolves from that to become, frankly, odd and somewhat heavy-handed with the moralizing.
Saying more would reveal some of the greatest and weakest parts of the movie. To truly experience the splendor and suspense of the film, you need to watch it with an open mind, not knowing what is going to happen. The movie is a technical marvel produced by none other than nature loving, over-technical movie producing James Cameron. That’s right, from the man who sank the unsinkable ship and introduced a planet of giant smurfs we all wanted so desperately to nuke into oblivion, we have this suspenseful underwater adventure.
Do not watch this movie with the mindset of watching the recently released Underwater. The Abyss is a spectacle worthy of watching at least once for the effects and the tension that can only come from a setting such as underwater. They say in space, no one can hear you scream. The ocean, however, is a delightful mix of known and unknown. We have a decent idea of what is in space, and the unknown of it is so distant as to be irrelevant to our daily lives. We know the horrors of the ocean, though. Giant squid –the krakens of old- sharks, and horrendous pressure and darkness are what we know of the ocean at its worst. Still, there is much we do not know of the deepest depths of our own planet. The movie is very aware of this.
The Abyss is part spectacle, part suspense, part underwater thriller. To say it’s a precursor to Underwater is a misnomer, as the movies have very different tones. It can be very difficult to explain the experience that is The Abyss without completely ruining the movie, which is why I stated the best way to experience it is just to watch it in the first place. Observing the spectacle for all it is with an open mind is truly the best way to watch the film. You might leave disappointed, confused, or frustrated, but you will have enjoyed the experience and you will definitely have opinions about that experience.