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20th Century Fox presents
The Abyss: SE (1989)

Brigman:...Hippy, you think everything is a conspiracy.
Hippy:Everything is!

Review By: Dan Lopez   
Published: June 15, 2000

Stars: Ed Harris, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Michael Biehn
Other Stars: Leo Burmeister, Todd Graff, Kimberly Scott, John Bedford Lloyd
Director: James Cameron

Manufacturer: Digital Video Compression Center
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Language and some scenes of action.
Run Time: 02h:50m:00s
Release Date: March 21, 2000
UPC: 024543000082
Genre: adventure

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- A-AB+ A+

DVD Review

It's been a long-time adage in the movie industry that any film largely oriented around water will simply be an epic task to create. This easily applies to The Abyss, which ranks amongst the most complex adventure films ever produced. Of course, adversity of this sort tends to result in triumphs, and The Abyss certainly is a triumph. Although the film was not the massive financial hit the producers probably hoped for, it does set the bar incredibly high for such ambitious, multi-layered films.

When a nuclear submarine crashes and sinks into an abyssal trench, an underwater oil-drilling rig is enlisted to help find the sub. The oil rig, known as "Deepcore", is commanded by the stubborn Bud Brigman (Ed Harris) and the crew is composed of odd, interesting characters. Unfortunately, when the head company hands over the rig for Naval use, the crew must deal with anti-social and secretive Navy SEALs, led by Lt. Coffey (Michael Biehn). To make matters worse, first a hurricane threatens to cut Deepcore off from the surface and second, Bud Brigman's estranged wife, Lindsay (Mary Mastrantonio), shows up to assist the mission. The sub is discovered, but political turmoil turns the Deepcore into a tool of cold-war tactic. Lt. Coffey slowly succumbs to paranoia and pressure sickness, leading the SEAL team closer to starting a war. When Lindsay Brigman thinks she's seen some sort of alien intelligence in the abyssal trench, the situation reaches a critical point of both danger and discovery.

Although there is no doubt The Abyss is first and foremost and adventure, it doesn't sacrifice integrity for excitement. While viewers can expect some fantastic action sequences and underwater stuntwork (usually performed by the actors themselves and made to be as true-to-life as possible), it is carefully tempered with drama. The movie spends a generous amount of time getting the viewer used to the characters and their individual personalities.

As many people have undoubtedly noticed, the film's title has numerous meanings. Although the film takes place in a oceanic abyss, at the same time the characters in the film must overcome their own abyss of fear to survive. One could also say that Bud Brigman and his wife have an abyss between themselves as well, preventing them from resolving their conflict. It is the multi-facetted nature of plot that makes The Abyss very unique in the field of action/adventure films. Because of its character development, it is more realistic compared to other movies in the disaster film genre. Rather than a specific actor becoming an atypical hero, almost every character is a hero simply because they endure.

Of course, the Special Edition version of The Abyss has significant differences from the original theatrical cut, mainly in the form of character development. Many scenes are extended, fleshing out dialogue and increasing the tension between certain characters. The largest difference, however, is the original ending that adds much more meaning to the film, and wraps up loose ends. Despite the poor critical reaction to the longer version, I feel it's a deeper, more honest version of the film. While some have bemoaned the anti-nuke theme as preachy, at the very least the film does attempt to "say something."

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The most controversial feature of the disc is it's inexplicable absence of anamorphic enhancement. To some this isn't a big deal, but to others it's resulted in a harsh criticism of the production of the disc. That aside, the film is visually impressive. The restoration work done on the film (to balance the image quality of both the original theatrical cut and the special edition footage) has paid off with a clean, sharp image transfer that has very few flaws, if any. On occasion, some grain and very minor compression artifacts are observable depending on the material on-screen, but overall there's little to complain about in this wonderfully crisp and high-resolution copy. The heavy blue tones in the film were also re- balanced and toned down a bit for the DVD release. The result of all the hard work is a stunning image that remains clean and without color bleeding. However, for some the lack of anamorphic enhancement may completely turn you off regardless of the excellent picture quality. The widescreening is also a very important part of the image, finally revealing the true visual nature of the film. (It certainly took 20th Century Fox long enough to get a widescreen version made... DVD or otherwise.)

Image Transfer Grade: A


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack on the disc is quite effective and well engineered. Thankfully, there is little exaggeration of sounds into the surrounds, but rather subtle placement and imaging that enhances the original Dolby Surround rather than outdoing it. Underwater scenes benefit most from this subtle usage, while more upbeat scenes benefit from agressive sounds. Overall the sound mix is impressive. On a minor complaint though, I was unable to switch the soundtrack via remote, and the film defaults to Dolby 2.0. The 2.0 soundtrack is good, but nowhere near as beefy and dynamic as the 5.1. Even with a basic stereo or 3-channel home setup, you might as well choose the superior down-converted 5.1 mix.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 54 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish, English Commentary with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
3 Original Trailer(s)
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring Aliens, Strange Days, True Lies
1 TV Spots/Teasers
3 Multiple Angles
Production Notes
1 Documentaries
1 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Subtitle text commentary for both versions
Packaging: other
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extra Extras:
  1. 3 DVD-ROM Games
  2. Numerous pre- and post-production information segments
  3. Behind-the-effects segments
  4. Academy submission reel of Special Effects.
  5. Original story treatment and artwork
Extras Review: While the first disc contains the movie, the second contains a wealth of extras that would easily take a few hours to truly absorb in one sitting. This DVD release should have been called "Everything you ever wanted to know about The Abyss, but were afraid to ask." On top of extras like the screenplay and storyboards, there is a wealth of supplemental material that puts you in the production seat. Some of the material even has some interesting interactive features, like the examination of the pseudopod sequence which allows you to see the film as it was filmed, or without the actors, or without the pod. There's also a sequence of Cameron and crew using minatures and toys to make video storyboards that allows you turn off and on the matting (highlighting Cameron's preference for blown-up 70mm matted footage).

The 60 minute Under Pressure documentary is excellent. Produced around the time of the theatrical re-release in 1991, the documentary is a simply amazing look at the production as well as a short commentary about the why the film was cut. Almost every cast member is involved, and most of the major crew was as well. Mysteriously, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio is nowhere to be found here, however. All of this amazing info is also wrapped up in a gorgeous visual package with nice animated menus and sound bytes, including a visual representation of all the elements from the film in their order on an "Abyss" scale (from the ocean top to the abyss bottom) that you can click on as a alternate way of accessing some of the info. There is also a feature called the "Drill Room" which allows you to view all the extra material in one mammoth viewing. A few hidden trailers and teasers for other movies (some of which I probably haven't found yet) are contained here as well. I honestly cannot comment on the DVD-ROM content as I do not have a PC with a DVD-ROM drive.

The booklet that comes with the film details where cuts were made and where footage was added, as well. Overall, there's nothing this disc doesn't have, and every aspect of the film is examined in some form another, right down to the smallest costume detail. It's exhaustive discs like this that put most to shame, especially in a day where Warner Bros. still insists on referring to menus as a "special feature."

Extras Grade: A+


Final Comments

While I've always enjoyed The Abyss in both versions, there's a new depth to the movie seeing it a few years later in such great quality and with such attention paid to its extra materials. The movie certainly stands the test of time as a technically exacting film that demanded everything the actors and crew could muster. The disc is a sterling example of everything DVD can be to true film buffs. Too often we see studios dismissing movies onto DVD as if they're only commercial items, rather than pieces of film history. It's immensely gratifying to know that this version of the film is the final, most complete version you could ever see. It doesn't matter what formats come into being in the future....we are now essentially guaranteed that even if this version keeps being re-issued (assuming some new format came along that ended DVD, as DVD is slowly ending VHS) we'll always have a comprehensive document of the film reproduced with fantastic image quality and integrity for the artform. If you've never seen The Abyss, this is the ideal way to introduce yourself to it. If you are already a fan, by all means pick this version up immediately. Highly Recommended.


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