James Cameron’s The Abyss (1989) is a high-budget film filled with special effects similar to many of Cameron’s other films.  Written and directed by Cameron, the film features aliens, but they are not the main focus of the film, unlike in Avatar (2009) and Aliens (1986).  The film is about the sinking of an American nuclear submarine after it comes in contact with an alien underwater spacecraft, and the subsequent rescue effort planned by the military involving Navy SEALS working with a civilian diving team, led by Bud Brigman (Ed Harris).  The rescue team is operating out of an underwater base that is connected to a much larger ship on the surface of the water.  A hurricane hits and the ship and underwater base lose contact from each other.  The diving team’s base is severely damaged and they are stranded underwater, all while one of the SEALS has developed High Pressure Nervous Syndrome and is acting erratically. Cameron depicts the chaos and fear of being stuck deep under the ocean very well, and multiple scenes leave the audience feeling claustrophobic.  The special effects used for the aliens are impressive considering the year the film was made, and the alien ship is an incredible sight.  There is a great deal of action between the people on board the underwater base, and the ocean itself, as the cold and pressure of the water become the enemy of the crew, in addition to the insane navy SEAL.  The sequences when the divers leave the underwater base in their scuba gear are particularly hectic and jarring.  These feelings are created by the darkness that surrounds the diver, which gets increasingly more dark the deeper they go.  Another aspect of the film that is anxiety producing is that the aliens remain a mystery for practically its entirety, the audience is mostly clueless as to what their intentions are.  Through these techniques, Cameron creates an edge of your seat film unlike any of his other work.

Chas Lennon

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