An experimental oil-drilling platform on the bottom of the sea is pressed into service by the US Navy to assist recovery operations of a nuclear missile sub that went down under mysterious circumstances. The operation reunites Bud (Ed Harris) and Lindsey (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio), a married couple who separated because of career pressures. Four Navy SEALs, led by Michael Biehn, are also sent to the platform to assist the effort.
Once the rescue operation commences, a hurricane strikes the area. There are no survivors on the submarine, but there is evidence that someone, or something, is living at the bottom of the abyssal trench nearby. As cold war tensions increase over the sub's downing, Bud and Virgil have to deal with both the alien presence and the fact that the Navy SEALs' leader is going crazy, and he has a nuclear bomb.
The Abyss can be seen almost as a dry run (hee hee!) for the filming of the Titanic. Both films were extremely tough to shoot, and in The Abyss Cameron used ILM to pioneer the realistic CGI that would be so important to the later film. Dramatically, The Abyss was an underwhelming experience if you saw it in the theater. Luckily, the DVD also offers the special edition version of the film Cameron prepared for the 1993 laserdisc box set of the film. This version reinstates about a half-hour of footage that helps give the movie a focus, making it a much more satisfactory viewing experience.
The disc is not enhanced for 16x9 TVs, but those of you who don't have such high tech equipment will be very happy with the image presented. The image is detailed enough that you can see every last screw on the wall of the Deep Core set. The blues of the ocean look great and bright lights don't smear. The Dolby Digital soundtrack also sounds great.
In order to fit both the theatrical version and the special edition on one side of one disc, Fox uses DVD's seamless branching ability. In effect, your DVD player will edit in the special edition material on the fly. The branches are largely undetectable, though when a branch occurs in the middle of a dialogue scene (like when the crew gets their first message from Bud after they think him dead) I could see a couple of frames of video missing. I repeated this phenomenon on a friend's DVD player as well. I also had problems with the layer change on my Philips Magnavox DVD815, presumably because it is a branch as well.
There are so many supplements, listing them all would take forever. So I'll just hit the highlights. On the movie disc itself there is a text commentary written by Van Ling, a technical advisor on the film. The commentary is mostly concerned with pointing out how the various special effects shots were achieved, with occasional real world factoids and amusing anecdotes. The scene where the rat is submerged in breathable fluorocarbon liquid yields some fun information.
The other extras are included on a second single sided disc. There are two documentaries, a short ten minute one that basically promotes the movie, and an hour long one that goes into a detailed discussion of the logistics of filming underwater. There is a multi-angle feature on the psuedopod scene, and a twenty-minute special effects reel. Want more? There are also numerous text/multimedia essays about practically every aspect of the film (my favorites were the ones on the psuedopod and on the making of the special edition itself), various drafts of the script, and a huge photo gallery. All of this material can be accessed by animated menus, or by going through chapter by chapter. Finally, there are three trailers to The Abyss (teaser, full, and the one that incorporates critic's comments, though apparently only Peter Travers had anything nice to say about the film), one trailer to True Lies (and I hear other trailers are hidden on the disc), and DVD-ROM material.
Scott Hamilton, 6/19/00