The Abyss: Director's Cut
The USS Montana, a ballistic missile submarine, is submerged in the Gulf of Mexico when it comes across an unknown object. The object is moving at an improbable speed of 60 knots yet makes no sounds indicating traditional propulsion. The captain orders the submarine change its heading to cut off the object and investigate. However, when the object gets near it accelerates to 130 knots. A bright light illuminates the outside of the submarine before it goes dead. Power is restored when the object leaves but it's too late to regain control of the sub and it collides with the wall of an underwater canyon, rupturing its compressed air tanks and preventing it from performing an emergency blow. As the sub begins to fill with water, the captain orders an emergency distress beacon be launched before taking a final breath.
On the surface, helicopters land on the deck of the Benthic Explorer and a team of Navy SEALs disembark along with a woman one sailor refers to as "Queen Bitch of the Universe". Seventeen hundred feet below on the ocean floor, a crew of divers are working on finishing an oil drill hole around Deep Core, an underwater drilling platform. Bud Brigman, the foreman of the operation, gets a call from the Explorer telling him that he and his divers will assist in a rescue operation of those left alive in the submarine. Military detachments would take too long to get on scene because of an incoming hurricane. The 'Queen Bitch' is revealed to be Lindsey Brigman, Bud's soon to be ex-wife and the designer of Deep Core. To assist with the rescue operation, Lindsey and four SEALs are sent down.
Bud and Lindsey have an argument about her being there, her saying that she came down to make sure they didn't screw things up to bad on 'her' rig and Bud saying that she really wanted to come because she was worried about him. Bud insults the man she was previously seeing and she snaps at him, asking him why he's still wearing his wedding ring when she stopped wearing hers months ago. Furious, Bud storms out of the room and throws his ring into the toilet. Regretting his action, he reaches elbow deep into the blue chemicals and retrieves the ring dying his arm blue.
The SEALs and the divers begin to suit up and head out to the wreckage which lies partway down the wall of a 3.5 mile deep trench in the ocean floor. They enter the sub and begin to search for survivors but find none. Jammer begins to hyperventilate at the sight of the dead submariners and stays behind while Bud and the others search the rest of the sub. A bright light appears inside the sub and Jammer begins to panic. In his rush to escape, he crushes the oxygen control valve on his suit, the extra O2 in the mix causing him to convulse and fall into a coma. Outside the sub, Lindsey's minisub loses power as a bright light illuminates the darkness only to return when the light disappears.
Back in Deep Core the SEALs are informed by their CO on the Explorer that two Soviet submarines have been detected dangerously close to the wreck site. As a precaution, the team is ordered to go to 'Phase 2' which entails recovering a nuclear warhead from one of the missiles in the submarine and arming it. Meanwhile, the workers are crowded around a small TV set which is running news reports on every channel about the increasing tensions between the US and Russia as a result of the sinking. An accidental collision between an American and Soviet ship during the storm complicates issues internationally with the Soviets withdrawing from the SALT treaties and mobilizing their forces.
The storm on the surface worsens, requiring the workers to disconnect the umbilical providing water, air and electricity to Deep Core from the Explorer. Unfortunately they need the robotic arm on their minisub, Flattop, to remove it; the minisub which was stolen by the SEALs to retrieve the warhead. When the storm above begins to blow the Explorer off course, it drags Deep Core along with it. Eventually the tension becomes so great that the crane on the Explorer breaks off and falls into the ocean, headed straight for the workers. The crane quickly descends as the workers prepare for impact but it harmlessly impacts the ocean floor a few hundred feet ahead of Deep Core. However, the crane's momentum carries it off the edge of the trench and it begins to pull Deep Core towards the abyss with it. Eventually Deep Core comes to a halt at the edge of the canyon. Half the vessel has flooded and six crew members have died. Perhaps worst of all, oxygen to the surface has been cut off and the survivors have 12 only hours of breathable air left.
Lindsey goes out to retrieve some spare oxygen tanks in the hopes of buying them more time and once again encounters the aliens. This time she gets a clear view of a smaller seal-like one and a huge one resembling a glowing manta-ray. Lt. Coffey, the commanding officer of the SEALs, begins to succumb to pressure sickness, becoming paranoid and psychotic. While the crew sleeps, a water tentacle emerges from the water in the moon pool and begins to search through the ship, finding the warhead. Panicked, Coffey severs the tentacle by closing all the doors to the moon pool.
Perceiving the Non-terrestrial Intelligences (NTIs) as a threat, he decides to proceed to 'Phase III' of his mission and prepares to send the nuke to the bottom of the trench in order to take them out. Bud tries to stop him but is outmatched by the trained SEAL. Coffey releases the nuke and it heads to the bottom of the trench. Lindsey and Bud attempt to chase Coffey down in their minisub Cab One and end up ramming Coffey and Flattop off into the abyss where Flattop reaches crush depth and implodes.
During the chase, Cab One is crippled and begins to take on water. There's only one diving suit in the sub and Bud is wearing it. Lindsey convinces him that the only way for both of them to survive is for her to drown and for Bud to tow her back to Deep Core where they can revive her. As the sub fills with water they kiss until there is no more air and Lindsey drowns. Bud swims back and with the help of the crew revives her.
With no other options left, Bud dons the Navy's liquid breathing suit which allows him to go down to the bottom of the trench with nothing but his suit and disarm the bomb. The liquid prevents him from speaking so he must type all his communications into a miniature keyboard on his wrist. After disarming the bomb and many a tearful confession from Lindsey, Bud realizes that he only has 5 minutes of oxygen left and sends a final message: LOVE YOU WIFE.
As he waits for the end, Bud sees an NTI approach him. It grabs his hand and takes him to the NTI's underwater city where he is given a chamber of breathable air surrounded by walls of water. The NTIs project television news reports on to one of the water walls showing that thousand foot high waves have been sent towards the coastlines of every continent. Bud asks why they are trying to wipe out humanity and receives a montage of images of nuclear detonations and war atrocities. The NTIs then show Bud his final message to Lindsey to show that his love for her has redeemed humanity in their eyes while on the surface the waves recede and the hurricane abates.
The NTI city then rises out of the depths to the surface of the ocean, lifting Deep Core, the Explorer, and the fleet of American warships surrounding it out of the water. The workers emerge from Deep Core as Bud walks out of the city. Lindsey runs over to Bud and they kiss.
The Abyss is a cult classic for a reason: some people love it and others hate it. The directors cut is generally regarded as a better film but introduces many flaws on its own. One of the flaws shared by both the theatrical and the director's cut is the way the romantic subplot between Bud and Lindsey is handled. To be blunt, the subplot should have stayed that way: its becoming a major plot point (i.e. the redemption of humanity) just seemed over the top Romantic and incongruous with the rest of the film.
Unfortunately the movie doesn't exactly stand up to repeat viewing. Like a horror movie, most of the big reveals only work once. In addition, the added scenes in the director's cut pertain almost entirely to the subplot about American and Soviet aggression and the increasing possibility of nuclear war. While these scenes may have been cutting edge when the film was released in 1989, it's now fairly dated and amounts to a moral browbeating by the director. Yes, nukes are bad, we get it.
There's a reason why The Abyss won the 1990 Oscar for Best Visual Effects and that's because the special effects in the film are stellar, even twenty years on. The decision to make the water tentacle computer animated worked beautifully and was one of the pioneering uses of CGI in film. However, because it was so new at the time, Cameron did not abuse computer special effects the same way most modern directors do or he himself would do in later years. Nearly all the special effects in the film are achieved by the use of models from the Benthic Explorer and Deep Core to the minisubs to the alien city. This results in an overall more 'real' looking movie and a more visually satisfying one.
Despite the achievements of the special effects, the factor most contributing to the realism of the film is the realism of the filming itself. Nearly half of the live-action filming took place underwater in the flooded portions of an incomplete nuclear power station. The water was deep enough that many of the actors and crew had to undergo decompression after filming and there were several near-accidents.
The casting of Michael Biehn as well as the cramped interiors of Deep Core are reminiscent of Cameron's earlier Aliens and The Terminator which is unfortunate because The Abyss is a completely different film. Ed Harris delivers an excellent performance as usual and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio is a good cast for the bitchy estranged wife. Most of the other actors are forgettable but their performances are neither over the top nor too subdued.
All in all, it's a movie worth seeing whether you're into the hokey sci-fi aspect or the cheesy 1980s action movie setting. The acting is quite compelling and the script is only slightly preachy (like most of Cameron's films). Seriously, go out, rent the movie, and enjoy the show, even if it's only for the amazing technical skill it took to film such a monster.