Movies My Dad Likes: The Abyss

We old fogies will be spending most of our time at home for the next few months as part of the strategy dealing with Covid 19. In order to survive the resulting isolation it’s a good idea to devise a weekly activity plan, a bit like the curriculum we had during our school days. For me there has to be a few slots for watching movies. I started with The Abyss, which is an unusual movie as the genre changes mid way through from action adventure to sci-fi

As it’s written and directed by James Cameron you will need an intermission, with the movie being close to three hours long. Nevertheless there’s never a dull moment with water action all the way. The story takes place completely at sea mostly below the waves during the Cold War. The plot and the action commence when a US ballistic submarine trying to shake off an unknown object, crashes into a rock face killing all aboard. Obviously the Russians are seen as the prime suspect for causing the disaster. 

The US assumes the Russians intend to salvage the wreck and are desperate to get there first to recover its missiles so they don’t fall into Soviet hands. Fortunately there’s a commercial drilling rig, aptly named Deepcore, on the seabed not too far away. The operators, thinking it was some kind of rescue attempt, agree to move the platform close to wreck site and to await a SEAL squad. The team operating the rig is headed up by Virgil “Bud” Brigman, a “lead by brave example” type. It could have been a classic Bruce Willis role, but thankfully it was given to Ed Harris who turns in a great performance. His crew comprise of all the expected stereotype characters including a fiercely loyal overweight with a giant fist, a singing submersible driver wearing a cowboy hat, and a rat carrying geek who can fix anything electronic.

When the SEALs’ chopper arrives Bud’s estranged wife Lindsey or to his crew “the queen bitch” is with them. She is the designer and chief engineer of the rig outranking her husband. This hard to believe character is well played by Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, and there is continued animosity between them. So they must be the perfect couple. The SEAL team is led by Lt. Hiram Coffey who develops a neurological disorder after the dive down to Deepcore. This means that he’s going to lose his marbles and be the bad guy for Bud to overcome. Michael Biehn playing Coffey turns him into the stellar character of the film. Gone are his hero antics of The Terminator and Aliens, he is by all accounts the resident baddie.

Bud’s crew and Coffey’s SEALs join forces to find the submarine and any potential survivors, but Coffey has a different agenda. He’s after a missile warhead and while the others undertake a pointless search for any humans still alive Coffey’s in and out of the missile bay to collect his prize without being seen. Lindsey in a submersible spot an strange light moving through the water at incredible speed followed by orange and blue luminescent objects that look like giant butterflies. Everyone accepts that they are alien to our planet, or as Hippy the rat man calls them NTI’s, non-terrestrial intelligences, except for Coffey. He sees them as new Russian weapons, which is a reflection of his paranoia.

Up on the surface a hurricane is wreaking damage to the support ship, causing the crane with Deepcore’s umbilical cord to break free and hurtle down to the rig. It’s a near miss and the cranes rolls into a bottomless chasm but they are still tethered to the umbilical and are pulled along stopping just short of the precipice. Deepcore springs many leaks and a number of the supporting characters are greatly reduced. After some semblance or order is obtained an NTI pays a visit through the moon pool in the form of a giant snake made entirely of seawater. It’s friendly enough and even morphs into Lindsey and Bud’s faces. Of course Coffey sees it as Russian technology far advanced of anything the US has. He takes it upon himself to rig his precious warhead so he can explode it near the submarine causing all the nuclear missiles to fire off the biggest bang in history and in so doing destroy any Russian gizmos in the vicinity. Of course nearby islands would evaporate if his plan could work. Thankfully in real life it’s an impossibility, but anything can happen in a movie! 

The still married couple set out to stop the madman but during a submersible battle theirs is damaged beyond repair and Lindsey drowns. Not to worry because writer Cameron knows how to revive the dead. In the end Bud has to break the diving depth record by a country mile in order to foil Coffey’s dastardly plan and in the process finds some new friends. Even by today’s standards of digital effects, The Abyss is still an impressive piece of filmmaking that only Cameron could have made. It’s just a shame he’s spent more than a decade of his life working on what I’m told is four sequels to Avatar.

Stay safe out there.


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