Scott Hardie: “It ruled.”

I have heard great things about "The Abyss" for fifteen years, and as I see it now while trying to finish the James Cameron oeuvre, I am struck by how thoroughly it demonstrates his strengths and his weaknesses. For the latter, there is the human element: Many actors' chief complaint about Cameron is that he spends hours every day obsessing over the most minute details of the hardware on display in his films, but his direction to the cast is often as simple as "look scared." Luckily, he is wise at casting: Ed Harris and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio are actors of undoubtable intelligence, who provide a foundation of believeability and sympathy in an ocean (forgive the pun) of fantastic concepts; like Sigourney Weaver and Kate Winslet, they carry the human element well enough that Cameron doesn't have to. Cameron's strength is in the extreme technical detail of his work; the payoff of his obsession is that these amazing, unfamiliar worlds feel totally real, as close to the real thing as the movies can get. In this film, the sensation of actually being at the bottom of the ocean aboard this industrial rig is remarkable, and it inspires fascination. If the science fiction element seems superfluous to the film, especially during the cliched and too-implausible ending, it's because Cameron has done the real-world stuff so impeccably well. This is not Cameron's best work, but it is pretty good, and carries my strong recommendation.

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