make a film with children and dogs," Alfred Hitchcock once warned.
Had the great director lived any longer I'm sure that he would have added: "And
don't film anything on water..." Ask Steven Spielberg. He'll
tell you anytime of the day. Filming on water (or underwater that matter!) is
always haphazardous. On the first day of filming [Jaws (1975)] the mechanical
shark they used in the film sank straight to the bottom of the ocean. Things went
from bad to worse from there on: the film went mega-overbudget and Spielberg thought
that he would never work in Hollywood again. Then the film proved to be an enormous
hit and Spielberg's career was cemented. But obviously he declined to do the sequel.
Films on water - even when they go way over budget - aren't always bombs at the
box office. Ask Kevin Costner. Even Waterworld (1995), one of
the world's most expensive movies ever made eventually got its money and in the
end, with video sales, television screenings and the non-USA market, somehow even
managed to generate a small profit...
Ask James Cameron. After his The Abyss he would probably
have told you that one should never ever film anything on water. But no doubt
he ignored his own advice and went on to make Titanic (1997). The rest is movie
history: although the film cost a whopping $200 million to make, it rewarded its
investors handsomely by becoming one of the ten biggest box office hits of all
time in less than a month. Unfortunately Cameron wasn't as lucky with The Abyss.
Costing a fortune to make, the film was never really the big hit that its producers
were hoping it would be.
doesn't make it a bad film. The first thing that strikes one about The Abyss
is its sheer professionalism. Not merely on director Cameron's part but on the
part of the actors as well. While it is a special effects movie, not for a moment
does it overwhelm the film's characters. One seldom says to oneself: "Wow!
Look at the special effects!" Instead one gets drawn into the story and its
characters pretty quickly. Sure, some bits veer into overwrought melodrama same
as happened in Cameron's later Titanic (1997), but unlike that film the love story
element in The Abyss is much more convincing maybe because Ed Harris
and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio are better actors than Leonardo Dicaprio
and Kate Winslet.
However, in the end the film's star is director James Cameron
who does his stuff superbly: The Abyss delivers some real thrills
as did his The Terminator (1984) and Aliens (1986). A fantastic creature
made out of seawater is a taste of the advanced "liquid metal" terminator
in Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991). Perhaps he does too good a job because ultimately
The Abyss disappoints because it never delivers on its premise. The
film builds up to something that it can't deliver. Suddenly it stops being a suspenseful
underwater adventure and turns into Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977). Yet, as Leonard
Matlin said of the film: it remains "a fascinating one-of-a-kind experience."
Review by James O'Ehley from The
Sci-Fi Movie Page.