The Abyss

You might remem­ber this 1989 James Cameron movie.

Yeah that one. I caught up with it about halfway through last night, and I don’t think I’d seen it in maybe a dozen years. I remem­ber hav­ing want­ed to like it as a kid, as I was into stuff like aliens and Atlantis, but I also remem­ber feel­ing as though the under­wa­ter intel­li­gences were hard­ly empha­sized, almost as an after­thought, and that the main plot revolved around some bor­ing adult dra­ma stuff blah blah Cold War. And also that the end­ing was hor­ri­bly unsat­is­fy­ing.

Man, I was right, espe­cial­ly about the end­ing. Okay so the final plot point is that Ed Har­ris needs to go like four miles deep­er than their sub­ma­rine already is, by him­self, in just a div­ing suit whose hel­met won’t implode because it’s filled with pink breath­ing flu­id instead of air. They claim that it’s sim­i­lar to the stuff you breathed “for nine months” in the womb, but I thought oxy­gen was sup­plied by the umbil­i­cal cord? At any rate, down he goes, until he’s greet­ed by one of these non-ter­res­tri­al intel­li­gences who just kind of glows and blinks at him for a while before tak­ing his hand and lead­ing him to this grand under­wa­ter city.

Ear­li­er we had seen what we assumed to be a ship belong­ing to these guys, though it was flu­id and seem­ing­ly bio­lu­mi­nes­cent. One of the crew had sug­gest­ed that “their whole tech­nol­o­gy” is based on manip­u­lat­ing water, so okay, I can sus­pend belief enough for that, it’s a cool idea any­way. So as Ed Har­ris and this alien are careen­ing through this under­wa­ter city we imag­ine, Okay, maybe these sky­scraper-like struc­tures are made of water, whether they freeze it or oth­er­wise fix it mol­e­c­u­lar­ly by ion­iz­ing it or some­thing?, look, I’m not a chemist.

So these crea­tures pro­vide a lit­tle bub­ble-room for Ed Har­ris to breathe in. Every­one up in the sub thinks he’s dead because his flu­id was sched­uled to run out of oxy­gen. They’re report­ing this to the sur­face, where a big tanker thing is about to res­cue them, when Ed starts typ­ing more mes­sages to them on his pow­er glove. “Made some new friends down here” or some­thing. “Keep your panty­hose on. You’re gonna love this.” Then there are all these tremors, and Chris Elliott is on sonar going “It’s every­where!, it’s every­where!”, until final­ly what appears to be the whole under­wa­ter city sur­faces, its big sky­scrap­ers revealed to be made of noth­ing more than pur­ple mold­ed plas­tic. Every­body just kind of grins at how pret­ty it is, seem­ing­ly not slight­ly fazed by it, then Ed Har­ris and what’s-her-name kiss, then the cred­its roll.

So you’re left won­der­ing a mil­lion things: Did their whole under­wa­ter city rise up, or was it just some craft? Why is their city made of pur­ple mold­ed plas­tic? Where are the crea­tures at this point? With­in some pres­sur­ized tank in the depths of the city/craft? Assum­ing that they evolved total­ly inde­pen­dent­ly of us, and are essen­tial­ly deep-ocean “aliens,” how would they sur­vive sur­fac­ing like that? Sure­ly they did­n’t just send their city up to show every­body while they remained down there. Are they more intel­li­gent than us? Have they known about us all along? If so, why is a brief encounter watch­ing Ed Har­ris cough up some pink flu­id impe­tus enough for them to final­ly reveal them­selves? If not, why aren’t they scared shit­less by us? And isn’t sur­fac­ing your whole damn under­wa­ter city kind of a grace­less way to announce your exis­tence? What the hell hap­pens in the hour fol­low­ing the end of the movie? Every­thing I described hap­pens in the space of about five min­utes, isn’t that kind of rushed for events that are so sig­nif­i­cant? It’s just so lack­lus­ter. In real life we’d have just acknowl­edged their exis­tence, then slow­ly start­ed send­ing down gold records to intro­duce them to Bil­lie Hol­i­day and the dec­i­mal num­ber sys­tem and oth­er things that define us as a species.

And how am I expect­ed to care about some para­noid Red-scared Navy guy with a nuke when there are god damn ALIENS around? What do you want this movie to be about, any­way? Sub­plots are sup­posed to be less over­whelm­ing than that, just some­thing to help give the main plot momen­tum, like Paul Reis­er in Aliens want­i­ng to become rich off the alien spec­i­mens. That sub­plot threw a mon­key wrench into things like it should have; the nukes thing in The Abyss is just a dis­trac­tion and an annoy­ance. It’s like stick­ing a globe-threat­en­ing mete­or into The Exor­cist; I’m try­ing to watch a movie about a damn exor­cism here, take your stu­pid mete­or else­where.

Inde­pen­dent­ly evolved deep-sea intel­li­gence is a great sci­ence fic­tion premise, why did it have to be wast­ed on such a crap­py movie.