James Cameron is an interesting guy, I suppose. I have never met him. He seems kind of vain when watching him in interviews. He does have some genuine interests, though. He appears to be quite dedicated to his craft. Think about some of the classic films of recent decades, not of the Star Wars variety, and his name is found next to many of them. With titles like The Terminator (1984), Aliens (1986), and Titanic (1997), it is safe to say that he is a bit of a visionary. And then there is The Abyss (1989). I am not sure what to make of this film. Before last night (after a pitiful performance by my Bears) I had not seen it. Now that I have, yay?
The Abyss jumps right in with a nuclear submarine underwater somewhere in the world. Later on it is suggested that it is somewhere near Cuba. I may be misremembering, but if so, this would be problematic. However, I am getting ahead of myself. The vessel’s sonar pick up . . . something, and we are treated to some lovely submerged model work with pretty lights zooming by it. Apparently these pretty lights are pretty deadly, for close encounters with them knocks out electricity (except when the script says otherwise), causing the submarine to collide, breach, and subsequently sink taking all hands down with it. The United States Navy is not too keen to have its nuclear submarines lying around on the seafloor, and they dispatch a Sea, Air, and Land Team (SEAL, bet you did not know that was an acronym!) to the area to dive on the wreck, led by Lieutenant Hiram Coffey (Michael Biehn). They are to be assisted by a group of oil workers with a giant, movable rig that happens to be roughly in the vicinity. This behemoth machine is designed by Lindsey Brigman (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) and run by Bud Brigman (Ed Harris). If you noted their shared name, it is because they are married, though their relationship has been strained by reasons not pictured. It is also unclear why she is there, but she shows up on the rig’s topside tender, jumps into a mini-submersible, and drops down to the rig along with the SEAL team. Maguffin alert: as they are adjusting to the pressure, Lindsey reminds them about a psychosis that can bring on eventual insanity, and one sign of this is shaky hands. The SEALs all do the tough-guy routine, but guess who we see with a tremor in their digits? You guessed it, Lieutenant Coffey. At first, they all work together to make it to the nuclear submarine and retrieve what they need to obtain from it. But conditions deteriorate, both on the surface with a hurricane, and below as Lieutenant Coffey slips further into insanity. Oh yeah, and remember those pretty lights? Lindsey refers to them (annoyingly) as non-terrestrial intelligences (NTIs), but for the sake of shorthand they shall be called aliens. Anyway, they are still around too. Lieutenant Coffey, not really understanding reality anymore, believes it is his duty to arm a nuclear warhead and drop it down to where they believe the aliens reside because he thinks they are Russians (hooray for the Cold War!). He manages to strap the explosive to an unmanned submersible and send it on its way too, leaving it up to Bud to go deep after it on his own, for some reason. And he actually manages to make it to the bomb before it goes off and disarms it. While at that extreme depth, he comes face to . . . um, face with the aliens, and is taken into a giant ship of some kind where his life is spared. From there, everything comes back to the surface and the movie ends.
There were many moments while watching The Abyss where I said aloud, “Huh?” or “What?” I am not going to get into the science stuff, though as I alluded to earlier, if this film is set where I think it is, then that is one huge impossibility acting as a mark against this film. There were some other things, but I do not want to risk sounding like a complete idiot. Maybe only a half-idiot? I can say this with 100 percent certainty, thanks to my lifeguard training: slapping is not how you resuscitate a drowning victim. Instead, the part of this film I understood least was the relationship between Lindsey and Bud. When he first learns that she is coming down to the rig, he meets this news with, well, let us just say trepidation. They immediately begin fighting, and so frustrated does he become that he nearly flushes his wedding ring down the toilet. But because they are thrust into trying circumstances, all of the sudden they realize that they love each other? Call me old fashioned, but I feel like relationships that are sparked (or re-sparked, as is here the case) from life-or-death situations are not ones with a firm foundation to last, and I like to see relationships that last. Hence this little side plot is distracting and flimsy.
I will now use The Abyss to give a short treatise on a Catholic stance on aliens. Yes, you read that correctly. It is a tired argument I have heard too many times that since aliens (allegedly) exist, that means there is not God. Ask many people today and they will likely tell they believe in the existence of extra-terrestrial intelligence (ETI, I guess). Could be. Could very well be. While I do not wish to disappear down the rabbit hole of conspiracy theories, tell me one thing: where is the definitive proof that they are real? Please do not fill up the comment box (for a change) with links to videos or articles that supposedly provide such proof. Still, let us just say that there are beings living on other worlds. How does that preclude God? The Bible is pretty clear about the fact that God created the universe, of which are Earth is but a part. It does not state that Earth is the only place that he could have blessed with a being created in His own image. Who knows? God’s creation is still vast and mysterious. In His infinite wisdom, He might have made only one place for life as we know it, Earth, and left the rest of the universe bereft. We just do not know with any degree of true certainty, and anyone who says otherwise is kidding themselves. Truly, only God knows. As for The Abyss, the aliens in it seem kind enough, though they cause the destruction of a nuclear submarine and all its crew. But as long as Lindsey has fun sticking her tongue out at them, it is fine, right?
In hindsight, I suppose I do know what to make of The Abyss: it stinks. Maybe it was cooler in 1989 with all the cutting edge James Cameron special effects? Anyway, I am critical of it because I am not sure it had a point. Was there supposed to be some kind of anti-nuclear weapons message? And yet not every member of the military is portrayed as a warmonger. Perhaps it is anti-oil? And yet the oil rig workers were the real heroes of the film, particular Bud. Peace and harmony among all beings? Maybe, but Lindsey and Bud watch Lieutenant Coffey drop to a depth that eventually crushes his mini-submersible with him aboard. If this is a love story, then why have all this other distracting crap? So many questions, and because of them, I say pass.