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James Cameron





Started : Directed, wrote and produced the short film Xenogenesis (1978)



Production Assistant on Rock and Roll High School (1979)
Art Director on Battle Beyond the Stars (1980)
Special Effects for Escape From New York (1981)
Production Designer Galaxy of Terror (1981) and design consultant on Android (1982)

Academy Award nominations/wins :
Film Editing - Titanic (1997)
Directing - Titanic (1997)
Best Picture - Titanic (1997)
Film Editing - Avatar (2009) - nom
Directing - Avatar (2009) - nom
Best Picture - Avatar (2009) - nom
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My movie ratings often go up or down a point or two after more reflection, research and rewatches.






The Abyss - 1989

Directed by James Cameron

Written by James Cameron

Starring Ed Harris, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio
& Michael Biehn

A raging storm threatens to tear apart an underwater drilling platform, and if that's not bad enough a group of Navy SEALS are on the brink of setting off a nuclear device. With all of that going on, you'd hardly expect much room for aliens in this post-Aliens blockbuster, but they show up anyway. James Cameron was never one to go for half measures, but in The Abyss there are memorable moments without the package as a whole really being memorable, despite all of the above crashing and cascading through underwater habitats. His most problematic movie, released during a cinematic year full of monumental blockbusters, it was an extravaganza which divided many moviegoers and split itself unevenly between being a science fiction epic featuring non-human entities and a human drama where most of the conflict is driven from it's human characters towards other humans - the alien element being left to one side for most part. Leaving behind interplanetary adventures and time-travelling robots, here Cameron focuses on a fascination from his youth : that of the unexplored deep ocean and man's attempts to conquer this almost forgotten frontier.

The year is 1994, and a U.S. nuclear submarine in the Caribbean Sea has foundered after running into something undefined. To investigate and salvage, the government sends a navy SEAL team to 'Deep Core', an underwater drilling platform manned by blue collar workers and engineers - tagging along is the platform's designer Dr. Lindsey Brigman (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio,) who just happens to be the estranged wife of the Deep Core's foreman Virgil "Bud" Brigman (Ed Harris.) While down there, strange apparitions that unnerve Lieutenant Hiram Coffey (Michael Biehn,) who is under orders to retrieve one of the nuclear warheads - and is also under the psychological effects of the deep sea environment. He causes a disaster by acting without the consultation of the Deep Core's crew, and things go from bad to worse when he loses his grip on reality altogether and arms one of the warheads for use against the encroaching lifeforms that are attempting to contact those on the platform. Cut off from their support ship, their habitat damaged and running out of oxygen, they must fight Coffey - more than their lives will depend on it.

It's the kind of story Cameron had been dreaming of since his very early days - that of the underwater adventure. As usual, he was just waiting for technology to catch up so he could start, and when he finally decided he would it was in partnership with his wife Gale Anne Hurd, who was and is a big name in the industry herself. Although she'd stick with him as far as helping him produce Terminator 2 : Judgement Day in later years, the period during the making of The Abyss would lead to their separation and eventual divorce. Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio's character was based on Hurd, but it's still strange to think of Lindsey and Bud bickering, on the brink of divorce, when Cameron and Hurd were in such a similar position. You never really get the sense that the characters in the film really love each other - but emotional complexity is something Cameron has sometimes struggled with in films.

Nobody can doubt for a moment that director Cameron is extremely well-equipped to overcome the technical challenges that come with the territory, which in this case means coming to grips with a great deal of underwater filming of action scenes. To that end he utilized massive water tanks which were originally constructed to put the Cherokee Nuclear Power Plant into action. The pressures that come with the hazards and difficulties for both the cast and crew brought some to the emotional breaking point and beyond - and made this an unhappy production. He succeeded, for whatever it's worth, in bringing the action-orientated part of the film off. From the close confines of the submarine-like sets to the underwater photography, experienced Swedish cinematographer Mikael Salomon (in his only collaboration with Cameron) was nominated for an Oscar but was beaten by Freddie Francis's work on Glory. He would graduate not long after from cinematographer to director and filmmaker himself, mainly sticking to television work after mediocre efforts like Hard Rain. This camera work is often the most challenging, and he does really bring it off - adding to the visual flair that the Oscar-winning effects crew brought to the production. They were aided by Dream Quest Images and ILM in bringing the water itself to life, in much the same way the T-1000 was in Cameron's Terminator 2 : Judgement Day.

The score gets the usual pulsing treatment from Alan Silvestri, bringing to mind his similar efforts on Predator at times, along with Back to the Future Part II which was the very next film he followed this up with. Silvestri has scored a huge number of big-budget Hollywood films, and those who watch The Abyss will be very familiar with his methods in action and sci-fi films. Cameron's script veers towards the former genre for the most part - his original intention being a film that winds up it's ending in keeping with the old science fiction films. Unfortunately the effects team couldn't bring off what he wanted, so what we end up with is a very low-key ending in the theatrical cut, and you can sense there's something missing there. In later releases we can see why - the whole crux of the film has seemingly been left on the cutting room floor, and the otherworldly entities have a much more than incidental bearing on the film as a whole. This package of score, cinematography, script and story - led by a group of frustrated and exhausted actors (only Michael Biehn brings off a worthwhile performance,) simply couldn't be finished in time. It has been now - and I urge anyone about to watch The Abyss to watch the Director's cut and see the story as it was meant to be.

For everything this film lacks, it's still worth seeing for moments of painful suspense that take place in an environment every bit as hostile as space. It doesn't come close to James Cameron's best work, but there's still a lot to like in The Abyss. It comes up short, but this film was so daring in it's designs that the endeavor produced a very decent film - albeit one with drawbacks that are common in a James Cameron film. A stillborn baby produced by a coupling of Das Boot and Close Encounters of the Third Kind that has been brought back to life after much CPR and pounding to deliver an ending in keeping with it's ambition.




I am the Watcher in the Night
Good review!

I have much the same thoughts when it comes to The Abyss. It's a pretty good film and well made technically, the water effects still hold up today but it feels too long and there's too little that actually happens. Then the sequence when he is whizzing through under water in what I remember is something to do with aliens just felt poorly written. For me its a 2.5/5 type of film. But the Cameron flair and style is still terrific.
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The Abyss is a film I really need to rewatch. Remember liking it quite a bit, but haven't seen it since the late 1990s maybe.
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The Abyss - 1989

Directed by James Cameron

Written by James Cameron

Starring Ed Harris, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio
& Michael Biehn


I watched The Abyss a few years ago, and I loved it. It deserves a rewatch because I don't remember much about it, (but that could be because of my poor memory, not the movie's fault).
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