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Thursday, January 05, 2006

Musing Pictures: The Abyss

Whenever I heard mention of James Cameron's "The Abyss", I would get intrigued.

Here is a film about a bunch of reluctant explorers (there's that concept again) underwater, discovering new, weird, crazy things.

I was intrigued both for the mystery of it -- the "what's down there?" aspect -- and for the special effects, which were considered fairly top-of-the-line at the time (and they are).

What disappoints me, now that I've seen it, is that the film is actually a weak, underwater remake of Spielberg's "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" (which I feel is one of his most undervalued films). I think its weakness is most pronounced when its heavyhanded anti-violence, anti-war, anti-nuclear rhetoric overtakes the plot. It's an interesting story, but then the story stops so we can witness some demonstrations about how the military is inherently evil (which the film simply assumes). Basically, the military people in this underwater laboratory go insane -- or, at least, one of them does -- and all sorts of bad things happen. I'd be fine with this if it was just another character going nuts. And I'm fine with films that are genuinely critical of the military, or of militant types of authority. "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" is brilliantly critical by showing that the military, with all of its good intentions, simply doesn't understand what's going on along with everyone else -- and perhaps because it's the military, it can not afford to be as imaginative as regular people. That's a genuine critique, and it is woven very deftly in to Spielberg's narrative. In "The Abyss", Cameron, who can do short sequences really well (the sinking of the Titanic, or the emergence of the Terminator, etc.), can't seem to blend the storytelling with the preachiness, and the effect is that the film pauses every time Cameron thinks he has something important to say.

It wouldn't surprise me if someone remakes "The Abyss" someday. It will be a better film if the military's role is downplayed, and if the awe and wonder of exploration is really given its due.

-AzS

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