The Abyss: Special Edition (1989)

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Released 1-Nov-2000

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Science Fiction Seamless Branching-Original Theatrical Version/Special Edition
Biographies-Cast & Crew
Production Notes
Notes-Original Treatment
Featurette-Crane Crash Shoot, Surface Shoot Montage
Featurette-Engine Room Flooding, Montana Bridge Flooding
Featurette-Deepcore Timelapse, Visual Effects Reel
Featurette-Videomatics Montage
Multiple Angles-Pseudopod (5:42)
Featurette-Miniature Rear Projection,Motion Control Timelapse
Featurette-The Abyss (10:27)
Featurette-Under Pressure: Making "The Abyss" (59:29)
Subtitle Commentary
Main Menu Audio & Animation
THX Trailer
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1989
Running Time 139:14 (Case: 171)
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (62:27) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By James Cameron

Twentieth Century Fox
Starring Ed Harris
Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio
Michael Biehn
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI $36.95 Music Alan Silvestri

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
Not 16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.40:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
English Text Commentary
Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement Yes, mildly
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis


    Well I can't start this review without addressing two burning questions about this much-anticipated DVD release: there is no 16x9 enhancement, and the censor's knife has left the rat "drowning" scene alone. The other most notable features of this presentation are obviously the dual DVD format, and the fact that seamless branching has been employed to allow the viewer the option of watching either the original Theatrical Version of the movie, or the Special Edition, which incorporates an extra 28 minutes of footage into the feature, and an additional 3 minutes of closing credits.


    The Abyss is a movie which defies classification into any one genre: sci-fi, action, romance and adventure, it manages to put its story above all such concerns. One of the few truly great big budget science fiction movies I can remember, I have seen it once every couple of years since its theatrical release in 1989, and like many others, I was excited to hear of its release on DVD, and extremely chuffed to have had access to a pre-release review copy for my viewing pleasure.

    Director James Cameron (Terminator 2, True Lies) must by now be considered to be master creator of big-budget epics, but his films all have one thing in common: they all have a heart, and a human story amongst all the effects. The Abyss, probably his most ambitious effort to date, is no different. Filmed almost entirely underwater, it centers on an underwater oil rigging crew who are commandeered by the Navy to search for survivors of the sinking of one of its nuclear submarines, which may or may not have been sunk by a Russian vessel. Teetering on the edge of a 2 1/2 mile canyon in the ocean floor whilst a cyclone rages above them, the Navy's men sent to join the riggers aren't exactly looking for survivors, and they don't exactly discover ruddy-faced men sitting around and drinking vodka, either.

    The crew of the rig consist of your usual ragged-but-lovable types, headed by Bud Brigman (Ed Harris): a man with chiselled good looks, courage, practicality, and a healthy streak of anti-authoritarianism. He is flanked by his colourfully-named crew including Hippy (Todd Graff) the rat-keeping conspiracy theorist, Catfish (Leo Burmester), his right hand man, man mountain Jammer (John Bedford Lloyd) and One Night (Kimberly Scott), the country music-lovin' gal.

    When the Navy SEALs are sent down to the rig to lead the salvage effort, they are joined by Bud's estranged wife Lindsey (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio), the designer of the rig, and referred to as "queen b**** of the universe" in her introduction to the movie. Not only do Bud and Lindsey need to redefine their relationship, but calamitous events overtake them all, and when the leader of the Navy SEALs (Michael Biehn) develops pressure-induced psychosis, there are nuclear weapons involved, and there is some unknown force hiding in the abyss, you know things are gonna get interesting.

    Ed Harris (The Truman Show) and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio (The Perfect Storm) are excellent in holding the emotional centre of the movie, and despite the effects, all manner of catastrophes and alien visitations, it is the love story which drives the plot and gives it much of its emotional pull. Michael Biehn (The Terminator) does well to keep the reigns on his psychotic character, and the balance of the support cast all do well to keep Bud and Lindsey the focus of this story as extraordinary events take place around them.

    Logistically an incredible effort, despite the fantasy elements of the story The Abyss retains a level of believability, which has much to do with the excellent special effects, and the use of an amazing underwater set and props such as remotely operated vehicles and high-tech submersibles to keep the viewer hooked into the story. On the basis of the excellent filmmaking and acting, it is a movie that although underrated at the time of its release, has stood the test of time for me.

    The additional footage of the Special Edition is almost mandatory, as it adds meaning to the ending and overall feel of the movie, as well as to some of the relationships between the characters. If you haven't seen this movie before I'd almost recommend ignoring the Theatrical Version, unless you have a particular desire to compare the two for yourself.

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Transfer Quality


    The transfer is presented at a measured aspect ratio of 2.30:1 (not 2.35:1 as stated on the packaging). It is also NOT 16x9 enhanced, again contrary to what the packaging states. Despite the lack of enhancement, though, this is an reasonably good transfer for a movie now in excess of 10 years old.

    As you would imagine, the lack of 16x9 enhancement leads to a noticeable across-the-board lack of detail. This is especially evident in the backgrounds, and it becomes annoying in the occasional scene where the focal point of the frame is in the distance, and there are significant foreground elements, such as at 60:52 where Bud is climbing down a spiral staircase, and he positively blurs into the distance, and at 120:42 where Bud's message from the deep is a little difficult to make out on the display. Some bubbles rising in the distance at 31:42 were a little jittery, however the most apparent lack of detail was produced in the wide shots, an example of which can be found at 154:10. Importantly, though, shadow detail is very good (subject to the general limitation of the lack of detail referred to above), with much of the action taking place in the shadows .

    There is also at times problems with grain. In some instances it is probably inherent in the source material due to the dark and murky settings pierced by bright lights (such as at 58:51 and 102:44), but at some instances it may not have been so inherent (such as at 86:40 and 93:10).

    Subject to the fact that the major part of the movie is shot underwater and in semi-darkness, colours are represented fairly well. Most of the lighting is fluorescent in nature, giving the actors a somewhat unhealthy pallor, however in the few shots above the surface, skin tones were represented well. Also nicely represented were the bright mauves and purples of the NTIs and the bright green of Bud's flare in the climactic final scenes. Blacks and dark blues of the ocean night, which represented the bulk of the colours on show, were full and deep, greatly aiding the overall presentation of the transfer.

    I saw no MPEG artefacts, and no aliasing whatsoever. Film artefacts, on the other hand were quite frequent, however they were quite minor when they did occur. Most such artefacts were in the nature of black flecks, and therefore fairly inconspicuous due to the colour scheme of the film (the most apparent occurring at 62:11), however, there were some more noticeable instances of white flecks on a black background at 61:32 to 63:03, and again at 63:10 and 90:04. There appeared to be a missing frame at both 150:31 and 154:10, causing a little jump at these points.

    Both DVDs in the set are Dual Layered. The layer change on Disc 1 occurs at 79:02 if watching the Special Edition, and at 62:27 if watching the Theatrical Version. The changes obviously occur at the same place, but at different times due to the differing running times of the two versions. The pause is reasonably noticeable, but, as it is placed between scenes, it is only nominally distracting. I couldn't spot the layer change on Disc 2, but no doubt it was placed somewhere between the numerous extras.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    The sole audio track on this DVD is a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, and the THX remastering has produced a superb listening experience with no flaws in it whatsoever.

    The dialogue was clear and easy to understand, including the numerous lines spoken from within diving helmets and submersibles, however there was a slight but noticeable difference in quality between the original dialogue and the remastered portion of the soundtrack. Generally speaking, audio sync was not an issue, however, there seem to have been a number of instances of relaid dialogue, probably a result of the remastering process, which didn't quite fit, such as at 92:42, accenting the slightly lesser quality of the original dialogue track compared to the balance of the sound effects.

    The Alan Silvestri (Forrest Gump) score ranged from traditional dramatic orchestral themes to military themes, and was suitably filled with "awe and wonder" type themes at the relevant moments.

    Use of the surrounds was always going to be crucial in the viewing of this movie, and the transfer does not disappoint. Although the surrounds were not constantly in use, they were used beautifully at times to capture the claustrophobic nature of the underwater setting. Especially notable were the times when the camera's point of view was inside a submersible vehicle or in fact within a dive helmet. Other good uses came during the storm scenes on the ocean above, as well as for the helicopter landing near the beginning of the movie. The sound was never directionally specific, but rather, served to envelop across a wide soundstage. The only drawback were the occasional times where I felt that a little more atmosphere could have been added as almost all of the action occurred in steel chambers, from which I would have expected a little more ambient noise such as echo.

    The subwoofer really got a good workout throughout most of the movie, from the rumbling of the underwater vehicles (including the submarine) to the huge crashes of the action sequences. It never drew attention to itself, but was well integrated into the mix, as it often filled out some of the deeper ambient sounds and parts of the score.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    Take a deep, deep breath, as you dip into the mountain of extras on offer here. The only thing missing is a full director's commentary.


    Initially, I was greeted by a menu directing me to select either the Special Edition or the Theatrical Version. The main menu features a purpose made animated CGI rendering of the sub bay in 1.33:1, animated intro and cut-aways, and an excerpt from the score looping in Dolby Digital 2.0 Dolby Surround. Quite a bit of effort seems to have gone into it, and it is perfectly themed to the feature. For some strange reason, there is a soundtrack selection submenu with only one option. Disc 2 features a similar main menu.

Personnel Lockers

    Comprehensive biographies and filmographies of Ed Harris, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Michael Biehn, Todd Graff, Leo Burmester, Kimberly Scott, John Bedford Lloyd, J.C Quinn, Capt Kidd Brewer Jr., Adam Nelson, Christopher Murphy, George Robert Klek, James Cameron, producer Gale Ann Hurd, Director of Photography Mikael Salomon, underwater D.P. and supervisor Al Giddings, production designer Leslie Dilley and Alan Silvestri. This section also contains various production notes entitled About The Story, Building Deepcore, Filming Underwater, The Diving Gear, Recording Dialogue Underwater and The Submersibles.

Shooting Script

    The entire script in quite easy to read format.

Original Treatment

    Kind of like the movie in novella form by James Cameron.

Original Storyboards

    All 773 of them, laid out in order.

Image Gallery

    Literally hundreds of images arranged by category from production stills to concept designs to publicity images.

Crane Crash Shoot (0:21)

    A very brief look at the shooting of this scene performed with miniatures, in 1.33:1 and with Dolby Digital 2.0 Dolby Surround sound.

Surface Shoot Montage (0:30)

    Shooting of the Explorer and destroyer miniatures on the stormy ocean surface in 1.33:1 and with Dolby Digital 2.0 Dolby Surround sound.

Engine Room Flooding (0:42)

    Production footage of the flooding of this miniature in 1.33:1 and with Dolby Digital 2.0 Dolby Surround sound.

Montana Bridge Flooding (0:35)

    Production footage of this scene at 1.33:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 Dolby Surround sound.

Visual Effects Reel (20:34)

    The entire movie effects-wise condensed into 20 minutes for submission to the Academy for awards consideration. 2.30:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 Dolby Surround sound.

Videomatics Montage (1:45)

    Production footage from the shooting of some more effects, in 1.33:1 (but you can hit the subtitle button to toggle to and from letterboxed 2.35:1) with Dolby Digital 2.0 Dolby Surround sound.

Deepcore Timelapse (7:16)

    Months of construction of the main tank which eventually housed the deepcore is condensed and played in time lapse. It is interesting for a little while, but does go on a tad too long. 1.33:1, with excerpts from the score playing in Dolby Digital 2.0 Dolby Surround.

Pseudopod Multi-Angle (5:42)

    Similar to the tunnel sequence deconstruction found on the Men In Black DVD, this section utilizes the multi-angle feature allowing the toggling between 4 aspects of the production of this sequence, namely 1. Final Version, 2. Storyboards, 3. Original Dailies and 4. Working Cut. Visual quality is questionable for the latter two. 1.33:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 Dolby Surround sound.

Miniature Rear Projection (0:28)

    Demonstrates how rear projection was used to place humans in the miniatures of the submersible vehicles for the wide shots. 1.33:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 Dolby Surround sound.

Motion Control Timelapse Montage (1.01)

    This is a wide angle shot in time lapse of the Montana search sequence demonstrating the use of the miniature models. 1.33:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 Dolby Surround sound.

Teaser Trailer (1:12)

    1.78:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 Dolby Surround sound. This is of excellent quality.

Theatrical Trailer (2:57)

    1.78:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 Dolby Surround sound. Good quality, however it gives away a little too much of the movie for my liking.

Reviews Trailer (0:39)

    2.20:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 Dolby Surround sound, this is a shortened version of the Theatrical Trailer, with voice-over excerpts from reviews.

"The Abyss" Featurette (10:27)

    This promotional preview type featurette is probably better than most I've seen. As well as some production info, it contains interviews with James Cameron from inside a diving suit, and an interview with Michael Biehn, where he seems to defend the villainous nature of his character. It is presented at 1.33:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 Dolby Surround sound, and is of good quality with the exception of some grain probably inherent in the source material.

Featurette: Under Pressure: Making "The Abyss" (59:29)

    A fascinating look at all aspects of the production of the movie, this featurette contains interviews with the cast and extended crew, as well as plenty of production footage. This is very much a documentary on the making of the movie, rather than the usual promotional stuff. It is presented at 1.33:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 Dolby Surround sound, and is of quality comparable to the featurette above.

English Text Commentary

    Here, a commentary is provided in subtitle form (for both versions of the film). Although it contained many informative snippets of information concerning all aspects of the production, I found that it went quite quickly, forcing me to spend the entire time reading rather than looking at the action that was being described (without constantly turning to the remote to pause the action). On this basis, I felt that it was no match for a traditional spoken commentary, which requires far less effort to glean the information on offer. They could have at least had someone read the d*** things over the film, even if it wasn't the director.

THX Trailer


    A welcome addition to this presentation is the inclusion of a description of the location and content of the 28 minutes of restored footage contained in the Special Edition. Also listed are the Chapter Points for both versions, as well as those for Under Pressure: The Making of "The Abyss".

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 4 version of this disc misses out on;     The Region 1 version of this disc misses out on;     Extra features on the Region 1 version are bits and pieces only, and for me, not enough to compel me to lose the superior PAL formatting, especially in light of the lack of 16x9 enhancement of both versions.


    The Abyss represents one of the triumphs in a career studded with highlights for writer director James Cameron, both logistically and in terms of its portrayal of humanity as a whole on one hand, and specific human relationships on the other. The lack of detail produced by the absence of 16x9 enhancement is a major disappointment on an otherwise exemplary DVD presentation in terms of audio and extras, and this reviewer can only wonder why this fundamental issue has been neglected at such great expense to the overall viewing experience.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Anthony Curulli (read my bio)
Monday, October 30, 2000
Review Equipment
DVDToshiba 2109, using S-Video output
DisplaySony Trinitron Wega (80cm). Calibrated with AVIA Guide To Home Theatre. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with AVIA Guide To Home Theatre.
AmplificationPioneer VSX-D608
SpeakersFront: Yamaha NS10M, Rear: Wharfedale Diamond 7.1, Center: Wharfedale Sapphire, Sub: Aaron 120W

Other Reviews NONE
Comments (Add)
Bits & Pieces - cztery
Still not 16x9 - Blade
Beats me, Blade ! - Bran (my bio, or something very like it)
Beats me, Blade ! - Bran (my bio, or something very like it)
16-9 Enhancement - cztery
It's a misprint, no 16:9 edition exists. - cztery
Intentional misprint ? - Bran (my bio, or something very like it)
Re: Intentional misprint ? - cztery
Seen Both - cztery