Directed and Written by James Cameron
Water is not the director's friend. Actors immersed in it do not have many opportunities for sharp repartee. It provides no cover for the villain to sneak up on the hero. It turns action sequences into exercises in slow motion. It is costly to work in and obscures expensive and imaginative special-effects work.
All of this having been made obvious by dozens of subaqueous movies, one has to wonder why James Cameron, whose Aliens and The Terminator were among the smartest and most frugally made recent entertainments, plunged into the $50 million-plus Abyss. Or, if he was sending his cast on a dive into a bottomless ocean trough, why he didn't at least arrange to have a monster paddle up to meet them.
The situation seems promising. A nuclear submarine has a mysterious accident at the edge of an ocean canyon, and the only hope for rescue is the crew of a futuristic underwater oil-drilling rig working nearby. The rig's designer (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio), who is the estranged wife of its master (Ed Harris), drops down to help and bicker. So does a Navy diving team whose leader (Michael Biehn) suffers a psychotic break caused by the great depths. He becomes particularly obstreperous after he recovers a warhead from the wreck.
A good thing, too, because he is the only menace around -- not nearly enough to sustain this endless tale. As it turns out, there is nothing else in the deep except some benign escapees from Steven Spielberg country. Harris and Mastrantonio do have a strong death and resurrection sequence, but long before that, one is pining for a rubber shark or a plastic octopus -- anything, in fact, out of a good old low-tech thriller.