Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Movies of Moebius: The Abyss (1989)

The aliens almost make this movie worth it.

This is probably the most James Cameron-y of all of James Cameron's movies. You have a working class hero in Bud (Ed Harris), a "strong" female lead in Lindsey (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio), who everyone refers to as a "bitch" even though we don't see it as audience. You have some hot-shot military guys as antagonists, as well as the elements of nature itself (in this case, the deep sea). You have plenty of special effects and action sequences, clunky dialogue, a bloated running time and some goofy, preachy philosophizing.

But the designs for the aliens -- which were conceived by Moebius -- almost make the movie work. They are both familiar and foreign and their flickering lights and graceful beauty make it easy to understand why the characters feel such awe when they see them. Even though some of the effects look dated now (the computer generated stuff isn't blended very well with the human characters), there is still something affecting about these scenes.

Still, the movie is mostly a slog. There's no reason it needs to be nearly three hours long, and the exciting parts are dragged down by slow, excruciating drama. The underwater scenes are certainly thrilling, but there's never a moment where what's going to happen is ever a question. Everything is telegraphed so far ahead of time it's easy for you to just want Cameron to get to the point.

Only the bizarre shift into preachiness toward the end -- the aliens are upset with us because we don't get along! -- is surprising. The aliens' underwater city is breathtaking and transporting, but those scenes feel like they belong in another movie. Maybe in a movie that's better.

In the end, The Abyss is what it is -- a James Cameron movie with some cool-looking creatures designed by Moebius. There's not much more to it than that.

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