The Abyss movie still
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171 min.
Release Date
The Abyss movie still

The purest expression of James Cameron’s artistic sensibilities, technical fanaticism, and thematic obsessions lies in The Abyss. As with most of his films, Cameron’s 1989 feature deploys extensive formal wizardry and a breakneck momentum in service of a high-tech extravaganza. The film’s bold and unconventional methods bolster themes that critique masculine violence and duplicitous institutions; it also valorizes female intuition, yearns for peace, and encourages harmony between humanity and the natural world. But unlike the director’s more actionized scenarios in the Terminator and Avatar franchises, the film doesn’t contradict itself by sensationalizing or glamorizing violence. While indulging his fascination with genre, engineering, and undersea technology, which preoccupy much of his filmography, Cameron’s story confronts humanity with global destruction by a superior species. And while his moving commentary draws from Atomic Age science fiction, its astounding presentation remains incomparable in terms of sheer scope and realism. No other underwater film compares. Cameron maintains that the shoot was his most difficult; it’s undoubtedly his most risky. Even today, it remains among the most technically ambitious productions in film history. Doubtlessly, nothing like it will ever be attempted again. But even as The Abyss is Cameron’s least successful film in terms of profits—a bar he usually sets to record-breaking heights—the film negotiates his recurrent themes and lifelong fixations with more effort and sensitivity than any other in his career.

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