James Cameron made a name for himself in the 1980s and ‘90s as one of the premier American filmmakers working in the industry, thanks to a slew of critically acclaimed and financially successful original blockbusters and franchise outings.
After making his directorial debut in 1981 with Piranha II: The Spawning, Cameron quickly proved his worth as an action and genre filmmaker with 1984’s The Terminator and 1986’s Aliens. Cameron, of course, then went on to make some of the most successful and ambitious films in the history of the medium, including 1997’s Titanic and 2009’s Avatar.
There’s one Cameron-directed film, however, that has strangely failed to maintain the same kind of popularity and name recognition as Cameron’s more noteworthy titles, but which is just as deserving of praise as anything the filmmaker has ever made — and it’s streaming right now on Amazon Prime, ready for you to give it its due.
A U.S. submarine encounters an unidentified object underneath the ocean and, and shortly afterward, sinks near the Cayman Trough. In response, the U.S. government sends a SEAL team to an underwater drilling platform located near the site of the accident to investigate it — unaware that underwater alien life lurks in the water around the platform.
That’s the basic premise of 1989’s The Abyss, which sees James Cameron and his collaborators going (literally) underwater in an exploration of humanity, our desire for conflict, and the need for peace and unity.
It’s a film that touches on themes that will be familiar to many experienced sci-fi fans out there, all of which are communicated through Cameron’s unmatched craftsmanship and visual eye.
The Abyss had a notoriously difficult production. Cameron’s desire to shoot the film’s underwater sequences as practically as possible meant that 40% of the filming on The Abyss was done in massive water tanks. Cameron, the film’s crew, and the actors all had to spend hours at a time underwater, which resulted in a decompression chamber being built on-site and special safety divers being assigned for each actor.
The process wore down everyone who worked on the film, but their hard work paid off. The Abyss is one of the most beautiful-looking films that Cameron has ever made, and that’s thanks in large part to the practical means in which it was shot and Mikael Salomon’s work as its cinematographer. It’s the kind of film that fills you with awe while watching because you just have no idea how they managed to make it.
But just like he does in almost all of his films, Cameron never lets the spectacle overwhelm The Abyss. Instead, the writer-director grounds everything that happens in the film in real human emotions. Cameron’s skillful balancing act is only elevated by the performances of the film’s cast members — specifically Ed Harris, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, and Michael Biehn.
The Abyss is a wild, awe-inspiring ride. It boasts all the things that make James Cameron’s films feel as special as they do, including truly incredible levels of spectacle and a cast of likable, flawed human characters. It’s also driven by a beautiful score by Alan Silvestri, which helps imbue the film with a sense of wonder and emotion from beginning to end.
All of this is to say that, The Abyss is another stellar entry in Cameron’s filmography — an underwater sci-fi adventure that should be discussed with the same level of reverence as Cameron’s more recognizable blockbusters. If you’ve got some time to kill this weekend, it’s well worth checking out for the first time.
The Abyss is available to stream now on Amazon Prime.