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The Abyss: Special Edition

Tired of waiting around for your favorite movies to arrive on DVD? For fans of James Cameron's 1989 The Abyss, the wait seemed almost interminable. When Fox first entered the DVD market in August of 1998, one of the very first discs they announced was The Abyss. However, it was only a matter of weeks before the flick was dumped from the release schedule, and only in late 1999 that an Abyss DVD began to take shape. Thankfully, with the arrival of The Abyss: Special Edition on DVD in March of 2000, fans of the film can be reassured that everything worked out for the best. Cameron's story concerns a team of deep-sea oil drillers who are enlisted by the U.S. Navy to recover a sunken submarine because they are the only folks who have equipment that can go that deep. However, once the team starts digging around the ocean floor, they discover that there are forces in the depths who may be friendly or hostile, but are definitely alien, creating a stormy conflict between the blue-collar drillers and the Navy SEALs who watch over them. While it may include some of the best and worst of James Cameron-style filmmaking (the story, especially in the Director's Cut, is a tad overlong), the many action sequences in The Abyss are first-rate and especially impressive as they largely take place underwater. And, despite the ambitious, difficult production, all of the performances are excellent. But the reason why The Abyss has become a lauded classic of its genre is not just the performances, but the spectacle of it all. Cameron, despite directing a handful of films before this one, has always been a "bigger is better" director, seemingly more fascinated with machines, vehicles, technology, and spectacle than such things as dialogue or narrative development (aspects that made Titanic a crushing disappointment). But with a solid narrative thread backing The Abyss, the vast drilling operation — with its underwater base, mini-subs, and unmanned rovers — is one of the most original milieus ever fashioned for an action film. Cameron sees little difference between the depths of the ocean and the farthest reaches of space, bathed in darkness and only illuminated by the floodlights of man-made ships adrift in an alien cosmos. For fans of The Abyss, Fox's two-disc DVD is a prized possession, as it arguably has more supplements on board than any other DVD released to date (only Criterion's Brazil seems to pack more punch). In addition to both versions of the film on Disc One, there are extensive cast-and-crew notes and a running commentary of behind-the-scenes details on a subtitle track. And as if having both versions of the film on a single disc isn't enough for most folks, Disc Two of The Abyss: SE is loaded to the rafters with so much stuff that it takes days to dig through it — including the hour-long documentary Under Pressure: The Making of The Abyss, a featurette, three Abyss trailers, the entire shooting script, the original treatment, all 773 storyboards used for the film, 10 short documentaries on various vehicles and special-effects, 16 photo galleries, and a textual recounting of the making of The Abyss broken into 28 chapters. If it seems a little daunting, there are various ways that the supplements can be navigated, which means that you could easily kill a weekend with The Abyss: SE, provided you had enough pizza and beer. The only disappointment in this package is the lack of a commentary track on Disc One, but The Abyss: SE has been priced comparably to DVDs that have half its content. Good transfer, DD 5.1 (recast from the original Dolby Surround with a single monaural rear channel). Dual-DVD keep-case.
—Robert Wederquist

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