starring Ed Harris, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Michael Biehn, Leo Burmester, and Chris Elliot as The Beav.
A US Navy submarine sinks after coming into contact with an unknown object. A civilian deep sea diving crew is tapped to help search for the wreck. While embroiled in the mission, they encounter alien beings dwelling deep beneath the ocean.
First off, this won't be one of my typical movie reviews. I am actually much more captivated by fundamental concepts within the film. What can I say about it as a critique? Well in watching it this past weekend for the first time in almost 20 years, I can say that I had forgotten how good it is. It's truly one of the best science fiction films to come out of the 1980s. True, it has many of the tropes of a James Cameron film of that era, namely military types, salty characters, bad acting here and there, but it's a visual feast. Especially impressive is all of the underwater photography that still holds up today, giving the viewer the illusion of being at the deepest parts of the ocean.
What really struck me were the aliens themselves. First off, Cameron's depiction of their underwater ships is exactly what comes to my mind when I consider the phrase, "extraterrestrial technology." Yes yes I know that no one...as far as is openly acknowledged anyway...can have any educated say as to what the phrase "should" really mean. I'm going on a hunch. What are shown in The Abyss are elegant devices. "A machine, but alive," as one of the characters notes. One solid form with no welds or seams and inner workings that resemble the structures of a microorganism, hence the "alive" aspect of it. I was also fascinated by how water was manipulated as a mechanism, the depiction of which helping to give birth to the "morphing" techniques now seen all over the place.
When we finally see the aliens, they are very similar in appearance to the Grays. This got me thinking. I have written a great deal before about how many UFO sightings take place on or near the seas. In certain cases, the alleged craft actually arise from the ocean or are seen plunging beneath the waves, resulting in the USO (Unidentified Submerged Object) phenomenon. If aliens are indeed here (and why they would be is logically puzzling, but that's another matter) and they needed to take up a prolonged residence on our planet and needed to do so unseen, then the bottom of our oceans would be the ideal location. After all, we know very little about the ocean floor and visit there quite infrequently. Aliens could establish bases there with relative ease.
However, would aliens be able to carry out their objectives with just as much ease by basing themselves on the Moon or ensconcing themselves on a tumbling rock somewhere in the asteroid belt? True it's further away but if covert operations are your true aim, that really fits the bill. This caused an extension in my thinking.
It is never definitively resolved in the film as to whether or not the beings really are extraterrestrial in nature. Take a minute and consider that. If it's a nonhuman, intelligent and technologically advanced species and it's on Earth but is not alien, then it's an offshoot of evolution, most likely of ourselves. I'm aware of how fantastical and honestly improbable it sounds, but it really fascinates me. At a point in the distant past, lines diverged and an intelligent species evolved separately from us. They grew in sophistication and advanced more rapidly than we did.
They probably don't like us very much, either. Somehow we became the dominant lifeform and have done a great job of mucking up the world. The "others" are staying hidden and watching it all happen. Either that or they're affecting things as much as they can while remaining safely deep beneath the ocean.
Like I said, it sounds more like fanciful than anything else, but I am far (and I mean far) from the only person to think about the concept of a hidden civilization. Mac Tonnies wrote about it in Cryptoterrestrials and Ivan T. Sanderson got to it first with Invisible Residents. It's a fascinating idea however you look at it and the fiction writer side of me really wants to tackle it one day.
Unfortunately, the academic side of me has a great deal to tackle first.
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