Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Addendum to recasting--Part II (1989): "The Abyss"

Meryl hasn't really done a good sci-fi pic. Yes, there's The Giver, but that ended up being kind of a stinker. I had included Close Encounters of the Third Kind in the early stages of my recasting project, but inserted her into a supporting role. I'm reminded of Sigourney Weaver's legacy as an action star, having starred in the Alien series, the second of which (Aliens) was directed by James Cameron. I never really got into that movie, but from a young age, I absolutely loved both of his Terminator films, as well as 1989's underwater flick, The Abyss. There's something about the latter film that really captures the feel of what I liked about action movies at the time. There was a fair amount of technology utilized, and the setting was something we'd never really seen before at that level. Yet at the same time, we also get some intimacy and complexity surrounding the close-knit cast of characters who are thrust into the tumultuous scenario driving the film's more entertaining scenes. 

The film follows a crew oil workers who are tasked by the government to aid a SEAL team in recovering a nuclear warhead at the bottom of the ocean. Dr. Lindsey Brigman is the designer of the drilling platform utilized as a base for the operation. It's a bit of a tired trope to have the lady professional depicted as the queen bitch of the universe. But it's probably a fun character to play. Someone who's smarter than everyone else in the room and doesn't suffer fools or a slow pace. Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio (such a name from the 80s) does a fine job in the role, if perhaps a bit one level in the first half of the film. There are some fun moments of tension and humor between her soon-to-be ex-husband, Bud (Ed Harris), who's the foreman of the rig. 

One of the most memorable moments of cinema from my childhood was watching Lindsey's drowning scene. After Lindsey and Bud are left with only one oxygen tank in a rapidly flooding sub, Lindsey insists Bud use it so he can drag her hypothermic body back to the rig and resuscitate her.

Watching it as an adult, it's a tad far-fetched. From my understanding, using an automated external defibrillator is generally only indicated when someone's heart is beating irregularly, not to "shock it back" to life. CPR would be the usual approach, which they do implement here as well. Some definite artistic license here, but played well for dramatic effect. It's a powerful scene and beautifully acted. The actors create a great sense of collegiality in their reactions to Lindsey eventually coming around. I have to imagine drowning would be one of the most horrible ways to die. The feeling of having to finally take in a breath and only having water enter your lungs? Super scary. And it feels super scary for Lindsey in this scene. Would've been fun to see how Meryl played it. I did tend to wonder why Lindsey didn't seem more affected after the fact, considering Bud was basically beating the shit out of her when she lay there on the submersible deck. Her ribs and chest would've been so sore, I imagine it would've made her ability to speak normally very difficult in the days following. Lindsey seems to have recovered pretty well when she's guiding Bud down the Cayman Trough, based on the way Mastrantonio plays it. 

This film is so stamped in my mind as sort of encapsulating the feel of several movies in the genre around the late 80s and early 90s. Terminator 2: Judgement Day is a big one, as I eluded above, Die Hard, even Rocky IV, with its capitalizing on Cold War tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union (although interesting that The Abyss is set in 1994 when there actually was no longer such a thing as the U.S.S.R.).  I don't know if it was just a style around the time, or maybe that The Abyss has so many scenes underwater, but everything has a blue-like tinge to it, particularly in scenes without natural lighting, that seem very reminiscent of the time. It's easy to forget that The Abyss isn't just an action film. There's an alien marine life that ends up saving Bud at the bottom of the ocean. Some of the greatest special effects for the time were employed for this film (it won the Oscar for it that year), particularly the face-mimicking water formation into which the alien choses to take shape. The idea of there being technology that allows humans to breathe water to minimize the effects of the oceans pressure was always a cool prospect to think about, even as an adult. 

It's interesting that in Meryl's real filmography, 1989 marked a very distinct shift in the type of movie in which we usually saw her. She-Devil may have some fun tidbits, but in general, it's not a strong movie. This was the first time Streep took on a true comedy role, which she ended up doing more of over the next few years in the early 90s. I wonder if she had taken the risk of participating in something like The Abyss, would it have resulted in a major difference in what we could've expected from her shortly afterward, or what she would've been offered? The Abyss wasn't a huge box-office success, but it did fairly well with critics, and I think it's often considered an underrated movie these days. From what I've read, filming under James Cameron was extremely difficult for the cast. But maybe it could've been the same kind of physical toil Meryl had to endure when she learned how to white water raft in 1994's The River Wild. I'd take her in The Abyss over that or She-Devil any day. 


  1. Would love to see Meryl kick butt in a sci fi action type project, even to this dsy! Interestingly, Don't Look Up will be sci fi (albeit satire, not action) so we'll get just a taste of what could have been!

    1. Yeah I sort of forgot that Don't Look Up has some sci-fi tones to it. Apparently there was an early screening recently with positive responses.