The Abyss (1989) 4K Blu-ray Review

James Cameron's sci-fi classic The Abyss makes a well overdue but impressive 4K Blu-ray debut 35 years after its initial movie release.

Published
Updated
Producer / Publisher: Disney
4 minutes & 3 seconds read time
TweakTown's Rating: 82%

The Bottom Line

Another missing Cameron feature finally comes to 4K Blu-ray. It's a solid release, but less digital tinkering on the image would have been good.

Pros

  • + Finally released to contemporary video formats
  • + Nice new Dolby Atmos soundtrack
  • + Engaging new and returning bonus features

Cons

  • - Video is overly and unnecessarily processed

Should you buy it?

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The Abyss (1989) 4K Blu-ray Review 99

Hot on the heels of the wildly successful sci-fi sequel Aliens, filmmaker James Cameron jumped back into the genre for his ambitious directorial follow-up, which he also wrote, expanding a story he devised as a teen. As the film's legendarily torturous production dragged on (excruciatingly detailed in the included documentary Under Pressure: Making The Abyss), it broke new ground in depth filming, stretched relations with cast and crew (star Ed Harris refuses to speak about it to this day) and pushed the envelope for computer-generated effects and which helped usher in the digital revolution of the 1990s.

At the height of the Cold War, a U.S. nuclear submarine sinks to the bottom of the Caribbean Sea, raising the interest of nearby Soviet ships. To secure the subs' nuclear armament, the Government dispatches a Navy SEAL team led by Lieutenant Coffey (Michael Biehn) to the underwater drilling platform Deep Core, run by Virgil "Bud" Brigman (Ed Harris). However, during a communications blackout caused by a hurricane above, geopolitical tensions caused ructions between the two crews. They are exacerbated by the arrival of mysterious lights that may or may not be of an extra-terrestrial nature.

While its original release wasn't quite the smash hit success that the studio hoped (due in part to a compromised theatrical cut), Cameron returned four years later with a special edition version of the film that reinstated 30 minutes of footage and several visual effects shots. This superior version of the film that better demonstrated its original vision and restored a number of critical plot points, including the intent of the mysterious NTIs. Thankfully, both versions of the film are offered on this 4K disc, mirroring the previous DVD and laserdisc release. Today, the film holds up pretty well, and despite some occasionally ropey visual effects breaking the illusion of reality, The Abyss is a compelling and thought-provoking adventure that epitomizes "they don't make them like they used to"

The Abyss (1989) 4K Blu-ray Review 01

Video transfer

The Abyss is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1, in the Rec. 2020 color space with HDR-10 and Dolby Vision HDR and encoded with AVC H.265 compression.

Unlike the most recently reviewed True Lies 4K release, The Abyss has been granted a fresh new scan from the original camera negative and interpositive elements, which right off the bat makes this a far more positive viewing experience. As a result, the image is brimming with fine detail that generally retains a convincing filmic image quality, with a light amount of film grain visible throughout. As is his wont, Cameron has fully utilized advancements in digital coloring tools that weren't available for its original release, tweaking the image towards a cool teal tone throughout. Some may be annoyed by this revisionism, but it is on brand for the filmmaker. Ironically, the image reveals a surprising amount of film damage, which is incredibly easy to fix digitally.

Somewhat more controversially, Peter Jackson's Park Road Post facility has once again been commissioned to 'enhance' the image with their deep learning algorithm to smooth over some of the visuals, reducing noise and grain in the process. Unlike the egregious True Lies, its use here is much more restrained and much more in line with their remastered Titanic 4K image. That said, I do question how much this process adds to the improvement of overall image quality and would probably prefer it wasn't utilized, especially since it still fails to improve some of the more problematic, lower-resolution shots scattered throughout the film.

Overall, this is a solid transfer, which should please most fans.

The Abyss (1989) 4K Blu-ray Review 02

Audio transfer

The Abyss is presented with a newly remixed Dolby Atmos soundtrack, encoded at 24 bits.

Few will be disappointed with the energetic and immersive audio mix offered here, which consistently bests the previous 5.1 mix from the DVD in clarity and airiness. It's no surprise that the front soundstage supports the vast majority of the action, with the surround channels supporting the effect rather than calling attention to itself needlessly.

The bass channel is bold and powerful when called upon, particularly during some of the action-oriented sequences. The height surround mixing is a little bit restrained, and I think a bit more aggression would have been in order - but your mileage may vary.

Again, this is hardly a demo-worthy track, but it's definitely a fine, impressive experience that probably won't be bested anytime soon.

The Abyss (1989) 4K Blu-ray Review 03

Bonus materials

Unlike the 4K release of True Lies, The Abyss comes with a significant collection of features, headlined by two brand new documentaries and a returning classic, as well as the complete archive of still features ported from original 1993 laserdisc release. Let's dive in.

First up is the 32-minute long Deep Dive: A Conversation with James Cameron documentary, which acts as a nice retrospective on the film and returns key members of the cast and crew for contemporary interviews, alongside vintage making-of footage, alongside the 24 minute The Legacy of The Abyss documentary.

The Abyss (1989) 4K Blu-ray Review 04

Often referred to as one of the best making-of features ever produced, the hour-long Under Pressure: Making The Abyss makes a very welcome return, even if its ancient technical qualities could have been done with a contemporary remaster or re-edit. It's a really illuminating look at the film's tortured production with an honesty rarely seen in today's documentaries and is largely responsible for James Cameron's reputation as an unrelentingly belligerent filmmaker.

Finally, we have the Archives section, which offers all the standard definition still image-based materials originally created for the original Laserdisc release. To be sure, it's nice to have all this preserved, but only the die-hardest of fans will want to return to it, especially due to its low-resolution quality.

Photo of product for sale

The Movie

86%

Video Quality

81%

Audio Quality

85%

Extras

74%

Overall

82%

The Bottom Line

Another missing Cameron feature finally comes to 4K Blu-ray. It's a solid release, but less digital tinkering on the image would have been good.

82%

The Abyss (1989) 4K Blu-ray

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Ben joined the TweakTown team in 2008 and has since reviewed 100s of movies. Ben is based in Australia and has covered entertainment news and reviews since 2002. A student of film, Ben brings a wide understanding of the medium to the latest happenings in entertainment circles and the latest blockbuster theatrical reviews.

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