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The Abyss Trivia

* Director James Cameron contacted Orson Scott Card before filming began with the possibility of producing a book based on the film. Card initially told his agent that he doesn't do "novelizations", but when she told him that the director was James Cameron, he agreed to consider it.

The script arrived, and Card signed on after receiving assurances from Cameron that he would be free to develop his "novel" the way he wanted to.

After a meeting with Cameron, Card immediately wrote the first three chapters, which dealt with events concerning Bud and Lindsay Brigman that occurred before the events in the film. Cameron gave these chapters to Ed Harris and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, who used it to develop their characters.

* Cast members had to become certified divers before filming began.

* The masks were specially designed to show the actors' faces, and had microphones fitted so that dialogue spoken at the time by the actors could be used in the film. The noises made by the regulators in the helmets were erased during sound post-production.

* Most of the underwater filming took place in a half-completed nuclear reactor facility in Gaffney, South Carolina, including the largest underwater set in the world at 7 million gallons.

* The crew frequently spent enough time underwater to force them to undergo decompression before surfacing. James Cameron would often watch dailies through a glass window, while decompressing and hanging upside down to relieve the stress on his shoulders from the weight of the helmet.

* The tank was filled to a depth of 40 feet, but there was still too much light from the surface, so a giant tarpaulin and billions of tiny black plastic beads were floated on the surface to block the light. During a violent storm the tarpaulin was destroyed, thus shifting production to night time.

* Fluid breathing is a reality. Five rats were used for five different takes, all of whom survived and were given shots by a vet. The rat that actually appeared in the film died of natural causes a few weeks before the film opened.

According to James Cameron, the scene with the rat had to be edited out of the UK movie version because "the Royal Veterinarian felt that it was painful for the rat". James Cameron repeatedly assures that the rats used for this take didn't suffer any harm.

* Michael Biehn's character gets bitten on the arm by another character. This happens to him in every James Cameron movie he's in - see The Terminator (1984) and Aliens (1986).

* Director Trademark: [James Cameron] [title fade] at the beginning of the movie, the blue "Y" from the opening credits extends and then fades to the underwater scenery with the submarine.

* Director Trademark: [James Cameron] [feet] when the soldiers arrive at the supply ship and jump out of the helicopters. See also Aliens (1986).

* James Cameron's brother, Mike Cameron, plays a dead crewman inside the sunken submarine. To accomplish this he had to hold his breath under 15 feet of water while also allowing a crab to crawl out of his mouth.

* The first movie released under the THX Laserdisc Program.

* Very few scenes involved stunt people. When Bud drags Lindsey back to the rig, that's really Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio holding her breath. When the rig is being flooded and characters are running from water, drowning behind closed doors, and dodging exploding parts of the rig, those are all actors, not stunt people.

* The scene with the water tentacle coming up through the moon pool was written so that it could be removed without interfering with the story, because no one knew how the effect would come out. The actors were interacting with a length of heater hose being held up by the crewmen. When the effects were completed, though, they exceeded everyone's expectations and wildest hopes.

* During the TV news report of the US and Russian ships colliding, the accompanying pictures are actually those taken of ships from the British Task Force hit during the Falkland Islands campaign.

* During the rigorous and problematic shoot, the cast and crew began calling the film by various derogatory names such as "Son Of Abyss", "The Abuse" and "Life's Abyss And Then You Dive". Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio reportedly suffered a physical and emotional breakdown because she was pushed so hard on the set, and Ed Harris had to pull over his car at one time while driving home, because he burst into spontaneous crying.

* The original theatrical version was forced to cut the pre-credits quote "...when you look long into an abyss, the abyss also looks into you" by Friedrich Nietzsche because Criminal Law (1988) used it, and they didn't want to seem like imitators. The quote was restored in the director's cut.

* The company mentioned in the film is named Benthic Petroleum. In oceanographic terms, the word "benthic" means on or in the ocean bottom.

* For financial reasons, the "Deepcore" set was never dismantled. It stands in the abandoned (and drained) South Carolina nuclear power plant, where the film was shot. 20th Century Fox has posted signs around the set informing potential photographers that Fox still owns the set (and the designs) and that any photographs or video shooting of the set is prohibited by copyright law. Their official copyright information is on the Deepcore rig itself.

* In the end shot where the alien ship surfaces, it's supposed to be spring or summer. However, the film was being shot towards the beginning of winter, so the actors put ice cubes in their mouths so they wouldn't breathe out mist.

* Actor Joe Farago, who plays the news anchorman reporting on the escalating world events, also played a similar role in a previous James Cameron film, The Terminator (1984).

* The studio pushed hard for an Academy Award nomination for Michael Biehn as best supporting actor.

* There are no opening credits save the title of the film.

* Since the "Benthic Explorer" model ship was so large and filmed on open seas, the production company was required to register it with the Coast Guard.

* The fictional company "Benthic Petroleum" also owns the gas station shown in James Cameron's Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) and the flying oil tanker in Jan de Bont's Twister (1996).

* To heat the water in the unfinished nuclear power plant, James Cameron brought in several tanker trucks of natural gas, and attached them directly to burners.

* The American Humane Association rated this film "unacceptable" because of the rat that was submerged in oxygenated liquid in one scene. It wasn't an effect. The rat really was "subjected to the anxiety of being submerged in this liquid, where it panics and struggles and is then pulled out by its tail as it expels the liquid from its lungs."

* The role of Commodore DeMarco was originally meant for Lance Henriksen, but he couldn't appear due to a scheduling conflict.

* The sequence in which Catfish fires a submachine gun into the moon pool at a departing Lt. Coffey was filmed using live ammunition. The underwater camera was locked down and unmanned, and extreme safety precautions were in effect.

* The sub called "Flatbed" in the movie was built around a real submarine called "Deep Rover" which was designed by the Canadian company Nuytco Research.

* The mini-subs in the wide shots were actually models suspended on wires in a smoky environment and filmed in slow motion.

* The water in the two tanks was chlorinated heavily, to prevent microbes growing in it. This caused many of the actor's hair to become green and even white.

* A scene at the beginning showing the crew rounding up at the moon pool had to be re-shot, because the Flatbed submersible was parked in the pool. Flatbed was supposed to be out in the water pulling the rig during that particular scene.

* The first feature film to have used an early version of Adobe Photoshop.

* In the original storyline, when Lindsey is talking to Bud during his descent, she explains why she is always so hard on people. Lindsey grew up in a family with five older brothers, and she had to fight for everything, even to be noticed.

* The scene with the water tentacle was one of the first to be filmed. This was done so as to give the effects team the maximum amount of time available to develop the CGI over the course of filming the rest of the movie.

* James Cameron's two choices for Bud Brigman were Ed Harris and Jeff Bridges.


THE ABYSS - 1989 | Detailed Synopsis and Screenshots

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The rig crew gather in the mess hall. General melee as they rush in, everybody focused on the TV. A news anchorman is explaining the Kremlin continues to deny Russian involvement in the sinking of the Trident sub USS Montana. The Navy has not released the names of the 156 crewmembers, who are all presumed dead at this time. Civilian employees of a Benthic Petroleum offshore drilling rig are apparently participating in the recovery operation but they have little information about their involvement.

We see televised, the Benthic Explorer and the other vessels in a stormy sea. Bill Tyler, the on-scene reporter, is on the deck of a Navy support ship, being used as a staging area for the press, well away from the center of the operation. Tyler reports there is a tremendous amount of activity. With Cuba only 80 miles away, the massive buildup of US ships and aircraft in the area has drawn official protest from Havana and Moscow and has led to a redirection of Soviet warships into the Caribbean theater.

Bud, Lindsey, and Hippy walking along the corridor, Hippy in a black mood of incipient paranoia. He rambles on about being in the middle of this big-time international incident. Like the Cuban Missile Crisis or something. Bud dismisses him considering Hippy thinks everything's a conspiracy.

One Night is pounding down the corridor from the sub bay. She tells Bud that Coffey is splitting with Flatbed. Bud breaks into a run, passing her. In the sub-bay, Bud clears the door in time to see Flatbed submerging. He yells at them to stop, they need the big arm to unhook the umbilical, there's a hurricane coming. They ignore Bud.

The sky is charcoal, the sea is a mountain range of gray slopes. Waves thunder over the foredeck, whipped by eighty-knot winds. Men in life jackets scurry like insects. McBride scream orders that can't be heard to the crewmen on deck. He staggers back along the bridge railing. McBride steps into the quiet of the control room. He turns on De Marco and yells at him for his team taking Flatbed, now they can't get unhooked at their end. De Marco's expression is infuriatingly calm... icy.

For a second time the black hull of the ballistic missile sub is illuminated by diver's lights. Tiny figures, the divers move like moths around a distant streetlight. Wilhite, Monk and Schoenick are clustered around an open missile hatch. Using a large lift bag, they are removing the fiberglass, or 'diaphram'. Coffey pilots Flatbed with increasing deftness, deploying the big arm to aid in the work. We see the blunt nose of the Trident C-4 missile. Like looking down the barrel of a gun at the bullet aimed right at you.

Back in the mess hall, the news broadcast continues. A warship burning, rolling ponderously as it sinks in stormy seas. The US Navy guided missile cruiser Appleton apparently struck the Soviet 'Udaloy' class destroyer in low visibility conditions. The video shows men in life jackets among huge waves, rescue helicopters hovering, wind blasting. Soviet military spokesmen have claimed that the collision constituted an unprovoked attack. Bud looks at Lindsey. She turns to him, expression grim.

Back at the Montana wreck site, the divers are working head-first in the missile's launch tube. Monk reads from a plasticized card, directing the other two step by step. The arcane litany is punctuated by the hissing rasp of their breathing. Wilhite confirms the Separation sequencer is disconnected. Monk continues the removal instructions.

Back in the mess hall, the newscaster continues that Soviet negotiators have walked out of the strategic arms limitation summit in protest over the incident this morning. Bud switches the channel. It's on every channel. Bud switches again. The screen shows a woman expressing she felt hopeless. Another man talks about not wanting war, and another man says he just doesn't think about it.

Later, Flatbed surfaces in boiling foam. The rig crew are all waiting. Like a crack pit-crew Bud's people leap onto Flatbed while its deck is still awash and start to work on to Navy divers, unsealing their helmets and uncoupling their umbilicals. Hippy starts to untie a cylindrical object wrapped in one of the SEAL's gear bags.

Coffey emerges from the hatch and warns Hippy to step away. The two SEALs unlash the object in the black bag and carry it off. Bud glares at Coffey as they pass each other. One Night nimbly climbs the hatch-tower and drops in. Bud swings the heavy hatch up, balancing it, and grins down at One Night. He swings the hatch closed with a clang.

The Benthic Explorer begins to slew in the high winds, throwing off their dynamic-positioning. As the ship slews, the umbilical is drawn off vertical. It goes tight as a bowstring. Pulled to the edge of the launch well, it rips down the side with a godawful screech.

The big A-frame, massive as a railroad bridge, to which the umbilical from the Explorer is attached. Flatbed arcs around the coupling mechanism. One Night deploys the big hydraulic arm. It unfolds from Flatbed like a huge steel spider leg, its claw-like 'gripper' opening. With the umbilical swinging violently, One Night can get a lock on it. Conditions worsen on the Benthic Explorer, they're losing the number two thruster. They're swinging out of position.

Lindsey is in the corridor when the whole rig booms like a gong and lurches sideways. The rig begins to move. The enormous skid breaks loose. Start to slide, plowing furrows in the bottom. The sub is jerked sideways. We see One Night get tossed around inside. Inside Deepcore, Bud races to the radio and screams to topside they are getting dragged. Deepcore is getting dangerously close to the dropoff.

On the Benthic Explorer, the enormous crane which supports the umbilical winch is blasted by a wave. Overloaded by the strain on the cable, The deck is ripped upward as the entire 40-ton crane is pulled over by the weight of Deepcore. It topples in the launch well with a roar of tortured steel that rivals the storm. An explosion of water. The crane tumbles between the twin hulls. Trailing a vortex of foam and debris, it roars down into the blackness.

McBride stares in shock at the churning cauldron of the launch well. Grabs the underwater telephone, yelling to Bud they lost the crane. It's on it's way down to them. Everyone is stunned by what is happening. Bud fires up the alert signal, warns everyone to seal all exterior hatches and brace for impact, on the intercom. The rig crew are pounding down the narrow corridors. Diving through low hatchways. Hatches are closed and the wheels spun down.

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