Tuesday, March 20, 2007

"The Abyss"--Abysmal
NHK aired "The Abyss" tonight and I sat through it, hopefully so you won't have to. Here's the storyline in a nutshell: Fun loving guys in an oil rig get ordered to rescue/salvage a US nuclear sub that's crashed. One of the SEALs sent to help goes insane and decides to use a retrieved nuclear warhead to annihilate the friendly pretty (pronounce pretty like a three-year-old, please) underwater ETs that make their existence known. The worst SEAL dies, the rig leader visits the ETs' city, they threaten humanity with massive tidal waves that tower menacingly then harmlessly retreat, scaring humanity into a peaceful communal existence--you know, peace through superior firepower.

Granted, the living water tentacle that crawls through the ship is pretty impressive as a special effect even 17 years later, but the underwater aliens are some pathetic SFX critters. They move extremely awkwardly, as if the puppeteer were drunk and the body parts were catching on each other, and look (especially the faces) as if they were made out of carefully selected light bulbs glued together. Their city is a fiberglass-bodied purple-sparkly hotrod jazzed up with a '60s blacklight color scheme. "Groovy!" is an apt description. The hero rescued by the aliens thanks them by throwing his diving helmet away down a chute in their city that looks like an engine hood scoop from the Batmobile.

That the US military is the real enemy is a foregone conclusion; they gnash their teeth in impotent rage when told (by one of the oil company's (Halliburton's?) bigshots) that the aliens have "put you outta work." Naturally, everyone resents the military guys. The Gaia's revenge symbolism of the aliens' manipulation of the oceans and skies was politically prophetic (well, maybe not in Hollywood circles). When the aliens are explaining why they should destroy humanity, they show plenty of footage of human outrages: Nazis, the Holocaust, Vietnam War footage (Vietnam given the same amount of time as Nazi footage, naturally, since the two are equal outrages, right?), and even a scene of a Palestinian kid tying a jihad bandana around his head (How'd that slip by?).

Various other things:
There's a blatant rip-off of the "2001: A Space Odyssey" op-art freakout trip.

The oil rig's conspiracy nut, "Hippy," Watergates the war-mongering SEALs' genocidal aims: It is a conspiracy!

The oil rig people dig country music and, many of them, talk Texan, yet they're heroes (well, W wasn't president in 1989).

The omnipotent aliens failed to rescue the sub at the beginning, which caused them to be discovered (and almost nuked). Despite their omnipotence and ability to play terrestrial TV broadcasts, they were unable to talk with the humans. By nearly eradicating humanity, they've surely caused some people to start thinking how to protect themselves by destroying the ETs in case the underwater ETs decided to follow through with their Fluid Solution.

There are other noxious points, but the SFX that won it an Oscar aren't, wholly, one. Perhaps because it probably "spoke truth to power" in a reedy flatulent tone, it was nominated for a 1991 Saturn Award for writing.

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