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Finally in 4K – “The Abyss: Ultimate Collector’s Edition”

Updated: Mar 28


Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio and Ed Harris play an estranged couple, Dr. Lindsey Brigman and Virgil “Bud” Brigman, who reunite during a dangerous mission to a sunken American nuclear submarine in the western Caribbean Sea.

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4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray & Digital copy; 1989 & 1993; PG-13 for profanity and some scenes of action; Digital via Amazon Video (4K), Apple TV (4K), Fandango (4K), Movies Anywhere (4K), YouTube (4K)


Best extra: A new featurette “Deep Dive: A conversation with James Cameron”


THE WAIT has been over two decades.


Not since the 2001 DVD Special Edition has writer/director/producer James Cameron provided a resolution upgrade for his underwater sci-fi adventure “The Abyss” starring Ed Harris and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio. The new 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray include the original Theatrical Edit and Cameron’s 28-minute longer Special Edition, with an insightful doomsday subplot and additional character development.


Considered one of Cameron’s lesser-known films, it follows the aftermath of an American nuclear submarine that went down near the Cayman Trough (western Caribbean Sea) with a crew of 150 and two dozen trident missiles. A nearby underwater oil drilling platform positioned 1,700 feet below, with its Deep Core crew, and foreman Virgil “Bud” Brigman (Harris) is recruited by the U.S. Navy on a rescue mission to the submarine. To Bud’s dismay, his estranged wife Lindsey (Mastrantonio) the designer of the experimental platform escorts Lt. Coffey (Michael Biehn) and his SEAL team to the platform. During the deep dive toward the submarine, Lindsey discovers a strange light. “There is something down there. Something not us…not human.”


“The Abyss” received mixed reviews during its theatrical run in the late summer of 1989, but received four Oscar nominations including Cinematography (Mikael Saloman), Art Direction, and Sound, winning for Visual Effects. Many more praised it after viewing Cameron’s 1993 “Special Edition” in New York and Los Angeles, then everyone else on the THX laserdisc. Chicago Tribune critic Gene Siskel, who co-hosted “At the Movies” with Roger Ebert, was one of its earlier fans and called the new cut “a real eye-opener.” At the time, I just happened to be one of those laserdisc owners, and the ‘Special Edition’ became a top watch in my movie rotation.

Cayman Trough: USS Montana goes down



Cameron and his production company Lightstorm Entertainment ported over the recent 4K scan of the Super 35 (common-top framing) of the original camera negative (2.39:1 aspect ratio) to Peter Jackson’s New Zealand-based Park Road post-production house, where they created a 4K digital master. Yes, they used the dreaded AI proprietary deep-learning algorithms to produce the new enhanced master, and overall, it’s a slight notch below the results of last year’s highly praised 4K “Titanic,” which made our Top 10 4K discs of 2023. Here, the natural film grain has been seriously toned down and flattened, but is still evident if you stand super close to your screen. The clarity is very good without any waxy faces, and several clicks better than the enclosed Blu-ray, also sourced from the same master.


HDR10 and Dolby Vision toning were applied, but the greenish/blue color grading results are identical to the Blu-ray, which indicates it’s more likely the same Rec. 709 color spectrum, the color space for HDTVs, not in the expanded colors for 4K/HDR. The 4K does provide a wider contrast spectrum with better-controlled highlights and slightly more detail in shadows. The video bit rate average is in the low 50 Megabits per second range.

The Deep Core crew



The real bonus enhancement is the eight-channel Dolby Atmos soundtrack available on both cuts (4K disc & Blu-ray). The volume levels are set at industry standards and the bass response is deep and powerful while keeping the dialogue front and center along with Alan Silvestri’s score (“Back to the Future,” “Forrest Gump”). Plenty of effects are pushed from height speakers including helicopters, water, explosions, and the cast singing along with Linda Ronstadt’s trucker song “Willin’” during the Special Edition cut.



The bonus disc includes hours of interviews, production footage, archival special effects, screenplay, storyboards, and a 28-chapter written description of the production – which will keep you diving into the disc for days.


During the new featurette “Deep Dive,” Cameron details his humble beginnings as a science nerd at his upstate New York high school. He went to a science seminar, where he saw commercial, deep sea diver Frank Falejczyk become a guinea pig in a science experiment, breathing oxygenated saline. Duke University scientist Johannes Kylstra led the procedure. “He didn’t have the most pleasant time, but he did breathe liquid for a short period of time,” said the director. One of Cameron’s earliest teenage writings took place in the Cayman Trough at an underwater research installation, where they tested a fluid-breathing system. Obviously, many of those early ideas translated into “The Abyss” script.


The hour-long documentary “Under Pressure: Making ‘The Abyss’” that premiered on the 1993 LaserDisc is carried over. Cameron details the extraordinary ordeal. (He made 40 percent of the film underwater in a 7.5 million-gallon tank at an unfinished South Carolina nuclear power plant).

The Navy SEALs take over


Another new 25-minute featurette “The Legacy of ‘The Abyss,’” includes interviews with Cameron, special effect experts Walt Conti and Hoyt Yeatman, journalist Don Shay, computer graphic artist John Knoll and Lightstorm Entertainment COO, Jon Landau, who considers “The Abyss” a perfect stepping stone in the filmmaker’s career. “It combined his two passions: science fiction and the oceans.”


There’s also archival footage of Cameron removing his oxygen mask after 50 minutes of decompression for a total of five hours and 15 minutes of directing a crew of 20, plus the cast underwater.


Joining the conversation is the film’s producer, Gale Anne Hurd, who was Cameron’s wife during the production. “There’s a lot of myth and lore that’s inaccurate about the legacy of ‘The Abyss.’ However, we managed to make an amazing film,” she says.


It’s doubtful Cameron will ever revisit the three films he released on 4K disc this month: “Aliens,” “The Abyss” and “True Lies.” But, if there’s anything we learned from his 4K release of “Titanic” last year and these three new films – James Cameron will always do it his way.


Bill Kelley III, High-Def Watch producer

Close Encounters of the Third Kind

Trying to save Lindsey and the World


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