Abyss" on DVD
Cameron Epic a DVD
by Jim Bray
20th Century Fox's
DVD of "The Abyss" should have been one of the best examples to date of
the digital disc's capabilities.
"The Abyss, Special
Edition," also available on VHS, is a two disc tour de force that not
only contains both the theatrical and "special" editions of the watery
adventure, but packs in so much supplementary stuff you'll run out of
patience before you run out of goodies.
"The Abyss" is James
Cameron's "pre-Titanic" take on "The Day the Earth Stood Still," a tale
of a Non-Terrestrial Intelligence messing in human affairs to keep us
from wiping ourselves out. It's also part undersea epic, part cold war
adventure, part romance, and part techno-thriller.
These varied themes
cause the film to be a bit unfocused at times, but on the whole it's a
grand adventure in the Cameron tradition.
Also in the Cameron
tradition, the film pushes the state of the moviemaking art with its special
effects, especially with the computer generated "water tentacle" the aliens
send into the humans' undersea base.
As a DVD, "The Abyss"
is even more grand; it's a "must have" for collectors and film students.
The disc's main feature
is two separate incarnations of the film, the 140 minute version that
played in theaters and a 170 minute extravaganza first released on laserdisc,
an edition that fleshes out the story better - making it much more understandable,
atmospheric, exciting, and complete.
Both movies have been
jammed onto one side of one disc, a feat that Fox has accomplished by
using DVD's "branching" capabilities to tell your DVD player's laser where
to go and when. This is a nifty trick, considering most DVD's use both
sides of a disc to offer different versions - and the transitions are
virtually seamless, with the exception of a slight pause when the laser
changes layers on the disc.
Purists and collectors
won't like the widescreen (2.35:1) aspect ratio picture, though, because
it isn't anamorphic "enhanced for widescreen TV's" and there's
no excuse for that - espeicially with a THX-certified disc.
Audio and video quality
(other than the non-anamorphic aspect) are wonderful. "The Abyss" was
digitally mastered to the Lucasfilm THX standard - an excellent quality
control yardstick - and the audio has also been remixed into Dolby Digital
5.1 surround, which gives you stereo sound from the rear channels. This
adds atmosphere and depth to the experience - if you have a Dolby Digital
decoder in your home theater.
Once you've watched
the movie - twice - you can dive into the special features. These begin
right inside the box, with a twelve page booklet that includes a detailed
outline of all the enhancements made to the Special Edition and where
they appear in the film. It also lists the chapter stops for both versions
as well as for the hour-long documentary "Under Pressure: Making The Abyss,"
on disc two.
Fox has also come
up with an interesting new way to provide a running commentary for the
movie. While most commentaries are on a secondary audio track and feature
the director, star, or whomever, sounding off about the production (most
of these commentaries are fascinating, by the way), "The Abyss" uses the
blank area beneath the picture (the "black bar") for a text-based commentary.
This may explain
why the widescreen image hasn't been enhanced for 16x9 TV's (you need
the black area for the text), and it's a good reason, though it isn't
The famous water pseudopod
scene is given its own section, one that lets you follow the development
of the computerized effects using the multiple angle button on your DVD
player's remote control.
Kudos to Fox's DVD
hounds: the multi-angle capacity of DVD's is rarely used, so good for
If you still aren't
satisfied, there are hundreds of screens of conceptual and storyboard
art, the complete screenplay, and even three DVD ROM games to sweeten
the deal. There's also an incredibly complete and detailed set of production
notes that start from Cameron's first ideas and which give you the option
to read the original treatments while you're at it. You can also choose
to skip these rather long sequences.
The only drawback
to all this stuff is that renters will never have time to get through
it all without incurring late charges!
Life's sure "Abyss,"
Jim Bray's technology
columns are distributed by the TechnoFILE Syndicate. Copyright Jim Bray.
The Abyss, Special
Edition, from 20th Century Fox Home Video
140/171 minutes, Widescreen (2.35:1), Dolby Digital
Starring Ed Harris, Mary Elizabeth Mastrontonio, Michael Biehn,
Written and Directed by James Cameron.
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