Updated: Nov 11, 2019
Nominee #2 - The Abyss (1989)
A diving team entrusted with the task to recover a lost nuclear submarine discover instead something beyond the realms of aquatic (or terrestrial) life - something beyond our realm...
Director: James Cameron
Writer: James Cameron
Stars: Ed Harris, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Michael Biehn
Even as a child, James Cameron was fascinated by deep sea science and stories. This bloomed into a full blown obsession that took the form of his script and direction for The Abyss (1989).
An underwater oil rig crew double up as a salvage/search crew to rescue a US submarine that has sunk after an encounter with a mysterious underwater object. On the depths of the ocean floor, they discover something that's literally out of this world - an alien spaceship that dwarfs America's largest aircraft carriers as if they were toy ships.
Ed Harris and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio star as an estranged couple playing key roles in the crew’s mission. Michael Biehn plays the unpredictable navy SEAL team leader exhibiting pressure-induced psychosis, whose actions eventually jeopardise the entire mission (including arming and launching a warhead that is capable of destroying not only the "non-terrestrial intelligence" or "NTI", but also the remaining crew). In the end, the real shifts to the unreal (and that is more than merely a liquid that allows humans to breathe or a near-dead scientist brought back to life!) because possibilities beyond the known are hinted at.
In the end, the real shifts to the unreal
With a significant portion of the shoot taking place underwater, Cameron, the production team and the cast had to battle the many hazards and hassles of shooting in the deep. The long hours and days on an isolated set apparently had the entire cast and crew on edge. But all this paid off with the movie winning the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects and doing well at the box office. It also received positive critical reception especially for the fact that its masterful special effects did not overshadow the gripping human drama played out by the troubled crew.
The music - by Alan Silvestri – masterfully conveys the myriad emotions of fear, paranoia, claustrophobia and awe that the abyss inspires. The special effects heavy creations of Cameron’s films that followed are as impressive, if not more so, but The Abyss – because of the no-compromises approach to shooting it, the ambition and technical brilliance that went into its making, the commitment of its cast and the emotion in its thrilling story – remains a benchmark not only for alien-themed movies, but for just about any movie.