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Ultra HD : Highly Recommended
Ranking:
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Release Date: March 12th, 2024 Movie Release Year: 1989

The Abyss: Ultimate Collector's Edition - 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray

Overview -

4K UHD Review By: Matthew Hartman

After decades absent from modern disc-based home media, James Cameron’s The Abyss splashes down on 4K UHD and Blu-ray. A three-disc plus digital set, the film offers both the weaker Theatrical Cut and superior Special Edition in 4K Dolby Vision on the same disc via seamless branching. The new transfer with AI Shinanigans and revised color timing may be controversial for some or a celebration for others. This deep-water flick is often striking now with a tremendous new Atmos mix complete with new and archival extras. Highly Recommended

OVERALL:
Highly Recommended
Rating Breakdown
STORY
VIDEO
AUDIO
SPECIAL FEATURES
Tech Specs & Release Details
Technical Specs:
4K Ultra HD Blu-ray + Blu-ray + Digital
Video Resolution/Codec:
2160p/HEVC Dolby Vision HDR
Length:
140
Aspect Ratio(s):
2.35:1
Audio Formats:
English Dolby Atmos
Release Date:
March 12th, 2024

Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take

Ranking:

If there’s one truism about James Cameron it’s if he dreams it, he goes for it. Whether it’s a cybernetic monstrosity emerging from the flames of war, sinking the grandest luxury liner ever built, or personally diving to the deepest point in the ocean, Cameron will get it done - his way. That ethos was never more apparent than in his 1989 science fiction adventure The Abyss. A film with a shoot so unrelenting and taxing it became a trial by water for the cast, crew, and Cameron himself. But the results were incredible, even more so once the fully complete Special Edition cut could be realized. 

Our little aquatic adventure opens with the U.S. nuclear attack sub The Montana patrolling the Caymon trough where it encounters a strange object in the depths. This first contact with an unknown entity incapacitates the sub causing it to collide and sink. As the fastest option for a successful rescue, the U.S. Navy needs Virgil “Bud” Brigman (Ed Harris) and his crew aboard an experimental submersible oil rig to assist in the operation. A team of Navy SEALs led by Lt. Coffey (Michael Biehn) is sent down, but they don’t come alone, Bud’s estranged wife and designer of the rig Lindsey comes with them. But the family reunion is cut short when a hurricane strands everyone thousands of feet below. Fighting for survival, they’ll encounter an incredible intelligence the likes of which no one has ever seen before.

So 1989 was a hell of a summer for a kid turning seven and going to lots of movies. Uncle Buck, Star Trek V, Ghostbusters II, Honey I Shunk the Kids, and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade kept me at the movie theater all summer long. But in one vacation north to Traverse City, Michigan where it rained virtually the entire time, my family went and saw Batman and The Abyss only days apart. Both movies blew me away at that impressionable age. One impacted my lifelong comic book reading habits while the other I nearly drowned when I tried to hold my breath as long as I could as deep as I could go. Almost 35 years later I still dearly love both films, but I’ve gotten to enjoy Batman in a respectable disc format a lot more often!

As I’ve held onto my DVD and acquired two of the Special Edition Laserdiscs over the years, I was never without The Abyss. However, because watching it on increasingly aging formats was so frustrating, I just never pulled it off the shelf all that often. I didn’t like wondering “When will this come to Blu-ray, 4K, yadda, yadda, yadda” when I should be enthralled with the film in front of me. But now that Cameron and crew took enough of a break from Avatar to complete their restoration process, I could finally see this film on a modern format. This viewing felt like the first time I was actually watching this film without that background head noise in a long time and it was everything I'd hoped it would be. 

I’ve always preferred the Special Edition cut even though the Theatrical experience was great and captured my imagination. However, this round of watching both cuts relatively quickly I was stuck at how much better the longer version plays. There’s far more character nuance and development, the Cold War overtones and the “Us versus Them” paranoia, and more importantly the full scale of the mysterious NTI’s is finally felt. Compared to the Theatrical version, key events still happen, but they don’t have the same impact and the ending is frustratingly abrupt leaving a lot of those story beats more confusing than meaningful. Sure, there is a lot more silly Cameron dialog, but that’s all flavor in a more grand and fulfilling piece of science fiction spectacle. 

Theatrical Cut - 3.5/5

Special Edition - 4.5/5



Vital Disc Stats: The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray  
Not seen on disc-based media in almost two decades, James Cameron's aquatic science fiction adventure The Abyss makes a splash for both 4K and Blu-ray in a new three-disc release from Disney/20th Century. The 4K is pressed on a region-free BD-100 disc, a region-free BD-50 for the 1080p and another region-free BD-50 for the bonus features. All three discs are housed in a standard multi-disc case with identical slipcover, the 4K came stacked on the bonus features disc. The discs load to Disney’s standard language option menu letting you choose to go right into the film - however that takes you directly to the Theatrical Cut, to access the better Special Edition, you have to go to the main menu, click set-up, and roll from there.

NOTE: as of press time we haven't been able to pull 4K disc-sourced images. Hopefully soon we can come back and either add new images and/or video sample.

Video Review

Ranking:

The day physical media fans have been hoping and dreaming about for twenty years is finally here. We have The Abyss on a high-def format! What should be cause for celebration scoring one of Cameron’s best films on Blu-ray and 4K UHD in the same go comes with something of an asterisk attached. The restoration and transfer will likely be a big source of contention for people as the film underwent the same Park Road Post algorithmic process as True Lies, Aliens, and Titanic on top of its own color timing changes.

On the whole, I’m very impressed with the final results for both cuts of The Abyss in 2160p Dolby Vision with the proper 2.39:1 aspect ratio. Not flawless. Not “perfect” but damned good. While the algorithmic enhancements can yield detail and clarity that almost reaches into the chasm of Uncanny Valley, it thankfully doesn’t stretch that far. It’s just shocking to see this film looking this clean and clear after decades of SD or worse viewings. I was seven when I saw it in theaters and the last quality viewing I had was when Amazon Prime was streaming the Theatrical Cut three years ago. This is a mile-and-away better-looking presentation than that transfer and is infinitely more stable and appealing than what we saw come to streaming last December. Details are sharp and clear letting facial features, clothing textures, and background details come to life more vividly. So much so I had never realized Halloween II’s Dick Warlock was in the film as one of the rig workers! 

That extra bitrate room really does go a long way toward fixing any waxiness or soft details while retaining something appearing like film grain. Not natural film grain, mind you. Cameron loved his Super 35 but this new transfer does not look like a feature shot on film in 1988 and released in 1989. And therein may be the rub that separates many fans with this release. Personally, I don’t understand the why or need for that AI processing but this film is by no means the waxy inorganic disaster of the Terminator 2: Judgement Day 4K disc (which was actually the 3-D master).  

The Dolby Vision grading is excellent for the new color pallet. Fans used to the older disc formats may lament the lack of “purple” in the water and highlights as this edition skews for Cameron’s favored steely blue look. At the same time, oranges aren’t pushed hard and skin tones still look natural and human in normal lighting conditions. Lighting effects like the light casting off the rippling water in the moon pool are beautifully captured. Black levels and shadows are often spectacular, the search in the sub is a particularly eerie sequence. Depth is magnificent giving the image a notable three-dimensional feel. Some of the older effects shots still look a little wobbly, some model work at the end, and a few of the composite shots of live actors on miniatures still look a little off, but overall it’s a solid piece of work. Maybe not picture-perfect for some (possibly horrible to others) but as this transfer stands on its own, I came away pleased with the results.

Audio Review

Ranking:

While the video transfer may rankle some, everyone should be able to fully appreciate this demo-worthy Atmos mix. From the sounds of the bubbles rippling out of regulators to the roar of the hurricanes to the thrilling mini-sub fight sequence, this is an active and fully engaged track. Key elements keep to the front/center channels but there’s plenty of activity rolling the sides, rears, and overheads ensuring a fully immersive auditory experience. Impact hits when the subs collide or when the water comes rushing into the rig, there’s real weight and rumble in the subs for some exciting LFE letting you truly feel the track working your speakers. Throughout dialog is clean and clear and never an issue. The great score from Alan Silvestri is fully active and used throughout the soundscape without just acting as filler in the mix. You may question Cameron’s choices for the video, but this Atmos mix is pitch-perfect. And unlike other Disney Atmos tracks out there, you can play it loud because you want to not because you have to - and that’s a huge difference maker.

Special Features

Ranking:

On the side of bonus features, we have a great selection with almost an hour of brand-new interviews mixed with a nearly complete collection of archival content. Of the archival content, the only thing I didn’t see carryover were the text-based commentaries from the DVD. Of the new materials, the new James Cameron interview is excellent. Cameron goes into a lot of depth (no pun intended) about making the film, the genesis for the idea of the story and how it evolved, and also the excruciating conditions of filming underwater for up to eleven hours a day. The Legacy of the Abyss is another great piece, we hear more from some other players in the making of the film like Gale Anne Hurd, but at the same time, it’s very back-patting "look how great he is" for James Cameron. When talking about tough filming conditions for the actors, Hurd even outright says “You think they had it hard, no one had it harder than James” which I thought was a bit of an eye-roller. Then we have the excellent archival documentary, as well as the complete image and text-based archives that operate as a slideshow you navigate with your remote. 

  • NEW Deep Dive: A Conversation with James Cameron (HD 32:23)
  • NEW The Legacy of The Abyss (HD 24:39)
  • Under Pressure: Making The Abyss (SD 59:37)
  • Archives (Slideshow)
    • Table of Contents
    • Introduction
    • The Writer/Director and Screenplay
    • Development and the Production Team
    • The Design Team 
    • The Storyboarding process
    • Character Development and Casting
    • Costume Design
    • Training for the Production
    • Filming Underwater
    • ROVs and Video in The Abyss
    • Production Chronology
    • The Montana
    • The Benthic Explorer
    • Deepcore 2
    • Flatbed
    • Cab One and Cab Three
    • NTI Scount and Manta
    • Pseudopod
    • Fluid Breathing and the Deep Suit
    • The NTIs
    • The Wave
    • The NTI Ark
    • Editing, Sound and Music
    • Publicity/Advertising/Marketing
    • The Restoration
    • Closing Commentary
    • Acknowledgments and Credits

The Abyss is finally here! It’s on disc in 1080p and 4K HDR! It’s not a dream and it’s not my lame-ass April Fools Day gag! It’s really real, real! Of Cameron’s films, I still mark this as one of my true favorites. Especially with the Special Edition, it often feels like Cameron’s best work as he explores meaningful human drama against the backdrop of an incredible science fiction adventure that I feel rivals even Terminator 2 and Aliens in that regard. After such a long wait for a quality new disc release, that wait is over with what I’d say is an impressive, not perfect, 2160p Dolby Vision transfer. I still don’t understand the need for algorithmic processing, but for how many terrible transfers we’ve seen over the years, this isn’t the waxy horror show it could have been. Not by a long shot. It’s just different from what we were expecting. That said, the Atmos track is true demo material, and the collection of extra features is a nice treat. Overall - 4.5/5 Highly Recommended