The Abyss is an award-winning science fiction film from 1989, directed by James Cameron, starring Ed Harris, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, and Michael Biehn. There is a cinema version (140 minutes) and a Director's Cut version (171 minutes).
Underwater scenes were filmed in the cooling tower of an unfinished nuclear reactor in Gaffney, South Carolina. It took seven million gallons of water to fill the tank to a depth of 40 feet, making it the largest underwater set ever. The depth and length of time spent underwater meant that cast and crew had to go through decompression.
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The story is about an underwater oil drilling rig that is sent by the US military to examine a sunken submarine, which leads to an international crisis bordering on a new world war. It turns out that at the bottom of the abyss near the crash site of the submarine, an underwater city of water-dwelling aliens is located. A Navy SEAL, suffering from High Pressure Nervous Syndrome, becomes paranoid and tries to destroy the city with a nuclear weapon from the crashed submarine. The story climaxes with a dive into an oceanic trench using liquid breathing scuba, in which one of the protagonists attempts to disarm the nuclear weapon.
In the original script, the aliens, responding to the nuclear weapon, threaten to destroy all coastal regions of the world by giant megatsunamis, but in the version that was ultimately shown in theatres the aliens are portrayed much more benevolently and simply rescue the main characters from the depths after the nuclear device is disarmed. The Director's Cut version of the movie includes the megatsunami subplot.
The Abyss won the 1990 Oscar for Best Visual Effects. It was also nominated for Oscars for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Best Cinematography and Best Sound. The studio also tried hard for Michael Biehn to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.
The Abyss was also nominated for a host of other non-mainstream awards, such as by Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films and the American Society of Cinematographers. It ended up winning a total of three other awards by these fringe organizations.
The film was censured by the American Humane Association for a scene in which a rat is held underwater (actually an oxygenated liquid that the animal ends up breathing). The rat was unharmed and became Cameron's pet, but died of natural causes before the film opened.