Saturday, 29 August 2009

The most underrated Sci-Fi & Fantasy films of all time. Pt1 The Abyss. SE

The most underrated Sci-Fi films of all time!

One of the real bonus points of getting the opportunity to blog for is “meeting” sci-fi and fantasy fans from all over the world. This allows you start again all those wonderful discussions / arguments you’ve had with your analogue friends on countless Friday nights instead of doing sensible things like, go to sleep. To meet kindred spirits who love that film that you began to think nobody else had ever seen or, Tank Girl I’m looking at you, who agree that a film is so bad it’s good & not just so bad it’s really, really bad! Perhaps more a little misunderstood because the humour just didn’t ring true for most of the tiny, tiny number of people who watched it. The line “Two Dollars and 15 cents“is guaranteed to bring my house to a standstill as Louise and I enter uncontrollable fits of laughter and everyone else edges themselves stealthily towards the exit!
Now don’t panic; I know what you’re thinking. Who cares what Everton thinks if he rates Tank Girl as one of the most underrated Sci-fi films of all time? Don’t worry, I may find amusement in it, and even think it’s a little misunderstood, but in the main I can see the faults, even if like a favourite old pair of shoes, or that leather jacket I had for 10 years, I can see right through the faults to the comfy bits.

Still, before I get to interesting part... (Oops schoolboy journo error! The MORE interesting part)... I’ll have to define what I mean by underrated. Generally people look at two things when it comes classing a film as underrated, AKA cult. Critical opinion and cold hard cash! Many films that are now considered to be classics, like It’s a Wonderful life and the Searchers both had mixed fortunes at the box office and with critics, although Life did garner some Oscar nominations. Both are now widely considered two of the best films of all time. Long story short (I know too late) just because a film made a decent amount of money, doesn’t mean people thought it was any good (Hancock, Harry Potter 1 or 2, The Day After Tomorrow), and just because the critics didn’t get it doesn’t mean it wasn’t great (Blade Runner, The Thing).
I’m hoping to get you guys talking and see what films you guys think. Blade Runner is firmly established as a “classic” now so perhaps listing it as underrated is kind of redundant now?
Anyone who’s ever read anything I’ve said about James Cameron will know that I rate “The Abyss” very highly indeed. OK that’s not quite right. I rate The Abyss highly; I rate “The Abyss: The Directors Cut” extremely highly. Foolishly cut down by Fox because they considered its 171 minute running time too long and likely to lose the film money, due to one less showing per day. These were the pre hyper-multiplex days of 1989. Perhaps more importantly they were also the pre Lord of the Rings 3 hour movies are ok days. Ripping the guts out of the, very important, subplot making the ending slightly confusing and worse the film kind of just stops. Bud gets rescued, spend a few seconds with the “aliens” and they take him and the other survivors up to the surface and the film ends. It made the ending less satisfying. A lot less satisfying.
Oh I still liked it. It was good, exciting science fiction. There was a good anti war message, struggling to get out around the cuts, and I LOVED the titanium toilet ring. It also reminded me why I seriously have no interest in working underwater. Cameron ratchets up tension in a way that makes even 80s Spielberg seem like he’s playing chess with the old folks! Situations go from worse to apocalyptic in stupendously entertaining ways. The Benthic rig getting dragged towards the Abyss seems harrowing enough but then the crane starts to fall, phew it didn’t crush them, but Ah, Now it’s dragging them to the Abyss again. The mixture of camerawork is perfect switching from dollys to Steadicam to hand held at just the right moments tracking the numerous poor souls who are just not quite going to escape drowning.

Because of my age The Abyss was the first Cameron film I got to see. Later, watching The Terminator and Aliens (Aliens: The Director’s cut too) I could clearly see the progression of his style, both of writing and directing. Match cutting, atmospheric lighting and an unmatched ability to use exposition without slowing a film down. Cameron’s characters explain on the move. Think Sarah and Kyle in The Terminator. The basic plot of the film, who Kyle is what the Terminator is and why there all there is explained on the run, on foot, in cars. In the Abyss we get to know the rig as we see it being towed along the ocean floor or as steadycams glide down its tunnels. The Cameron staple that is a strong female character is here too, as in Aliens there are several. The Abyss is still most well known for the quantum leap in Special effects that was the “water tentacle”. Evolved out of the morphing technology in Willow it was genuinely one of those moments in cinema never seen before. It was also a moment that served the story and allowed it to be told to better effect. There’s no, we “need a scene with a water thingy that copies people’s faces write one in”. Terminator 2 was slicker, (and much better or is that much deeper than people tend to think) and perhaps more accessible but it is in The Abyss that Cameron perfects his movie style. That style, or blueprint, can be seen in the rest of his work, in the purely entertaining True Lies and in Titanic the “exponential endings” (tm & copyright thank you) that is Cameron’s trademark are used again. In fact it’s Cameron’s mastery of expomantial endings that make the original cut of that film so unsatisfactory. The film races on through each of the endings in sequence and there’s neither enough breathing space between each ending nor a significant emotional payoff to make sitting through them worthwhile.

A good way to illustrate why Cameron is the master of this technique would be to look at pretty much any Renny Harlin film. ~He seems to be a student of the Cameron school of moviemaking, but unfortunately he spent too much time partying and dropped out in the final year. Take the long kiss goodnight. There’s a decent film hiding in there, but it never ends. Everyone dies, but they don’t, Samuel L Jackson dies, but doesn’t things crash on bridges and blow up but still it isn’t over, I bet they’re still making that film now and on ending 734! In The Abyss you care about Bud, Lindsey and in the director’s cut the rest of the world too. It’s also got one of the best film scores I’ve ever heard.
I’ll get to another film in my most underrated list in another blog, but please let us know what yours are and why.

You are the resistance.


  1. Hi Ev, once again I "just have to " say something. Funny you mentioned The long kiss goodnight 'cause I really liked that film. But as always when it's a heroine insted of a hero the film gets slaughtered. Geena maybe was casted 'cause she was with Harlin but I think she did good. And I almost always like Jackson. (Now that's a cool guy)Except for in unbreakable. Never the less the film is underrated. End of story :)

  2. Lol. I'm telling you we would have had some great arguments if we'd met.

    First, I love the comments. Whether agreeing or disagreeing you always make good points.

    The long kiss good night is a great action movie .... right up until about the third ending! The film reaches a point where it needs to stop and it doesn’t, it goes on and then on some more.

    I agree that it took way more heat than it deserved to because it had a female lead, but I’m afraid the director / editor / writer need to take some blame because they need to make the film just a little tighter. 10 minutes or so off and it would be an action Classic.

    Maybe you can write a piece saying how it is one of the most underrated action films of all time!

    Good to hear from you again.