10 Things You Might Not Know About THE ABYSS - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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10 Things You Might Not Know About THE ABYSS

It's World War Three in a can.


Released on August 9th 1989, written and directed by James Cameron and starring Ed Harris, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, and Michael Biehn, The Abyss tells the story of a U.S. search and recovery team racing against Soviet vessels to recover an American submarine which has sunk in the Caribbean. But, deep in the ocean, they encounter something unexpected...

On the anniversary of its release, here are ten things you might not know about The Abyss.


1. The idea for The Abyss came to James Cameron when, at age 17 and in high school, he attended a science lecture about deep sea diving by a man, Francis J. Falejczyk, who was the first human to breathe fluid through his lungs in experiments conducted by Dr. Johannes A. Kylstra. Cameron subsequently wrote a short story that focused on a group of scientists in a laboratory at the bottom of the ocean. The basic idea of what became The Abyss did not change, but many of the details were modified over the years, for instance, once Cameron arrived in Hollywood he quickly realised that a group of scientists was not that commercial and changed it to a group of blue-collar workers.

2. While making Aliens, Cameron saw a National Geographic film about remote operated vehicles operating deep in the North Atlantic Ocean. These images reminded him of his short story, and after discussing it with Aliens producer Gale Anne Hurd, the pair decided that The Abyss would be their next film collaboration.

Cameron then wrote a treatment combined with elements of a shooting script, basing the character of Dr. Lindsey Brigman (played in the film by Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) on Hurd and finished it by the end of 1987. Cameron and Hurd were married before The Abyss went before the cameras, separated during pre-production, and divorced in February 1989, two months after principal photography ended.


3. As mentioned above, the breathing fluid used in the film actually exists, and naturally Cameron wanted to include it within The Abyss. Dr. Kylstra. along with Dr. Peter Bennett of Duke University, consulted on the film, giving detailed instructions on how to prepare the fluid. None of the actors breathed the fluid (although Ed Helms, who played Virgil "Bud" Brigman, held his breath inside a helmet full of liquid, and recalled a very uncomfortable moment being towed through the water with fluid rushing up his nose and his eyes swelling up), but the rat shown in the film did.

And, apart from defecating itself on camera (not seen in the final edit) the rat survived unharmed.

4. The cast and crew of The Abyss had to all be trained for underwater diving, a necessity as 40% of all live-action principal photography was to take place underwater. Because of this, Cameron's production company had to design and build experimental equipment and develop a state-of-the-art communications system that allowed the director to talk underwater to the actors and dialogue to be recorded directly onto tape for the first time.

In addition to that, two specially constructed tanks were used at the old Cherokee Nuclear Power Plant in South Carolina. The main tank, housed in the abandoned plant's primary reactor containment vessel, held 7.5 million US gallons (28,000 m3) of water, was 55 feet (18 m) deep and 209 feet (70 m) across. At the time, it was the largest fresh-water filtered tank in the world and took five days to fill!


5. All for authenticity, James Cameron and his 26-person underwater diving crew sank to 50 feet (17 m) and stayed down for five hours at a time. To avoid decompression sickness, they would have to hang from hoses halfway up the tank for as long as two hours, breathing pure oxygen.

6. The principal cast played their scenes at 33 feet (11 m), too shallow a depth for them to need decompression, and they rarely stayed down for more than an hour at a time. 33 feet, though, is still a hell of a way down.

Michael Biehn, who played US Navy SEAL Lieutenant Hiram Coffey, remembered one day filming underwater and...
"...suddenly the lights went out. It was so black I couldn't see my hand. I couldn't surface. I realized I might not get out of there." 

7. The water in the two tanks was heavily chlorinated to prevent microbes growing in it. This caused skin burns, as well as many of the crews' hair being stripped off or turning white. Due to this, the cast and crew had to apply Vaseline to their hair and skin for protection while filming for several hours underwater.

8. The cast and crew endured over six months of grueling six-day, 70-hour weeks on an isolated set. At one point, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio had a physical and emotional breakdown on the set and on another occasion, Ed Harris burst into spontaneous sobbing while driving home. Cameron himself admitted,
"I knew this was going to be a hard shoot, but even I had no idea just how hard. I don't ever want to go through this again".
Says the man who made Titanic.


9. As production went on, the slow pace and daily mental and physical strain of filming began to wear on the cast and crew. Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio remembered,
"We never started and finished any one scene in any one day".
While filming one of many takes of Mastrantonio's character's resuscitation scene—in which she was soaking wet, topless and repeatedly being slapped and pounded on the chest—the camera ran out of film, prompting Mastrantonio to storm off the set yelling,
"We are not animals!"
For some shots in that scene which focus on Ed Harris, he was yelling at thin air because Mastrantonio refused to film the scene again.

10. Before the film's release, there were reports from South Carolina that Ed Harris was so upset by the physical demands of the film and Cameron's dictatorial directing style that he said he would refuse to help promote the motion picture. Harris later denied this rumor and helped promote The Abyss. During the press tour Harris did, however, often mention how demanding the production had been. He recalled, Harris recalled:
"One day we were all in our dressing rooms and people began throwing couches out the windows and smashing the walls. We just had to get our frustrations out."
Cameron later responded to these complaints, saying,
"For every hour [the actors] spent trying to figure out what magazine to read, we spent an hour at the bottom of the tank breathing compressed air."
After its release and initial promotion, Harris publicly disowned the film, saying
"I'm never talking about it again and never will."
Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio also disowned the film, saying,
"The Abyss was a lot of things. Fun to make is not one of them."

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