The Abyss Digital UHD Review

3 Stars No SE in 4K?
The Abyss Review

James Cameron’s The Abyss finally makes its 4K streaming debut on PVOD platforms, with a physical media release set for March 2024.

The Abyss (1989)
Released: 09 Aug 1989
Rated: PG-13
Runtime: 140 min
Director: James Cameron
Genre: Adventure, Drama, Mystery
Cast: Ed Harris, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Michael Biehn
Writer(s): James Cameron
Plot: A civilian diving team is enlisted to search for a lost nuclear submarine and faces danger while encountering an alien aquatic species.
IMDB rating: 7.5
MetaScore: 62

Disc Information
Studio: Disney
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution: 2160p HEVC w/HDR
Aspect Ratio: 2.39.1
Audio: Dolby Atmos
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: PG-13
Run Time: 2 Hr. 20 Min.
Package Includes: Digital Copy
Case Type: N/A
Disc Type: Other
Region: A
Release Date: 12/12/2023
MSRP: $24.99

The Production: 3.5/5

When a US nuclear submarine sinks after a mysterious collision with an unknown object in the Cayman Trough, the military sends a team of Navy SEALS to join a team of underwater oil rig workers to mount a rescue mission. Along for the ride is Lindsey Brigman (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio), the engineer who designed the deep sea oil rig, who is also separated from her husband, Virgil “Bud” Brigman (Ed Harris), who is the foreman. Leading the Navy SEALS is Lt. Coffey (Michael Biehn). While investigating the crash site, it becomes apparent that something is down there with them. Up on the surface, a hurricane is about to wreak havoc while tensions between the US and Russia are at an all-time high, with the US suspecting it was the Russians who attacked the submarine, and when they hurricane hits, it disconnects the oil rig’s umbilical connection to the Benthic Explorer, taking its crane with it careening down the depths of the sea and eventually dragging the rig like an anchor to the edge of a steep cliff. Cut off and leaking like a sieve, the rig crew and SEALS find themselves trapped, with Coffey becoming increasingly paranoid about the bogeys trying to make contact with them, believing they are Russians. But Lindsey also has an encounter while tying additional oxygen tanks to the rig, and realizes they may be otherworldly. Tensions between the SEALS and the rig crew escalate as oxygen continues to run out, while the alien species continues to try and make contact.

The Abyss was a technological marvel when it was first released in the summer of 1989, containing the first fluid 3-dimensional computer generated character (the “water tentacle”) which helped the film earn an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects that year. However, the theatrical release was lacking an emotional payoff, an ending that felt like it came out of nowhere. This was due to the fact that the film was running long, nearly three hours, with some rather expensive visual effects still to be completed. Hoping to squeeze one more screening per day and saving additional money on the incomplete tidal wave visual effects, director James Cameron trimmed close to thirty minutes from the film, essentially deleting the subplot that better explained the alien presence. Three years later, Cameron was allowed to complete the film, receiving a very limited theatrical release in 1992 before finding its way to Laserdisc in 1993 as a Special Edition cut. This cut better explained the aliens and delivered a much more emotional ending (I give that version a 4 out of 5). Unfortunately, for this 4K digital release (at least at the time of this writing), only the theatrical cut is being offered in 4K HDR on most PVOD platforms, with the Special Edition being relegated as a special feature in HD.

Video: 4.5/5

3D Rating: NA

Like True Lies, fans of The Abyss have been clamoring for something better than the non-anamorphic DVD released in 2000, and that was nothing more than a port of the same 1992 transfer created for Laserdisc, which had its own problems of single-frame jump cuts wherever new footage was added. The Abyss was photographed on 35mm film stock in the Super35 process and completed on 35mm film in the 2.39:1 aspect ratio. For this release, the original camera negative has been scanned in 4K, with additional clean up and processing completed by Park Road Post in New Zealand. It was then graded using Dolby Vision and HDR10 high dynamic range, all under the supervision of director James Cameron. Disney has released this new 4K version to PVOD platforms on December 12, 2023, with a physical media release due in March 2024.

This is a much better looking transfer than True Lies, as it does not appear as digitally processed. There is a very fine layer of film grain still visible, and there is a high level of fine detail visible including fabric textures. Colors are vivid and never appear over-saturated. Blacks are deep and inky with strong shadow detail. This is a huge improvement over the previous DVD release and HD broadcasts.

Apple TV’s encode (which includes only the theatrical cut in both Dolby Vision and HDR10), on an Apple TV 4K device, is your best viewing experience. Apple seems to be using a much more efficient compression codec and possibly higher bitrates. This is a razor sharp image comparted to other services, with no noticeable compression artifacts. On a non-Apple TV device, the encode is a tad softer, possibly due to a weaker video processor used on devices made by Roku and Amazon.

The encode on Movies Anywhere (on a Roku Streaming Stick 4K) is about on par as the Apple TV version, while the Vudu version suffers from occasional macro blocking and banding, particularly during the opening title as the screen opens up to the deep blue sea and the sub approaching the camera out of the murkiness. Both Movies Anywhere and Vudu also offer the theatrical cut in Dolby Vison and HDR10.

Prime Video offers the theatrical cut in HDR10 only, and suffers from even more macro blocking, banding, and other compression artifacts than the Vudu version.

Of course, the elephant in the room is the Special Edition cut, which is only available as a special feature in HD, or as a separate purchase in 4K on Prime Video (which does not port back to Movies Anywhere).

Audio: 4.5/5

Apple TV, Movies Anywhere and Vudu all offer the theatrical cut with a lossy Dolby Atmos mix (with a Dolby Digital+ 5.1 core) that sounds phenomenal, although the Apple TV version when played on an Apple TV 4K device seems to have a slightly wider dynamic range. This is a very immersive track, with active surrounds, excellent use of heights (in quieter moments inside the rig, it actually sounds like you may have a water leak in your roof), and beefy LFE. Dialogue is clear and understandable.

Prime Video only offers the theatrical cut with a nice Dolby Digital+ 5.1 mix, which in itself is an improvement over the DVD mix, which was really a 4.1 mix with a mono surround channel in a 5.1 wrapper, while Prime’s 5.1 is a true 5.1 with split surrounds.

I sampled the Special Edition on Apple TV, Movies Anywhere and Vudu, and the Dolby Digital+ 5.1 mix contains split surrounds, perhaps for the first time ever.

Special Features: 4/5

Apple TV appears to have the motherlode of extras compared to Movies Anywhere and Vudu, provided you have an Apple TV 4K device. Otherwise, the Apple TV version is movie-only on non-Apple TV devices such as Roku. The 4K theatrical cut on Prime is movie only.

Apple TV
The Abyss: Special Edition (1080p; 2 Hrs 51 mins)

**NEW** Deep Dive: A Conversation with James Cameron (1080p; 32:23): James Cameron sits down to discuss his memories of making The Abyss.

**NEW** The Legacy of “The Abyss” (1080p; 24:40): James Cameron, Jon Landau, Walt Conti, Hoyt Yeatman, John Knoll, Denis Muren, Gale Anne Hurd and many other members of the crew discuss the making of the film thru recent and archival interviews. Much of what Cameron says was taken from the Deep Dive featurette.

Under Pressure: The Making of “The Abyss” (SD; 59:38): The excellent one-hour documentary that first appeared on the 1993 LaserDisc release.

Teaser Trailer (SD; 1:13)

Main Trailer (SD; 2:56)

Reviews Trailer (SD; 0:40)

Deepcore Timelapse (SD; 7:21)

Videomatics Montage (SD; 1:48)

Montana Bridge Flooding (SD; 0:46)

Engine Room Flooding (SD; 0:44)

Surface Shoot Montage (SD; 0:30)

Crane Crash Shoot (SD; 0:24)

Visual Effects Reel (SD; 20:50)

Miniature Rear Projection (SD; 0:28)

Motion Control Timelapse (SD; 1:02)

Original Treatment: Text slideshow of James Cameron’s original story treatment.

Shooting Script: Text slideshow of James Cameron’s screenplay.

Original Storyboards: Slideshow of storyboards.

Image Gallery: Slideshow galleries of Cast and Crew, Costume Design, Training and Underwater, ROVs and Video, The Montana, Benthic Explorer, Deepcore, Flatbed, Cabs One and Three, NTI Scout and Manta, The Pseudopod, Fluid Breathing and Deep Suit, The NTIs, The Wave, The NTI Ark, and Publicity and Marketing.

Movies Anywhere
The Abyss: Special Edition (1080p; 2 Hrs 51 mins)

**NEW** Deep Dive: A Conversation with James Cameron (1080p; 32:23): James Cameron sits down to discuss his memories of making The Abyss.

**NEW** The Legacy of “The Abyss” (1080p; 24:40): James Cameron, Jon Landau, Walt Conti, Hoyt Yeatman, John Knoll, Denis Muren, Gale Anne Hurd and many other members of the crew discuss the making of the film thru recent and archival interviews. Much of what Cameron says was taken from the Deep Dive featurette.

Under Pressure: The Making of “The Abyss” (SD; 59:38): The excellent one-hour documentary that first appeared on the 1993 LaserDisc release.

Teaser Trailer (SD; 1:13)

Main Trailer (SD; 2:56)

Reviews Trailer (SD; 0:40)

Deepcore Timelapse (SD; 7:21)

Videomatics Montage (SD; 1:48)

Montana Bridge Flooding (SD; 0:46)

Engine Room Flooding (SD; 0:44)

Surface Shoot Montage (SD; 0:30)

Crane Crash Shoot (SD; 0:24)

Visual Effects Reel (SD; 20:50)

Miniature Rear Projection (SD; 0:28)

Motion Control Timelapse (SD; 1:02)

Vudu
Under Pressure: The Making of “The Abyss” (SD; 59:38): The excellent one-hour documentary that first appeared on the 1993 LaserDisc release.

Archives (SD; 38:48): includes Teaser Trailer, Main Trailer, Reviews Trailer, Deepcore Timelapse, Videomatics Montage, Montana Bridge Flooding, Engine Room Flooding, Surface Shoot Montage, Crane Crash Shoot, Visual Effects Reel, and Miniature Rear Projection, all as one program.

**NEW** Deep Dive: A Conversation with James Cameron (1080p; 32:23): James Cameron sits down to discuss his memories of making The Abyss.

The Abyss: Special Edition (1080p; 2 Hrs 51 mins)

**NEW** The Legacy of “The Abyss” (1080p; 24:40): James Cameron, Jon Landau, Walt Conti, Hoyt Yeatman, John Knoll, Denis Muren, Gale Anne Hurd and many other members of the crew discuss the making of the film thru recent and archival interviews. Much of what Cameron says was taken from the Deep Dive featurette.

Overall: 3/5

The digital release of The Abyss is a disappointment, as many had been led to believe that the preferred special edition would be included in 4K HDR and Dolby Atmos, which is not the case at the time of this writing (although the studio has said that they are “working on it”), hence the 1 point demerit. Video and audio presentation of the theatrical cut are excellent, and some nice new and old features have been included.

The Abyss, Aliens and True Lies will be available in 4K Ultra UHD for the first time ever on December 12 at digital retailers and on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray disc March 12, 2024. Avatar and Avatar: The Way of Water Collector’s Editions will also be available at digital retailers December 12 and on Blu-ray December 19.

Todd Erwin has been a reviewer at Home Theater Forum since 2008. His love of movies began as a young child, first showing Super 8 movies in his backyard during the summer to friends and neighbors at age 10. He also received his first movie camera that year, a hand-crank Wollensak 8mm with three fixed lenses. In 1980, he graduated to "talkies" with his award-winning short The Ape-Man, followed by the cult favorite The Adventures of Terrific Man two years later. Other films include Myth or Fact: The Talbert Terror and Warren's Revenge (which is currently being restored). In addition to movie reviews, Todd has written many articles for Home Theater Forum centering mostly on streaming as well as an occasional hardware review, is the host of his own video podcast Streaming News & Views on YouTube and is a frequent guest on the Home Theater United podcast.

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SD_Brian

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Thanks for the review. One correction: "Under Pressure: The Making of The Abyss" first appeared on the 1992 laserdisc, not the 2000 DVD.
 

Mark Booth

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What a GIGANTIC stinking pile of confusing mish-mash Cameron and 20th Century Fox have foisted upon us with this digital release! I jumped at the chance to own 'The Abyss' in 4K via iTunes, only to discover/realize (moments after making the purchase) that I was getting the theatrical version only. I immediately requested a refund from Apple (6 days ago now) and I have not received a reply. I have not watched the stream, not even for a brief moment. In my Apple account it still shows as a "pending" purchase, which is probably why I haven't received a refund.

Do I have to actually WATCH it before I can request a refund? Dumb, if true.

At any rate, I'm waiting for the 4K Blu-ray. If the SE version isn't available on the 4K Blu-ray in 4K (in at least HDR10, if not Dolby Vision), I will NOT be buying the 4K Blu-ray either.

Somebody, be it Cameron or a twit at 20th Century Fox, really screwed the pooch on this one.

Mark
 

Bartman

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Thanks for giving your assessment of quality from various streaming providers. My enthusiasm is blunted (after waiting 30 years for a quality presentation) by the discovery The Abyss cannot be rented, only purchased. When will it be available to rent from ATV+?
 

dpippel

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Thanks for giving your assessment of quality from various streaming providers. My enthusiasm is blunted (after waiting 30 years for a quality presentation) by the discovery The Abyss cannot be rented, only purchased. When will it be available to rent from ATV+?
This is pretty bizarre, as the 4K digital release of Aliens can be rented from Apple for $3.99. I'll tell ya, this whole situation with Cameron's three new streaming 4K titles has been nothing more than one huge cluster f*ck.
 

Worth

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This is pretty bizarre, as the 4K digital release of Aliens can be rented from Apple for $3.99. I'll tell ya, this whole situation with Cameron's three new streaming 4K titles has been nothing more than one huge cluster f*ck.
I think the difference is that Aliens has long been available for rent and purchase, while the others haven’t and are considered “new” releases. They’ll probably be available for rent in a month or two.
 

dpippel

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I think the difference is that Aliens has long been available for rent and purchase, while the others haven’t and are considered “new” releases. They’ll probably be available for rent in a month or two.
Yeah, that's more than likely what's going on here.
 

Neil S. Bulk

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I jumped at the chance to own 'The Abyss' in 4K via iTunes, only to discover/realize (moments after making the purchase) that I was getting the theatrical version only. I immediately requested a refund from Apple (6 days ago now) and I have not received a reply.
Slow down. Yes, the release could have been handled better, but "The Abyss" is a Movies Anywhere title. I bought it from Apple shortly after it became available and yes, it was only the theatrical cut without any extras. However, it ported over to MA and Vudu and all of the extras were on those platforms. And then a day or two later, Apple had all of these extras and more.

Now it's baffling that the "Special Edition" is only HD and 5.1 on all of the Movies Anywhere vendors but I'm hoping that is rectified.
 

Mark Booth

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Apple *finally* pushed through the payment for 'The Abyss' digital and the moment I was notified of the charge, I was able to go to Apple's request a refund site and ask for a refund. I'll supposedly know their answer within 48 hours.

However... my previous attempt to contact Apple customer service about this issue also indicated I'd receive their reply within 48 hours and none has been forthcoming.

I took a few minutes to use Disney's web form to politely complain about what a mess they've created with the digital release of this title.

Mark
 

Todd Erwin

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Your review says the Special Edition isn’t available in 4K. But isn’t it also available, but sold exclusively by Amazon? Does anyone know the story here, why it’s an exclusive release?

https://thedigitalbits.com/item/abyss-2023-digital-uhd

I want to chalk that up as an Amazon screw up, much like they did with changing everyone's UHD theatrical audio version of Avatar: The Way of Water to the HD Family Friendly Audio version a few months back (and selling that version individually) when the studio's directive was to include that version as a special feature instead. Took several escalations to Executive Customer Relations at Amazon to get that straightened out. Although Amazon claims it was fixed for everyone, I have a few friends who still have that version in their Prime Video library instead of the theatrical. And Amazon is still selling that Family Friendly audio version...
 

Todd Erwin

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DaveF

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I want to chalk that up as an Amazon screw up, much like they did with changing everyone's UHD theatrical audio version of Avatar: The Way of Water to the HD Family Friendly Audio version a few months back (and selling that version individually) when the studio's directive was to include that version as a special feature instead. Took several escalations to Executive Customer Relations at Amazon to get that straightened out. Although Amazon claims it was fixed for everyone, I have a few friends who still have that version in their Prime Video library instead of the theatrical. And Amazon is still selling that Family Friendly audio version...
How is it an Amazon screwup to have the best version of the movie in UHD? This seems like Amazon is the only one that’s doing it right and Disney and Apple have the screw up?

Or are you saying that Fox / Disney / James Cameron don’t want the SE in 4K?
 

DaveF

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And my friend who bought The Abyss from Apple and who’s frustration with the lack of SE prompting me to look into this issue, replied :)

Thanks for looking into this for me. Appreciated it. You gots some cool forum friends.
 
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Tino

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And my friend who bought The Abyss from Apple and who’s frustration with the lack of SE prompting me to look into this issue, replied :)
The Abyss on iTunes contains the SE in HD/5.1.
 

Josh Steinberg

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How is it an Amazon screwup to have the best version of the movie in UHD? This seems like Amazon is the only one that’s doing it right and Disney and Apple have the screw up?

Or are you saying that Fox / Disney / James Cameron don’t want the SE in 4K?

The screwup is that one singular purchase is supposed to include access to both the theatrical and special edition versions of the film, with both versions provided in 4K UHD. It’s not supposed to be separate SKUs for each version. Amazon is offering an incorrect product configuration by selling the special edition independently of the theatrical version rather than offering them together in one purchase with both in 4K.

It appears that no retailer has gotten it right yet, which as Todd has pointed out, is likely because Disney (having not handled a similar digital release before) hasn’t properly formatted their metadata or provided the deliverables in a way that the storefronts understood how to market them.
 
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