Digital Review: “The Abyss” Joins the Other 20th Century Studios James Cameron Films On 4K for the First Time

Last week The Abyss joined other James Cameron films from 20th Century Studios (formerly 20th Century Fox) like Aliens and True Lies being released on 4K digital download for the first time– with a physical disc to follow in the spring– and below are my thoughts on this release.

I was only nine years old when The Abyss hit theaters in 1989, and that year I was much more interested in Back to the Future Part II, Ghostbusters 2, and Batman. But I did watch James Cameron’s groundbreaking underwater science-fiction epic a year or two later when it started running on cable and liked it a lot. Sadly this meant I never got to see the movie in anything better than standard home-media definition until about five or six years ago when I watched it on HBO Go in 1080p. And now, for the first time ever, I got to see The Abyss much closer to the way James Cameron intended– though not theatrically, though that recently became an option again for one night only– via the new 4K digital download release.

This download, for which I received a redeem code for the purposes of this review, includes 4K versions of both the 2 hour, 20 minute theatrical cut of the film plus the half-hour-longer Special Edition that was first issued on LaserDisc in 1993– and they both look absolutely gorgeous. Honestly, though I’ve seen The Abyss a handful of times before, this genuinely felt like my first time really watching it and being fully immersed in its sci-fi ocean setting. The details are sharper than ever before outside of a giant theater screen, the colors pop magnificently, and the visual effects by Industrial Light & Magic, though they’re almost 35 years old, hold up even under this amount of scrutiny.

Bonus features include a new 30-minute “Deep Dive” conversation with James Cameron about his memories from the film, another 25-minute featurette called “The Legacy of The Abyss,” and the archival hour-long behind-the-scenes documentary “Under Pressure: Making The Abyss” from 1993. There are also three different trailers and other odds and ends like timelapse footage of the construction of the film’s massive underwater set, plus more behind-the-scenes montages, effects reels, and items of interest. What I learned from sifting through this making-of content (many of it for the first time) is that Jim Cameron was perhaps even more dedicated to his craft back in the late 80s than he is now, frequently going so far as to put himself, his talented cast, and his dedicated crew in (literally) high-pressure situations to get the shots he needed.

Because it is not attached to a larger franchise (and was never previously released on Blu-ray or any other high-definition physical media) I feel like The Abyss often gets forgotten among James Cameron’s numerous astounding accomplishments in the world of filmmaking over the past 40 years. But revisiting it now, I am reminded of why it felt like such a big deal back then– it still comes across like nothing that had existed before (or after, really), and stands as a testament to the director’s vision and commitment to his art.

The Abyss is available in 4K right now via digital download, and will be released on 4K disc on March 12th 2024.

Mike Celestino
Mike serves as Laughing Place's lead Southern California reporter, Editorial Director for Star Wars content, and host of the weekly "Who's the Bossk?" Star Wars podcast. He's been fascinated by Disney theme parks and storytelling in general all his life and resides in Burbank, California with his beloved wife and cats.