It drove me nuts.
I understand, James Cameron, endings are hard. When you work so hard for an hour and a half to build suspense and tension, it's hard to create a climax that matches that sense of suspense. It's why horror movies often have the lamest endings and psychological dramas devolve into action sequences (I'm looking at you, Red Eye). It's hard to end stories.
But really. Really.
I mean, I was sucked into The Abyss from the beginning. I seriously have a phobia about suffocating/being drowned (which fall under claustrophobia and aquaphobia, though I'm not afraid of tight spaces or water, just dying of oxygen deprivation) and with a setting much like one of my favorite movies Alien, what with tight spaces, not being able to get help from the outside, and a very squabbling-family-like, lived-with quality to the cast and set, I was on the edge of my seat for most of the movie. Not to mention that the scientific accuracy (for a big-budget movie) was impressive, so I was satisfied with its level of integrity, underwater aliens and all.
(Though that does bring to mind a question: Why couldn't they have been sentient terrestrials, rather than extraterrestrials? I would think that would be much cooler. Moving on...)
Then came the suicide dive Bud goes on. Which is all good and fine in and of itself, until he actually got saved. From then on out, I was frustrated beyond belief. A few questions that came to mind:
- How is he surviving that far underwater? Are the aliens doing it? Why would they do that? I mean, they live in water, how would they know to depressurize him?
- Alien city? Why? Why do we have to reveal everything about them? Why can't they stay a secret? Mysterious helpers?
- Why do the aliens have a) hands and b) eyelids?
- The insta-depressurization thing makes no sense. (Not a question, but omigeez, for realz?) I mean, the aliens are deep-sea critters, apparently. You don't just bring deep-sea critters up into air-pressure. They pop.
Yeah, all of these questions threw me right out of the story. I mean, when you establish your world as one of nitty gritty reality, with the main threat for the first half of the movie being a man afflicted with a very real condition and dealing with very real, human problems, when you suddenly switch genres on us and make it an all-out sci-fi with Tron-alien-lights and everything, the audience gets thrown out of the story.
I had this problem with Atlas Shrugged too. I mean, I was hooked through the first half of the book. Sure, I didn't like the characters that much, but I was interested in the railroad. The railroad and the real-life financial dramas that were taking place around it were fascinating. Then John Galt's valley shows up and it becomes some sort of dystopian fantasy ala 1984. It was stupid, it was sudden and it suddenly became about ten times more preachy than it had been already. I was thrown out of the story and I only finished the book to be able to say that I had.
Endings are hard, I understand. The temptation to make everything all gooshy and happy is very, very strong. But you have to resist. The far more realistic ending of The Abyss would have been for Bud to die. He drowns down there, everyone else gets saved just in the nick of time, they are all scarred and sad, but they make it out. It'd be like the ending of Armageddon (which was totally a comparison I drew right from the beginning when they both had oil rigs and Bruce Willis look-alike main characters - seriously, Ed Harris kept reminding me of Bruce Willis all through the movie): in Armageddon, Bruce Willis makes a heroic sacrifice, dies, and everyone else is saved.
Granted, that would have been a totally bittersweet ending and I'm not sure where the aliens would have come in, seeing as how they would have pretty much been useless, but that isn't entirely bad. This movie could have been really good, just making it about the sub going down and the things that happened afterward. Make it an accident that the sub went down and blame the hurricane for everything else. No need to bring the aliens in. They felt shoehorned in by the end, having no real bearing on the characters' growth or their situation.
I understand, James, I really do. Endings are hard. But really... Just, really...
(Note: I haven't seen the Director's Cut, which apparently does some better jobs of explaining some stuff by restoring footage. Or so I hear. I wouldn't know. I haven't seen it. But really, we shouldn't have to just rely on the Director's Cut to tell a complete story.)