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Film | by Shane “Scuba-Dooby-Doo!” Hnetka

With today’s computer imaging technology achieving amazing realism, it’s interesting to ponder what’s viewed as live action and what’s considered animated. Disney’s The Lion King remake apparently only has one live-action shot (the first scene), but it looks like a live-action movie thanks to its photorealism. Disney considers The Lion King live action and is calling it their highest grossing live-action movie of all time (that’s just Disney, not counting Star Wars or Marvel movies).

Weird. I blame James Cameron.

The Abyss Turns 30

James Cameron’s 1989 movie The Abyss turns 30 this month. The Abyss did okay in theatres but didn’t find popularity until Cameron released his director’s cut first on Laser Disc, then on DVD, several years later.

The Abyss was Cameron’s first film following his success with The Terminator and Aliens. It was a massive undertaking. Cameron shot the movie underwater and made the actors do their own diving. There were massive production delays, the hours were gruelling and both Ed Harris and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio had breakdowns on set. Harris almost drowned shooting one scene.

The movie is about the search for an American submarine that mysteriously sinks in the Caribbean Sea. The U.S. government commandeers a group of underwater miners to help in the rescue, sending a team of Navy SEALs along. The sub went down near the Cayman Trough — a massive trench in the ocean floor.

While searching for survivors, the crew find strange life forms that appear to be… watching them. Then one of the SEALs starts to go crazy.

Down In The Dark

By the time The Abyss was released, Cameron was over budget and out of time. Originally slated for a July release, it was pushed back to Aug. 9.

When The Abyss was released it was 1989’s third underwater thriller movie. Friday the 13th’s director Sean S. Cunningham’s DeepStar Six was first out of the gate in January. DeepStar Six bombed and is just terrible (supports my theory Hollywood deliberately sacrifices a bad horror movie at the start of every year to appease the Box Office Gods).

In March, Leviathan hit theatres and also bombed. There were few others — The Evil Below, Lords of the Deep and The Rift all got direct to video releases. So when The Abyss came along, audiences were understandably tired of underwater monster movies. They were perhaps a little shocked Cameron hadn’t actually made a monster movie.

Cameron did, however, use CGI for a special effect — a water tentacle —  that would win the movie an Oscar. That scene’s success led Cameron to use similar effects to create the T-1000 in Terminator 2, and, to use the cliché, the rest is history.

Now we have Disney making completely CGI films and calling them live action. What a world.

Shane Hnetka is a made-in-Saskatchewan film and comic book nerd. His column “Sunday Matinee” appears weekly on our blog.