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Artwork copyright (c) 1989 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation; review copyright (c) 2004 James Southall



A score of two halves


Not the easiest chap to get along with, James Cameron's movies - despite being, on the most part, "music friendly" - have not inspired the most impressive bunch of original scores.  The Abyss is quite a decent movie, as a bunch of divers trying to find a lost submarine encounter aliens underwater, and Ed Harris is typically good in the lead role.  The score is almost certainly the best for any of Cameron's movies, but it is very much a score of two halves.

The first half - which can take a little getting used to - sees composer Alan Silvestri writing a beautiful, balletic portrait of the deep.  Skimming around other websites' reviews of this title (yes, there are other websites), it seems that most reviewers detest the first ten tracks of this album.  Therefore, take what I am about to say with an appropriately-sized pinch of salt or two.  For my money, it's truly gorgeous music, remarkably deep (!) for a film of this type, with Silvestri writing low-key music that certainly takes some work to appreciate on the highest level, but if you put that work in then there is a lot of reward to be had.  Sometimes the music is more atmospheric than melodic - "The Pseudopod" is a good example, with shimmering strings and subtle synths but no themes - but this works just as well - and the modern, impressionist writing is similar in a way to how Jerry Goldsmith treated the alien probe in Star Trek: The Motion Picture.  With the choir, "The Manta Ship" evokes John Williams's classic Close Encounters of the Third Kind, hardly a bad thing.  Ironically, given that Silvestri is probably known best as a composer of action music, the action sequences here are just about the only disappointment, being rather generic and a fairly limp extension of Predator, which had come shortly beforehand; in truth, cues like "The Crane" and "The Fight" could easily be removed from the CD to make it better.

Where just about everyone agrees is that the last three tracks are outstanding, quite possibly the pinnacle of Silvestri's career so far.  The choir and orchestra come together and positively soar upwards in statements of orchestral and choral majesty and magic.  "Bud on the Ledge" may be the best of all, a very powerful and moving piece.  Silvestri writes functional music so well, but he rarely gets a chance to tug at the heartstrings and write emotional music - well, here it is, folks.  The piece everyone has heart attacks over is the "Finale", and it's not difficult to see why.  It's an inspirational, terrific piece of music.

The Abyss is a fantastic album, one of Silvestri's finest, marred only by slightly thin orchestrations at times (the only thing really from keeping the best passages from rivalling things like Close Encounters) and the occasionally cheesy action music.  Otherwise this is the composer at his very best, and comes highly recommended.

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  1. Main Title (1:30)
  2. Search the Montana (1:56)
  3. The Crane (2:00)
  4. The Manta Ship (6:23)
  5. The Pseudopod (5:37)
  6. The Fight (1:46)
  7. Sub Battle (3:18)
  8. Lindsey Drowns (4:44)
  9. Resurrection (1:58)
  10. Bud's Big Dive (6:10)
  11. Bud on the Ledge (3:13)
  12. Back on the Air (1:40)
  13. Finale (6:46)