Exposition in Cameron’s The Abyss

Yesterday I had the enormous privilege and honor of watching James Cameron’s The Abyss on the big screen, sitting next to the movie’s concept designer Ron Cobb. The last time I saw the film in a cinema was at a preview before its release in 1986.

The scene in this clip is a trademark Cameron setup.

Remember the unobtainium – ‘floating rock’ scene in Avatar? That is a case of exposition that some love and others loathe.

This scene from The Abyss sits around about the same time into this movie and sets up an equally important concept, which will be crucial in the movie’s climax.

The scene is in my view one of the most supreme examples of exposition. It combines character and tension with essential story information.

It shows how James Cameron has always been a tremendously gifted screenwriter.


In fact – and contrary to the unobtainium scene – Ron Cobb confirmed to me that the fluid breathing system is not sci-fi but fact.  Hippy’s rat is submerged in actual fluid breathing system liquid and in this scene it is really breathing underwater. Apparently, Beany the rat survived for quite a while afterwards and died of natural causes.

(On the contrary – as you might have guessed – in the movie’s climax Ed Harris did not breathe liquid. The glass of his suit was tinted amber to suggest it was filled with the liquid.)

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Elements of Suspense (2)

The Elements of Suspense also talked about editing in order to maximize tension, that when emotions are high, Hitchcock resorted to tight shots and close-ups, but when the tension is over, he’ll fall back on medium shots. This is common. And editing is just as important when you write your script. Consider the way Tarantino … Read more

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