Sci-fi classic 'The Abyss' washes into theaters and home video remastered in 4K

One of the oft-forgotten classics in director James Cameron's impressive resume of memorable films is the underwater sci-fi feature from 1989 titled "The Abyss." 

Years before splashing around in the watery worlds of "Titanic" and "Avatar," Cameron's under-appreciated project was fraught with challenging production conditions at a nuclear power facility's cooling tank that was transformed into the world's largest aquatic set and a grueling shoot plagued with cast and crew drama.

Showcasing Mikael Salomon's ("Far and Away," "Backdraft") Academy Award-nominated underwater cinematography filmed inside the abandoned Cherokee Nuclear Power Plant outside Gaffney, South Carolina and delivering pioneering digital effects like the shimmering alien water tentacle, "The Abyss" has finally been painstakingly remastered and given a sparkling Ultra HD makeover that was personally overseen by the technical wizardry of Cameron himself.  

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Promotional poster for the remastered 4K edition of "The Abyss." (Image credit: 20th Century Studios)

"The Abyss Collector's Edition" will launch digitally in 4K UHD, HD and SD on Dec. 12, 2023, with pre-orders available now. This will be followed by the hands-on home video version on March 12, 2024 in a 4K Ultra HD Combo Pack. 

In addition to the digital drop, 20th Century Studios announced that this highly-anticipated 4K Special Edition will appear for the first time since its initial big screen release for a limited one-day run at select theaters on Wednesday, Dec. 6. 

Here's the official re-release synopsis:

"In this underwater sci-fi adventure written and directed by James Cameron, a nuclear sub mysteriously sinks and a private oil rig crew, led by foreman Bud Brigman (Ed Harris), is recruited to join a team of Navy SEALs on a search and rescue effort. The group soon finds themselves on a spectacular life-and-death odyssey 25,000 feet below the ocean's surface, where they find a mysterious force that could either change the world — or destroy it. 'The Abyss' stars Ed Harris, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, and Michael Biehn. Fans will be able to experience Cameron's thrilling underwater sci-fi adventure for the first time in stunning, remastered 4K."

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A group of divers comes face-to-face with an alien entity in "The Abyss." (Image credit: 20th Century Fox)

In a December 2021 interview with to promote his art book, "Tech Noir," we asked Cameron to update the "The Abyss’" 4K restoration and transfer timeline.

"Yeah, we finished the [hi-def] transfer and I wanted to do it myself because Mikael [Salomon] did such a beautiful job with the cinematography on that film," Cameron told "It is truly, truly gorgeous cinematography. That was before I started to assert myself in terms of lighting and asking the cinematographer to do certain things. I'd compose with the camera and choose the lenses, but I left the lighting to him. He did a remarkable job on that movie that I appreciate better now than I did even as we were making it. 

"I'd also like to point out that he took one look at the first day's dailies of the underwater lighting and he went out and learned to scuba dive. He came in the following Monday morning (the worst diver in the world), but he reinvented underwater lighting. He went for indirect lighting and he got everybody doing things that were not just outside their comfort zone, they'd never even thought of it. Suddenly the underwater shots start to live up to the surface photography."

Cinematographer Mikael Salomon and director James Cameron on the set of "The Abyss." (Image credit: Mikael Salomon/20th Century Studios)

This new deluxe 4K UHD physical edition being released on March 12, 2024 contains a flood of bonus material, deleted scenes and revealing featurettes including: "Deep Dive: A Conversation with James Cameron," an exclusive new sit-down with James Cameron as he revisits the origin of the project and addresses some of the myths behind the production; and "The Legacy of The Abyss."

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Jeff Spry
Contributing Writer

Jeff Spry is an award-winning screenwriter and veteran freelance journalist covering TV, movies, video games, books, and comics. His work has appeared at SYFY Wire, Inverse, Collider, Bleeding Cool and elsewhere. Jeff lives in beautiful Bend, Oregon amid the ponderosa pines, classic muscle cars, a crypt of collector horror comics, and two loyal English Setters.