Film Score Friday: The Abyss

This week’s film score comes from one of my favorite sci-fi movies: “The Abyss”

Director: James Cameron
Music: Alan Silvestri

The Abyss is about an oil platform crew and a US search and recovery team that uncover something other-worldly while trying to recover a sunken US submarine. My dad actually helped turn some medical equipment into props for this movie, so he was on set when they filmed in South Carolina. Apparently, there was a lot of drama during filming due to shooting underwater scenes for hours at a time. Also, there is a scene where a rat breathes the oxygen-rich liquid (like amniotic fluid). That really happened…and my dad saw it first hand!

The film’s score was composed by Alan Silvestri, who is best known for his music in the Back to the Future series. (He has a pretty fun-looking resume, and we will be watching other movies with his music!) He always has an exciting and adventurous sound to his music. What stands out for the music of The Abyss, is that this is a serious sci-fi adventure. Not a fun, happy one. So, hearing Silvestri’s music take on a different emotional tone, yet still feel exciting, is interesting.

The scene & score track that I’m drawn to is “Bud on a Ledge”


This entire scene is driven by the music. There are no other sounds.

During this scene, Bud (played by Ed Harris) is running low on the oxygen in his breathing liquid. He doesn’t have enough to make it back to the rig, so he has committed to staying where he is and waiting to die. As he lies all alone, a faint light appears, confirming his belief that the entity his crew has encountered was indeed an alien from another world. The alien, who earlier made the distinction between those who are friendly and those who wish to cause harm, offers its hand to Bud. Because this is all underwater, the movement is flowy and smooth…and the music portrays that. The alien itself looks like its a butterfly flying under water. As Bud is taken deeper into the abyss, he discovers a huge alien ship resting at the bottom. The music crescendos into a full orchestra. The alien then takes Bud inside and swiftly through the corridors. Again, the music changes into a faster pace to symbolize the urgency of Bud’s need for oxygen. He is then left on the ground where the aliens manipulate the water to create a breathable area and Bud is able to remove his helmet and breathe.

It’s such a beautiful scene in many ways. First, you come into the scene trusting Bud and his crewmates thinking that there are indeed friendly aliens present. Then you watch the protagonist say his goodbyes to his friends, assuming there’s no hope left for him. And as you see him awaiting his death, he is saved by the beautiful creatures you *knew* were gonna show up, because they know that Bud is a good guy.

As you watch the scene, you feel like you are just along for the ride! There’s no dialogue…only awe.

I’ve read that most of the actors have disowned the film due to the psychological torments they endured from the grueling demands of production and filming conditions, but James Cameron put out a really great sci-fi adventure with a simple, subtle message!

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