Its funny how spoilt we have been over the past few years by soundtracks being released in expanded/complete form. Some are more deserving than others of course, and I often give news of a release a curious double-take wondering why bother, as I guess the definition of ‘great’ is wholly subjective- we all have our funny preferences/favourites. For myself, I always liked both the movie and soundtrack for THE ABYSS, but never thought it was a score that would ever get an expanded release. It was widely considered a good score, but I doubted anyone would think it deserving of the deluxe treatment. Well, how wrong I was, and here it is, the first notable soundtrack release of 2014 (for me anyway)-Varese’s rather literally-out-of-the-blue THE ABYSS: THE DELUXE EDITION.
As might be expected the sound quality is a vast improvement on the original album from 1989, but the real surprise is the music itself and how the restored cues and sequencing elevates the score. The original disc was nearly 50 minutes long, which was quite reasonable for the time and covered most of the highlights of the score, but in complete form (something like 80 mins or more, with addl alternates bringing it to nearly two hours of music in all) it reveals itself as a rather varied and challenging work, mixing moments of ambience and suspense with precise (albeit rather ordinary) action scoring and quite melodious classical pieces. As a whole the entire thing just seems to work better than memories of the film or the earlier release would suggest, and its a more interesting score than I expected. The atmospheric, suspenseful ambient electronic pieces are very effective bookended by the more traditional melodious orchestral cues, and the whole score feels more balanced than on the original album.
Curiously I was struck by similarities with James Horner’s score for BRAINSTORM, particularly the main title (both the music and, in the film, the actual title reveal, are very similar to that of BRAINSTORM). For some reason I don’t recall this ever occurring to me before, but its blatantly obvious here, particularly as the main title here does not segue into the military drum music as it did on the original album. Wouldn’t surprise me if Cameron hadn’t temp-tracked the film with some of Horner’s BRAINSTORM score as there are a few other moments in the score that are very similar (interestingly, Cameron had worked with Horner previously on ALIENS and perhaps Cameron originally intended to hire Horner for THE ABYSS?).
Likewise there are some illuminating alternates that reveal a warmer, more emotional/traditional score that director James Cameron apparently rejected. The alternate version of The Only Way coupled with Lindsey Dies indicates greater use of the film’s love theme which were dropped in favour of a perhaps more radical, ambient approach. Both pieces are very effective and while its debatable which approach was best for the film (I prefer Cameron’s final version, but I can see how some would prefer the warmer approach Silvestri originally intended), its a fascinating glimpse at how differing pieces of music can effect a scene. I love this kind of thing, hearing how the composer originally saw a scene and what music he thought functioned better, before the director or producer gets involved as the film is being cut together.
I’ve always been a bit ambivalent regards Alan Silvestri’s scores in general (although he certainly has his followers), but I really think THE ABYSS is revealed here as one of his finest works. Both the complete score and its many alternates included here reveal an ambitious score and how much effort Silvestri clearly put into it.
Although Silvestri seems to have been rather quiet of late, his work perhaps out of favour in Hollywood, I read recently that he has been signed to write the score for the remake of Carl Sagan’s COSMOS tv series. Ordinarily I wouldn’t have been too impressed at the news, but listening to THE ABYSS and its varied score, I think it may turn out to be a bold and interesting development. We shall see.