Picture the opening scene of JAWS, except that, in THE ABYSS, it's not a great white shark but an underwater UFO that propels the movie into action. Spotted on sonar by a US nuclear submarine, the "thing" is eerily tracked below deck, where it creates a disaster because of the crew's

ensuing panic. The sub sinks onto the ledge of an abyss, and a team of oil riggers, led by foreman Bud Brigman (Ed Harris), is pressed into a rescue mission. The civilian crew is joined by engineer Lindsey Brigman (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio), who happens to be Bud's soon-to-be ex-wife, and a

group of navy underwater experts headed by Lt. Coffey (Michael Biehn), whose top-secret priority is the 150 nuclear warheads located on the sub. The rescue takes on a new character when the extra-terrestrial force makes its presence known. Despite the fact that most of the action occurs below sea

level, THE ABYSS simply recycles elements of the stellar blockbusters it tries so hard to emulate (CLOSE ENCOUNTERS, E.T., and director James Cameron's own ALIENS among them). Unfortunately, it lacks the emotional impact and suspense of its predecessors and is spoiled by a disappointingly inane

ending. What ultimately saves the film are its extraordinary sets and phenomenal Oscar-winning visual effects.