The Abyss 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray UK release | The BBFC comments on its cancellation

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The UK 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray release of The Abyss has been cancelled over a ratings problem – and we’ve got official word from the BBFC.

The story so far. For many, many, many years, fans of James Cameron’s 1989 film The Abyss have been eagerly awaited a long-promised remaster of the movie. Come the end of 2023, and the news was good: a 4K remaster of the film had screened, and the movie was confirmed for release on the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray format, as well as likely a Blu-ray.

The release of The Abyss on 4K disc had been earmarked in March/April, but over Christmas, we learned that in the UK, the disc has been cancelled. This is due to a long-infamous scene involving a rat trying to breathe underwater, that’s always been problematic for British classification board the BBFC.

Disney now has the rights to release The Abyss, and it contacted the BBFC over the film and was advised that the film would need a slight cut to get a fresh certificate. The studio was said to be okay with this, but needed to check with James Cameron’s Lightstorm Entertainment.

Cameron – who’s attracted some pushback over the use of AI in the remastering of the film – instantly nixed the idea, it seems. No cuts, and Disney thus cancelled the new UK disc of the movie.

We contacted the BBFC to get its position, and it was clear that the board itself hadn’t pulled the release. In fact, it heavily emphasised this. We got this response specific to The Abyss:

“When classifying, we consider whether submitted content is against the law, or has been created by committing a criminal offence. We will not classify material which is in conflict with the criminal law, and we consult lawyers and experts where necessary on a case-by-case basis. Our Guiding Principles on how we classify are on page 7 of our current Classification Guidelines. Pages 36-39 also include some details on legal considerations, including the Cinematograph Films (Animals) Act 1937. Further information regarding legislation can be found on our website here and here.”

It added that “in relation to the Cinematograph Films (Animals) Act specifically, it is a criminal offence to exhibit in the UK any film sequence that has been “organised or directed in such a way as to involve the cruel infliction of pain or terror on any animal or the cruel goading of any animal to fury.”

“If there is any doubt regarding the treatment of animals in a film production the BBFC will request assurances from filmmakers and in some cases, require cuts.”

The board then confirmed that “when The Abyss was originally submitted in 1989 the BBFC sought and received expert advice regarding a scene in which a man submerges a rat in liquid. This expert advice stated that this scene constituted the cruel infliction of terror on an animal, and therefore contravened the Cinematograph Films (Animals) Act. 

“We received a request for informal advice on the rat scene in 2023. Expert advice was again sought which confirmed that the position originally set out in 1989 had not changed”.

It concluded that “we advised the distributor that should The Abyss be formally submitted, changes would again be required to the scene involving the rat”.

Note that: the film has not been formally submitted for classification again in the UK. Disney did not press ahead with that.

The message from the BBFC signed off by confirming “the BBFC is not involved in releasing films and so we do not have any information on release plans for The Abyss”.

The disc is set to get a release in the US, although hasn’t gone up for preorder yet. No cuts are expected for the US release.

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