"The Abyss" may seem like an odd candidate for a restoration project. Unlike Stanley Kubrick's "Spartacus" or Orson Welles' "Othello," "The Abyss" is a very recent film — it was released in 1989 — and was neither a resounding critical nor box-office success.

So, why expand and re-release it? Probably because writer-director James Cameron wanted to, and 20th Century Fox has him under contract and wants to keep the creative force behind the "Terminator" blockbusters happy.

For the uninitiated, "The Abyss" has Ed Harris (most recently in "The Firm" and "Needful Things") and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio (perhaps best known as Maid Marian in "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves") leading a team of undersea oil riggers searching at a very risky depth for survivors of a nuclear submarine crash. There, they encounter amiable aliens while fighting off a psychotic Navy officer (Michael Biehn). The result is claustrophobic but thrilling.

Being among the minority in the critical community, I noted in my original review that the film was derivative, calling it "Close Encounters of the Submerged Kind" by way of "Dr. Strangelove" but also praised its action-packed entertainment value, "which begins with a bang and keeps on rolling for a very fast-paced 21/2 hours."

That's still mostly true, except that the film is now nearly three hours, a length that seems overindulgent at best. This is not "Gone With the Wind," after all.

Having said that, the improvements made by Cameron in the editing room are indeed worthwhile. The characters seem better developed and the ending makes sense . . . although it is simplistic and obviously derived from any number of 1950s B-movie sci-fi plots.

Those who disliked the film the first time around — or didn't bother with it at all — will not likely be converted by this version. But those who are fans of "The Abyss," or of James Cameron's work in general, may find this worth a three-hour block of their entertainment time.

"The Abyss" is rated PG-13 for violence, profanity and brief partial nudity.