Director: Barry Levinson
Running Time: 134 Minutes
For 15 years the most memorable scene in this movie, for me, has been when the team finds the sphere for the first time and Harry (Samuel L Jackson) says: “Don’t get too excited, Ted – turn this thing over and it’ll probably say ‘Made in Korea‘.” Little did I know at the time just how telling this one line was and the foreshadowing it brought with it.
A team of 4 specialists are assembled, based on a report submitted by Dr Norman Goodman (Dustin Hoffman). It was based on the hypothetical contact with aliens. The report was bogus but the “powers that be” don’t seem to know that and when a foreign object/spaceship is discovered in the ocean, the team is pulled together to investigate. They establish that the ship has been in the ocean for about 300 years, which is mind-blowing, and that there seems to be life aboard the ship. They are all transported to a massive submerged station and are joined by two technicians and their “commander” Captain Harold Barnes (Peter Coyote).
Next thing you know, a psychiatrist, a biochemist, a astrophysicist and a mathematician step onto a space ship. Sounding like a bad joke, they soon discover that something is very very wrong here. There are dead humans aboard the ship with familiar american snacks still in their hands. They check the ship’s event log and find that some systems are still active after all this time. More importantly, the find the Sphere. A perfectly round, floating gold ball with no windows or doors. Our team returns to their station with more questions than answers. It only gets worse when strange things start to happen and people start to die.
Performances & Special Effects
With the exception of Rain Man, I don’t enjoy Hoffman as an actor. At this point, Stone was still riding the publicity of pouting her “nether lips” in Basic Instinct while being a mediocre actress and Jackson has pretty much always been Nick Fury/sassy angry black man. The only actor in this group that I genuinely like for his acting ability is Liev Schreiber. Having said that, this team had such a fantastic dynamic on screen. The personal drama between Goodman and Elizabeth (Sharon Stone) was balanced by the comedic professional rivalry between Harry and Ted (Schreiber). There was a wonderful cohesion on screen, which perfectly showcased the descent into madness later in the film.
These believable performances where supported by stellar special effects. Considering the age of this film, the CGI looks phenomenal. I was expecting it to look shabby when I rewatched it recently but was surprised by the quality of the FX. A friend was over watching it with us and commented on the alien craft as “being surprisingly human in terms of the internal design”. Therein lies the kicker.
I really enjoyed the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea aspect and the squid eggs everywhere. I have no idea if they used real jellyfish but they looked real. The sea snake/fish thingy was an animatronic model but still looks believable. There are no complaints from me on this front. In fact, I remember being impressed with the FX as a teen and was pleasantly surprised when I rewatched it and was equally impressed as I was back then.
This movie has a special place on my shelf and I loved it from beginning to end. What I appreciated, much like with The Abyss, is that there wasn’t a whole 40 minutes spent of build up and back story. The film throws you and the characters right in and you have to learn to tread water or drown. The background and relations come out later and very smoothly.
I will say that I read the book after watching the film. At 13, I was obsessed with King, Koontz, Lovecraft and Conan Doyle. Crichton wasn’t even on my radar. I enjoyed the open-endedness of the book and would have like to have seen this transferred to the film. I was left with several questions after finishing the book (not due to plot-holes). I found the film tied all the lose ends up too neatly. If you have never read the book, this will have no bearing on your enjoyment of the film, and as adaptations go – this is a great one.
My Rating: 4/5
Buy or rent Sphere from Amazon.com
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