Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #389
Number of Views: Multiple
Release Date: 15 October 1999 (UK)
Sub-Genre: Sci-Fi/Monster Movie
Country of Origin: United States
Box Office: $258,168,286
Running Time: 105 minutes
Director: Renny Harlin
Producers: Akiva Goldsman, Robert Kosberg, Tony Ludwig, Alan Riche, Rebecca Spikings
Screenplay: Duncan Kennedy, Donna Powers, Wayne Powers
Special Effects: Michael Shawn McCracken, John Richardson
Visual Effects: John Knoll, Rebecca Marie, Jeffrey A. Okun, Craig A. Mumma, William Mesa, Robert McInnis
Cinematography: Stephen F. Windon
Score: Trevor Rabin
Editing: Derek Brechin, Dallas Puett, Frank J. Urioste
Studios: Warner Bros., Village Roadshow Pictures, Groucho III Film Partnership, Riche-Ludwig Productions
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Stars: Thomas Jane, Saffron Burrows, Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Rappaport, LL Cool J, Jacqueline McKenzie, Stellan Skarsgård, Aida Turturro, Ronny Cox (uncredited)
Suggested Audio Candy
Trevor Rabin “Deep Blue Sea”
Wanna know what my greatest fear is? Treading water in a lake at the dead of night while a shark patrols the very same waters. I blame Steven Spielberg for my anxiety as his 1975 epic Jaws did something of a number on my young, impressionable mind. Ever since then I have only ever paddled in shallow waters for fear of ending up like Quint. Over the years many film-makers have attempted to replicate the dread of being all-at-sea whilst evading those unfussy choppers but very few have managed to capture the essence of what made it such a frightful concept. We’ve had Mega Shark, Sharktopus, Sharknado, Shark Night, and Finding Nemo for the minnows but none have been fit to sniff the chum line left by Spielberg’s fishy extravaganza.
Meanwhile, the once lucrative franchise had plummeted to twenty thousand leagues under the sea by the time Joseph Sargent’s Jaws: The Revenge sank the great white without a trace and the surf remained still for the next decade as movie-goers decided that it was finally safe to go back in the water. Then in 1999, the most successful Finnish director in motion picture history, Renny Harlin (Exorcist: The Beginning, Prison), threw us a life raft with his big-budget sharktacular Deep Blue Sea and, despite only receiving a luke-warm critical response, his film made a heft splash at the box office. Financial gain aside, it has gone on to become something of a fan favorite and, to many, the guiltiest of pleasures. In truth, it is far less culpable than we are led to believe and actually a reasonably notable thrill ride to boot.
For anybody who has spent the last fifteen years diving for whelks; Deep Blue Sea focuses on a group of scientists (and LL Cool J) as they become marooned within an off-shore research facility cum refueling station as they come unstuck whilst searching for a potential Alzheimer’s cure. Some bright spark has the somewhat dubious brain wave of testing their theorem out on a trio of Mako sharks, thus making them smarter, faster, leaner, and meaner in the process. Had they not learned a single thing from Jaws: The Revenge? It would appear not as they assume that the predators could do with firing from a couple more pistons.
After sufficient exposition, the flood gates are opened in some style and it becomes a frantic dash topside as any survivors attempt to escape the sinking facility. You don’t need a degree in marine biology to work out what comes next; feeding time at the aquarium as their opposite numbers attempt to outfox them to the tune of “get in my belly”. Suddenly sharks can swim backwards, tear a man limb from limb in nanoseconds, and turn on a giant industrial-sized cooker. Moreover, the respondents aren’t even safe on dry land and certainly not when delivering rousing sermons. Hell, even Samuel L. “I HAVE HAD IT WITH THESE MOTHERFUCKING SNAKES ON THIS MOTHERFUCKING PLANE!” Jackson isn’t safe. One would imagine Neville Flynn’s beef was not with the serpents in question and instead he had been worn down from slow digestion.
The cast is uniformly excellent with Thomas Jane (The Mist, The Punisher) ideally cast as the hapless leading man Carter Blake. Carter is like a fish in water and similarly a fish out of it. Sub-aqua he has the lung capacity of the supporting cast from Dagon and can move at almost the same speed as the sharks intent of taking some rump steak. However, the moment he is on dry land, he inherits the legs of a newborn giraffe and slips and slides akin to Oliver Reed in brogues. His potential love interest Dr. Susan McAlester is not au fait with the code of ethics and Saffron Burrows (In The Name of The Father, Troy) gives a vim-filled account of herself. We’re not entirely sure whether we should be rooting for her or hoping that she gets her period but, either way, Harlin’s decision to have her strip down to her skivvies is a most astute one.
Michael Rapaport (True Romance, The 6th Day) also fares well as Carter’s best friend Tom, while Cool J does what Cool J does best… be totally indestructible. It matters not that these marauding Makos can bite you down to size in the time it takes fart bubbles to materialize in the bathtub as the legendary rapper’s calf is just too gristly to chew through. I remain suspicious that there is a no-death contract in place as even Michael Myers couldn’t negotiate the terms and ended up giving him a faint tap on the head when he should have been skipping with his large intestine. Clearly The Shape enjoys rap too and took heed of mama as suggested to simply knock him out. Who would’ve thought it? A mama’s boy; just like Voorhees.
Jackson’s speccy executive Russell Franklin turns out to be little more than a guppy and, the equally talented Stellan Skarsgård (Insomnia, Ronin), mere algae. Speaking of which, Russell’s demise is commonly referred to as one of the most shocking dispatches in cinematic history but I would suggest Dr. Jim Whitlock’s hellish bed rest to trump that hands down (or one hand at least). Moments such as these keep Deep Blue Sea moving along swimmingly and you could never be accused of tapping your wristwatch throughout its duration.
Is it a bad movie though? Hell no; it isn’t. Sure some of the CGI is questionable, the concept mildly preposterous, and plot riddled with improbability; but it is still far more fun than swimming with dolphins could ever be. Movies like this are necessary for our filmic development Grueheads; sometimes it’s nice just to kick off those flippers and tread water with the minnows for 105 minutes. I leave you with a sermon from Preacher: “Einstein’s theory of relativity. Grab hold of a hot pan, second can seem like an hour. Put your hands on a hot woman, an hour can seem like a second. It’s all relative”. Deep Blue Sea is living proof of that theory.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10
Grue Factor: 3/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers: There are plenty of gnawed off body parts and twitching appendages hanging on our screens like bait à la Jaws, but the moment when Jim is used as a makeshift battering ram, having already had his wristwatch stolen, remains one of my ten all-time favorite ever dispatches fifteen years on. As for the effects, admittedly the CGI is sometimes crude by modern standards, the Animatronics are first-rate and more than enough reason not to dangle your bare legs over the jetty’s end.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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