Cyberlizard goes to the movies

This review corrected and completed 9 December 2000

Deep Blue Sea (1999)

Directed by Renny Harlin, starring Samuel L Jackson, LL Cool J, Saffron Burrows, Thomas Jane, Jacqueline McKenzie, Stellan Skarsgard, Michael Rapaport


The plot

In subtropical waters, a scientific research project is being carried out to find a cure for Alzheimer's by investigating the brains of sharks. The project is being funded by rich man Russell Franklin (Samuel L Jackson), but the head of the project and prime mover is the saturnine Dr Susan McAlester (Saffron Burrows). Franklin visits the facility, a converted offshore rig-cum-ex-naval-base, to see how things are going. Unbeknown to the rest of her team, McAlester has tried to speed up the work by boosting the sharks' brains, thus giving them a dangerously empowered mental capacity. McAlester demonstrates the success of her work, only for the shark being held captive in a sling to suddenly break loose and tear the arm off one of the scientists before it disappears into the water. A helicopter arrives in the middle of a storm to remove the critically wounded man, but the sudden violent weather causes it to crash into the base, wrecking it and trapping the scientists and team members underwater in water-filled corridors with three marauding super-intelligent sharks on the prowl.

The film

Despite some critical panning of this film by critics who said that Spielberg did it better with Jaws despite the lumbering mechanical shark in the latter, I enjoyed this film and found it reasonably credible for the genre. True, in contrast with Jaws we see the sharks right from the start of the film, but then these sharks are so well animated in CGI that it does not detract from the awe and even the fear that they inspire. If anything, the old cliché shot of a fin slicing through the water is probably more hackneyed than having computer-generated monsters sweeping through the water. In fact in that respect the film reminded me more of Jurassic Park, mainly because of its superb creatures but also the very popular theme of well-intentioned human interference in the natural order rebounding on our heads. I suspect that these effects also account for some of the rather violent and gory sequences which nevertheless did not make a deep impression on me - perhaps this reflects their bloodless, technological method of portrayal. Some reviewers claimed that it was in fact because we weren't really made to care about the cast, most of whom I did not recognise, but I found that there was just enough characterisation to belie this accusation. In any case, this is an action movie, not Shakespeare or French cinema verité. Also, while one suspected that some of the humans had VICTIM written on their foreheads from the beginning, there are some surprises as the body count piles up. There do appear to be one or two moments where a scene seems to have been lifted straight from a similar movie, but overall I would not say that it is actually a copy of those films. Accept it for what it is - basically a monster movie with the age-old moral that to play God is to risk his judgement in one form or another - and have an enjoyable couple of hours in front of the screen.


Official Warner Brothers site for Deep Blue Sea, laid out very cleverly as a schematic of the Aquatica Research Facility.
The Yahoo! listing gives a brief synopsis and fairly favourable rating, and links to other reviews.
For a more critical review of reviews and links to those reviews (!) see Rotten Tomatoes.

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