Daily Archives: July 15, 2021

Deep Blue Sea (1999)

*. Despite being initially met with mixed reviews, Deep Blue Sea has gone on to gain a bit of a cult following as well as recognition for being one of the best “shark films” ever made.
*. That is a thing. The genre of shark films can now be seen as going a lot deeper than just the Jaws franchise. The interesting thing about Deep Blue Sea though is that the sharks here, despite being super-intelligent, seem even less like characters in their own right than other movie sharks and more like generic monsters-of-the-week. There are, of course, nods to Jaws throughout (the license plate Blake takes out of the shark’s mouth at the beginning is the same as the one Hooper finds in the belly of the shark in Jaws), as well as to Jaws 2 (sharks vs. helicopters), and even Jaws 3-D (the shark smashing through the control room window), but Alien seems to have been a bigger influence. Just the sight of Dr. McCallister in her underwear being hunted by the shark (a scene director Renny Harlin thought obligatory) would be your tip-off there.
*. Put another way, instead of feeling like a shark movie this is more a high-concept action flick, with lots of explosions and stunts and people holding their breath for long stretches underwater. Which is pretty much what you’d expect from Harlin, who was one of the kings of the action genre in the 1990s.
*. Since his glory days in the ’90s Harlin has kept working but he’s been a lot less prominent. I guess movies changed and he didn’t. But then this picture didn’t launch its stars very far either. I had to search the Internet to answer the question of whatever happened to Saffron Burrows, Thomas Jane, Michael Rapaport, and even LL Cool J (though they’ve all kept busy as well). Samuel L. Jackson and Stellan Skarsgård are the only people you still hear much about anymore.

*. The plot here has a research lab doing experiments on growing shark brains as a way of curing Alzeheimer’s. As we were to learn, again, in Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) all this results in is super-smart test subjects that turn the tables on the humans. Or, as the tough shark-wrangler puts it to the doctor: “what you’ve done is taken God’s oldest killing machine and given it will and desire. What you’ve done is knocked us all the way to the bottom of the goddamn food chain.” Damn!
*. It is, of course, all pretty silly. But . . .
*. (1) The effects are quite good. Some of the CGI has, as you’d expect, dated badly. The scene where Jackson is killed does not stand up well. Renny Harlin: “I challenge anyone to tell what is real and what is not.” Well Remy, challenge accepted!

*. But that said, the mechanical sharks are great. They’d really come a long way from Bruce in Jaws.
*. (2) No one seems to have been under any illusions that they were making anything more than a really expensive B-picture. Samuel L. Jackson doing his thing belongs in a movie like that (and few other places, I would argue). As does the scene where one of the sharks “throws” Skarsgård at an underwater window in order to break it. As do lines like the aforementioned demotion of humanity to a lower spot on the food chain. Or when Jackson sees one of the giant sharks and asks in awe “What in God’s creation?” so that Skarsgård can say “Not god’s creation, ours.” A movie like this needs that sort of dialogue, and this script gives you lots of it.
*. (3) It’s formulaic, but still has some twists. The Black preacher is sure of his own impending demise — “Ooh, I’m done! Brothers never make it out of situations like this! Not ever!” — but somehow survives, a miracle that recalls the indestructibility of Mario Van Peebles in Jaws: The Revenge. Meanwhile, the sexy doctor who is, after all, responsible for much of this, has to sacrifice herself to save him. I didn’t see that coming. And indeed in the original version of the film she survived but test audiences wanted her killed because they saw her as being the villain of the piece.
*. (4) They make great use of that Aquatica set, which was constructed above the tanks that had been used for filming Titanic. It looks great and gives the movie a real sense of being grounded (or submerged) in a big physical location that really works. For a movie with this much CGI that helps a lot.
*. It’s a popcorn movie. There are sharks that, as Harlin put it, are just monsters jumping out of the water and saying “Boo!” There are things blowing up and arms being torn off and girls stripping down to their underwear and boys showing off their muscles. There’s Samuel L. Jackson capably filling the shoes of Michael Caine in Jaws: The Revenge, with a similar professional motivation. That is to say, he just wanted to play golf in the Bahamas. More fun than snakes on a plane anyway.