Deep Blue Sea
Rating -

Thriller (US); 1999; Rated R; 105 Minutes

Thomas Jane: Carter Blake
Saffron Burrows: Dr. Susan McAlester
Samuel L. Jackson: Russell Franklin
Jacqueline McKenzie: Janice Higgins
Michael Rapaport: Tom Scoggins
LL Cool J: Sherman Dudley

Produced by Bruce Berman, Akiva Goldsman, Duncan Henderson, Robert Kosberg, Tony Ludwig, Patrick Lynn, Don MacBain, Alan Riche, Jonathan B. Schwartz and Rebecca Spikings; Directed by Renny Harlin; Screenwritten by Duncan Kennedy, Wayne Powers and Donna Powers

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Written by DAVID KEYES

When the shark jumped aboard a fishing boat in Steven Spielberg's "Jaws," cinema history was made. It was the first time that a mechanical creature was able to perform such an action on screen, and come off realistic at the same time. Filmmakers had always relied on obvious camera tricks to make their 'animatronic' visual effects look as lifelike as possible (dating all the way back to the 1930s masterpiece "King Kong"), but here, in the 1970s, was something totally groundbreaking. It looked convincing. It made viewers jump in surprise. Never before had their been such a breakthrough in the possibilities of mechanically operated living creatures.

As much as digital effects have replaced most of modern cinema's animal illusions, "Jaws" is still greatly appreciated for what it accomplished, without the use of computer generated effects. This phenomenon, this breakthrough, went on to inspire several other mechanical creatures, including the gooey species in the "Alien" pictures, the tall prehistoric wonders in "Jurassic Park," and the long creepy snake in "Anaconda." Yet all of these inspirations come right back to the one and only shark, who was later revived in three "Jaws" sequels and countless imitations. Now comes Renny Harlin's "Deep Blue Sea," a film which borrows elements from nearly every creature feature in existence. There's the claustrophobic atmosphere, as in "Alien," the sudden shocks, as in the original "Jaws," death by electrocution, as in "Jaws 2," a chaos theory, as in "Jurassic Park," a disaster underwater, as in "Jaws 3," and even the impulses of justice, as in "Jaws: The Revenge." But all of these borrowed elements are not without some new approaches. The sequels to Spielberg's shark epic failed, alas, because they were stuck on the same basic clichés and ideas. But here, new feats are accomplished; Harlin and his writers have woven the clichés together in a non-typical way, making for one of the most unpredictable, surprising, and intensely fun films of the summer.

"Imagine," as we are told by Dr. Susan McAlester (Saffron Burrows), "if you can wipe out Alzheimer's with one pill." Is it possible that the cure for this deadly disease is found within the brain tissue of your typical meat-eating shark? Maybe. At least, that's what the characters believe, as we are taken to a remote compound in the middle of the ocean, where gates are risen, underwater laboratories exist, and genetically enhanced sharks swim around and hunt in packs--two 1st generations, one 2nd generation, female. These monsters of the deep are fed other sharks, creep around with decisive movements, and watch those above water like they knew what was going on. When one of the sharks is brought up into the laboratory so that its brain fluid can be drained, there is a horrible accident, and a researcher has to be airlifted off of the compound. Sadly, the helicopter loses power, and they drop the man into the shark-infested waters, where one of them grabs the stretcher he is on, drags it along the ocean floor, and tosses it towards the window of the research lab, cracking it. You know what happens next.

Over the course of the next few minutes is a series of gruesome and unpredictable shark attacks, in which the humans are reduced in numbers by the minute, and levels of the observatory are gradually flooded. The sharks bust through steel doors, pop into appearance at the most inopportune times, and one of them even turns up the temperature on an oven when LL Cool J tries to hide in it.

One cannot doubt that some of these circumstances make no sense to begin with. Even if a shark's brain tissue is enhanced, shall we say, five times the average, the fish would have to learn of these things before being able to accomplish them. There is a moment in the movie when one of the film's most important players (I shall not reveal his/her identity) stands over the others and convinces them that they need to work as a team in order to survive. In the middle of the speech, a shark pops right out of the water and grabs the person. As I watched this, the back of my mind kept saying, "Geez, these sharks really know how to interrupt terrific monologues."

The atmosphere remains eerie, however, because we never know when to expect the swimming man-eaters to pop up. There are only three of these sharks, but like most of the special effects creatures in movies, they make their way all over the place in little time, sometimes showing up at one end of the compound, another time showing up at the opposite end when the water level between seems almost impossible to swim in.

All of these descriptions make the movie sound obvious and unexciting, but "Deep Blue Sea" is none of that. Unlike Jan de Bont's "The Haunting" and Steve Miner's "Lake Placid," which were fairly good films regardless of shortcomings, "Deep Blue Sea" has skill, wit, and (!) logic, never lowering the intelligence of human beings for the purpose of them getting eaten by the animals (although that last action happens quite a bit anyway). The script by Duncan Kennedy, Wayne Powers and Donna Powers makes use of the premise for the right amount of time, and the movie ends just at the right note, at 105 minutes. I gave "Lake Placid" and "The Haunting" each three stars for being dimwitted fun, but I'm giving "Deep Blue Sea" three-and-a-half because the excitement rises from the tension, not from the story being mindless. For the first time, since the original "Jaws," the filmmakers appear to be smarter than the creatures that spring from the water. Considering the sharks in the movie are five times smarter than average, that's no small accomplishment.

© 1999, David Keyes, Please e-mail the author here if the above review contains any spelling or grammar mistakes.
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