Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

Title: Deep Blue Sea (1999)
Studio Line: Warner Bros. - Bigger. Smarter. Faster. Meaner.

Researchers on the undersea laboratory Aquatica have genetically altered the brains of captive sharks to develop a potential cure for Alzheimer's disease. There is one unexpected side effect. The sharks are getting smarter. Which could mean trouble for the researchers. And lunch for the sharks.

You can swim but you can't hide when a tropical storm floods Aquatica, plunging Samuel L. Jackson, Saffron Burrows, Thomas Jane, LL Cool J and the rest of the crew into a harrowing battle of wits against sleek killing - and thinking! - machines.

Renny Harlin (Cliffhanger, Die Hard 2) directs, squeezing nerve-jangling suspense and thrills from a film that's a monster movie, a chase movie, a movie that snaps hold and won't let go. Dive in.

Director: Renny Harlin
Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Saffron Burrows, Thomas Jane, Stellan Skarsgård, LL Cool J, Michael Rapaport, Jacqueline McKenzie
Box Office: Budget: $60 million. Opening Weekend: $19.107 million (2854 screens). Gross: $73.648 million.
DVD: Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9; audio English DD 5.1; subtitles English; closed-captioned; single sided - dual layered; 33 chapters; rated R; 105 min.; $24.98; street date 12/7/99.
Supplements: Star/Director Commentary; Behind the Scenes; Storyboards & Stills; Documentaries; Theatrical Trailer; Deleted Scenes; Stills Gallery; Filmographies; DVD-ROM Materials.
Purchase: DVD | Music soundtrack - Various Artist | Score soundtrack - Trevor Rabin

Picture/Sound/Extras: A/A/B

If you make a movie about the Mafia, you’ll be compared to The Godfather. If you create a film about space battles, you’ll be viewed against Star Wars. And if you have to give us a flick that features killer sharks, you can’t escape comparisons to Jaws.

In fact, that 1975 classic absolutely defines the man-eating fishy genre. There have been quite a few good gangster films in addition to The Godfather, and the space opera field is wide-open enough to include many other titles as well; Star Wars is the most popular, but it’s not the be-all and end-all of the domain. As for fish stories, none function on a par with Jaws, and virtually all of them come across as nothing more than retreads of the original classic.

That goes for one of the more recent attempts to out-chew Jaws, 1999’s Deep Blue Sea. Directed by Renny Harlin, this effort takes the Aliens route as it beefs up the competition: instead of one miserable shark - as found in Jaws - DBS provides a slew of toothy beasties, and these are super-sharks whose brain development has been amped up in an effort to develop a cure for Alzheimer’s Disease. Unfortunately for the human denizens of the research facility, the critters seem to be a little too smart, and just like the raptors in Jurassic Park, they’re coming to devour as many scientists as possible.

Despite the extensive back story, the plot to DBS is nothing more substantial than “run from sharks, try to avoid death”. Of course, that was essentially the plot to JP as well, but Jaws featured a stronger backbone as it explored the impact upon a small vacation community when a shark makes meals of the tourists.

Oh well - not every flick can be as rich as Jaws, and there’s always something to be said for fun and exciting “popcorn” movies, which is what JP worked. Does DBS fare better in that regard? Somewhat, but the film seemed to fail to achieve true thrills. Harlin is at best a decent director. He rarely produces true atrocities, but he never makes anything genuinely terrific either. I usually find his movies to be generally entertaining but there’s something vaguely off-putting about them; they seem terribly mechanical and they lack much spirit or zest.

The same feelings held true for DBS. On the surface, there seems to be a lot to like about it. The action comes at you relentlessly, and the pacing ramps up the thrills in an appropriate manner. The production values appeared solid; although I expect some of the CGI sharks will look dated before too long, at this point the effects blended neatly with the rest of the film.

And yet, there still seems to be something missing from DBS. It doesn’t help that virtually all of the characters appeared to be generic cut-outs with almost no personality of their own. DBS actually features a fairly solid cast. It lacks any true “name” actors other than Samuel L. Jackson, but you should find a host of familiar faces here.

Interestingly, when I first saw DBS theatrically, I didn’t recognize many of the performers. However, in the interim, I’ve seen work from every actor; Stellan Skarsgård in Time Code and Good Will Hunting, Thomas Jane in Boogie Nights and Under Suspicion, Saffron Burrows in Time Code, and Jacqueline McKenzie in Romper Stomper. Michael Rapaport has been all over the place since DBS; during just the last few months I’ve seen him in Small Time Crooks, Men Of Honor, Lucky Numbers, and The 6th Day. LL Cool J remains best known for his rapping, though he’s also appeared in flicks such as Halloween H20, Charlie’s Angels, and Any Given Sunday. Ultimately, though the cast doesn’t deliver many well-known talents, they’re a diverse and experienced group, and that helps make the story a bit more compelling.

It helps a little, but not much. Unfortunately, each of the characters is so bland that none of the performers has a chance to do much with them. Skarsgård probably succeeds best of the bunch, but he gets so little screen time that he fails to make much of an impression. Jackson is always a welcome presence, but he’s saddled with a lackluster character who gets little room to develop.

Jackson’s role also points out some of the obvious thefts from Jaws. At one point, he delivers a speech that strongly resembles Quint’s USS Indianapolis tale. We also see material that firmly echoes ideas from the earlier movie. Perhaps the filmmakers thought it would be fun to steal from Jaws since they knew the comparisons would be inevitable, but unfortunately, the rip-offs just make DBS seem that much tackier.

Ultimately, Deep Blue Sea is a decent action flick. It lacked interesting characters and relied too much on gimmickry, but for a brainless piece of fluff, it delivers some of the goods. While it’s one that fails to ever become truly engaging, it nonetheless manages to provide enough excitement to merit a viewing from fans of the genre.

The DVD:

Deep Blue Sea appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The picture displayed almost no flaws as it offered a terrific viewing experience.

Sharpness always appeared crisp and well-defined. At no time did I detect any soft or fuzzy images throughout the film; the entire package seemed extremely clear and accurate. Moiré effects and jagged edges presented no concerns, and print flaws were nearly absent. I saw a couple of speckles, but that was it; otherwise the movie seemed clean and fresh.

Colors came across as accurate and vivid. From the opening shots of the hot girls in bikinis, the hues were bright and bold without any signs of over-saturation or other concerns. Black levels looked intensely deep and rich, and shadow detail seemed appropriately heavy without any excessive thickness. All in all, this was one fantastic picture.

Also extremely satisfying was the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Deep Blue Sea. The soundfield provided a tremendously involving and engaging experience from start to finish. All five channels got a serious workout during this film as the surrounds seemed to be in virtually constant motion. Audio was always appropriately placed within the spectrum and it all blended together cleanly. As a result, I heard a deep and rich soundfield that offered a convincing and engaging experience.

Audio quality also seemed excellent. Although much of the dialogue must have been looped, the speech always appeared natural and distinct, with no signs of edginess or problems related to distortion. Effects were loud but accurate, and they showed no indications of distortion as they blasted out of the speakers. The score appeared bright and dynamic, with nice clarity and fine depth. Bass response seemed tight and warm at all times. Ultimately, DBS provided a very lively and taut auditory experience.

In addition, the DVD release of Deep Blue Sea includes some supplements. First up is a pretty decent audio commentary from director Renny Harlin and actor Samuel L. Jackson. The two were recorded separately and the results were edited together for this fairly engaging track. Jackson’s segments are easily the more entertaining, as he discusses a slew of interesting topics; from the origins of his involvement in the flick to his takes on the cast members, Jackson keeps his side of things light and funny but also makes sure that we learn some good facts about the making of the film.

Unfortunately, Harlin dominates the commentary for reasons that are obvious to anyone who’s seen the film. Renny’s remarks are much drier and more technical than were Sam’s, so the track starts to drag somewhat after Jackson’s departure. Nonetheless, Harlin offers enough useful information about the effects and other aspects of the process to make the full commentary worth a listen. The track deserves your attention if just to hear Jackson’s frequent joking slams about Michael Rapaport.

In addition to this commentary, we find two featurettes. Entitled “When Sharks Attack!”, the first program lasts about 15 minutes as it provides a glossy but interesting general look at the creation of the film. We hear from a mix of cast and crew and see clips from the movie and some good behind the scenes footage. The actors provide their reactions to working with various forms of sharks - real and artificial - and we also learn a little about different technical aspects of bringing the piece to life. It breezes through the topics too quickly, but it covers a little of everything and offers a fairly fun feature.

Next up is “The Sharks of the Deep Blue Sea. This eight minute and 20 second documentary strongly resembles the prior piece - they share some redundant material - but it focuses more closely upon the creation of the film’s effects. We hear more about how the artificial beasts were made and we see some good shots of the effects in action. Ultimately, it’s another superficial but interesting program.

DBS includes five Deleted Scenes. Viewable with or without commentary from director Harlin, the snippets run as one continuous piece which lasts eight minutes. This makes them a bit user-unfriendly, since you can’t skip between segments. Note that the quality of the pieces also seems pretty bad. Nonetheless, I’m happy to have them here. All of the clips are character-related and develop the personalities a little better. No, the roles aren’t made clear and engaging, but every little bit helps. Harlin provides a good discussion of the reasons for the omissions, so his comments are useful.

The DVD also gives us some typical DVD features. We find the film’s original theatrical trailer, and there are “Cast and Crew” listings as well. The latter include short but acceptable biographies of actors Burrows, Jane, and Jackson, plus director Harlin. A Stills Gallery provides 33 images from the production.

DBS tosses in a few DVD-ROM features, most of which relate to Internet links. “DBS Events” simply goes to the usual “Online Events” page found on many WB titles. There’s little about DBS to be found here - they really need to update this site!

Another link takes us to the original DBS website. Here you’ll find a decent look at the film that provides some interesting information. Of course, you don’t actually need to buy this DVD to go to the site, but the link is here anyway.

The DVD also includes connections to the WB Studio Store, WB Home Video, and WB Online plus “DVD Samplers” of a few titles. We find trailers and DVD listings for Coma, The Matrix, Logan’s Run, Westworld and Sphere in addition to DBS. Ultimately, DBS provides a good roster of extras, though it lacks much of substance.

The same sentiment applies to Deep Blue Sea as a whole. It’s a decent and occasionally fun flick, but as with virtually all Renny Harlin flicks, it fails to become engaging and consistently stimulating. You’ll get some cheap thrills from it but nothing about it comes across as rich or rewarding. The DVD provides absolutely terrific picture and sound, however, and we also get some nice supplements. Fans of slick action movies may be happy with Deep Blue Sea, though I’d take Jaws over it any day of the week - and twice on Sunday!

Equipment: Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.

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