Sphere 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. When I first watched this disc in 1998, I thought it looked great. In 2016? Not so much.
Though I didn’t think the image looked awful, it showed its age, partially due to digital artifacts. The flick took on a grainy appearance due to compression concerns, and it could seem a little blocky as well. Overall definition was lackluster. Close-ups demonstrated decent delineation, but otherwise the movie seemed moderately fuzzy and bland.
No issues with jagged edges or shimmering appeared, but edge haloes cropped up through the movie. Source flaws were an occasional concern. Not a ton of defects materialized, but I saw sporadic instances of specks, nicks, marks and blemishes.
Colors were mediocre. Granted, the film went with a subdued palette, especially given the muted undersea setting. Nonetheless, the hues still seemed fairly bland, as they failed to demonstrate much presence.
Blacks were similar; they looked reasonably dark but could be a bit muddy. Shadows suffered from moderately excessive opacity; while they weren’t terribly thick, they failed to deliver good clarity. I liked enough of the transfer to give it a “C-“, but it was a close call; I was very tempted to knock it down to a “D+”.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack pleased, though I didn't think it dazzled. The mix worked more to create a sound environment than to impress with effects, and it did so reasonably well. The rear channels could have been used a bit more actively - they seemed quiet through too much of the film - but overall the sound design helped immerse the viewer in the film.
Audio quality was positive. Speech came across as natural and concise, without edginess or other issues. Music was a little muted but usually seemed reasonably vivid and full. Effects worked fine, as they showed good range and heft for the most part; like the music, I thought they could’ve been a bit more dynamic, but I didn’t have any real problems with them. The track was good but unexceptional.
With that we head to the extras. We begin with an audio commentary from actors Dustin Hoffman and Samuel L. Jackson. Both sit separately for this edited track. They cover various aspects of their experiences during the shoot.
We don’t hear much of Hoffman here, and when he does chat, he tends to complain. Hoffman gripes about how much he dislikes working in effects-heavy flicks and generally mopes about his experiences.
Jackson shows more of a “whatever it takes” attitude and comes across as more pleasant. He seems to accept the various issues that come during a movie shoot, and he offers some good stories and insights. There’s way too much dead air for this to be a satisfying piece, but Jackson does at least make it decent.
The 14-minute, 40-second Shaping the Sphere: The Art of the Visual Effects Supervisor is moderately interesting. Essentially, it's an audio commentary from effects supervisor Jeff Okun as he discusses his trade while images from the film appear on the screen. It's okay, but not terrific.
Other features include short cast and crew biographies; these cover writers Stephen Hauser and Paul Attanasio, novelist Michael Crichton, director Barry Levinson and actors Dustin Hoffman, Samuel L. Jackson, Sharon Stone, Liev Schreiber and Peter Coyote. We also find a brief but interesting written history of science fiction films. Neither of these segment is essential but both are well-executed.
Other than that, we get some ads: Sphere's theatrical trailer and three TV Spots. Under Reel Recommendations, the disc also includes a few actor-related trailers for other films; we find promos for All the President’s Men, Sleepers, and Above the Law.
Despite some big-name talent behind it, Sphere tanked at the box office. I didn’t think it deserved such a fate 18 years ago, and I still think it’s a decent movie. Would I ever classify it as a great movie? No, but it’s better than its awful reputation signifies.
As for the DVD, it’s a pretty lackluster affair. Audio seems good, but the picture suffers from a mix of concerns, and the smattering of supplements fail to engage in a significant way. This DVD hasn’t aged well.
To rate this film, visit the Blu-ray review of SPHERE