Play Pause

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Retro Review: Sphere (1998)

Cast: Dustin Hoffman, Sharon Stone, Samuel L.Jackson, Peter Coyote, Huey Lewis, Queen Latifah, James Pickens Jr., Liev Schreiber 
Genre: Science Fiction Psychological Thriller
Worldwide Gross: $50.1 million 

Plot: A spaceship is discovered under 300 years' worth of coral growth at the bottom of the ocean 

'Impressive Main Casting, Somewhat Tame Direction In This Abyss Meets Alien Sci-Fi Offering'

I did not read the 1987 novel because I had not come across it before and so I went into this film recently, knowing that from what I have read is that Sphere was not well received and was universally panned when it was released almost 20 years ago. But at the same time, keeping my expectations to a minimum and going into Sphere with a fairly open mind. 

The film had a budget of $80 million, but it only pulled in $37 million, with the movie making a loss of $43 million. Contrary to most critics, this is a type of science fiction film that is more plot and character driven than the special effects. Surprisingly, the film is directed by Barry Levinson who also did Rain Man and Good Morning, Vietnam. He's not someone I had in mind in association with this type of movie, but alas, he has built up a CV comprised of a few impressive works. 

The Sphere itself is a round, claustrophobic environment within a cramped space and things go awry when Harry (Samuel L. Jackson) enters the Sphere and all manner of weird and dangerous things starts to happen. As they do, Beth, Norman and Harry become increasingly more suspicious of each other.

The plot is complex and though it was not too difficult to understand, it needed a better and simpler explanation. Although to be frank, the plot was the least of my worries here: I just wanted to see what this movie was like and whether I'd enjoy it. Thankfully, it turned out to be an interesting surprise. 

The characters' fears come into play and as the film unravels more, they become more apprehensive towards one another and of their motives. In all fairness, though we don't get too deep with their characterisations, this was the case with Alien and Predator so I don't see why we ought to know more about them. There is a lot of dialogue in this film, but then again many of Michael Crichton's stories through books and film adaptions are like this, much like with the John Grisham based movies and books based on those movies. 

The visuals and special effects are really good and the suspense is well done. The music and audio compliment the movie. My favourite moments were when at 1.10 mark, the film becomes more suspenseful and exciting when sparks fly, explosions occur and the secondary characters die. 

This is a subjective viewing experience and it echoes Event Horizon, which has a similar premise but is more violent. This is the PG-13 version of that film, minus the gore and blood and though it is not an out-&-out horror thriller, it's more on the lines of a psychological sci-fi thriller with elements that echo horror themes. In fact, it is more The Abyss meets Solaris.

A sci-fi movie based on in the deep sea hasn't really been done before since the Abyss and this effort is all right. It plays around with the usual horror tropes and conventions. It also focuses less on the special effects and visuals and a lot more on the dramatic elements and actions of the crew members. Though the helium scene was slightly amusing to see. Also, though it is based on the book, because they didn't get killed off too soon, the pacing was a little bit too fast that we don't get more -if not a bigger glimpse of their motivations and personalities. Samuel L.Jackson is relatively reserved and quiet for most of the film and it appears as if the film was rushed. Liev Schreiber was pretty good and turned in the star performance. The backstory involving Dustin Hoffman's character and Sharon Stone's character, who used to have a history together could have been delved a little more. Or be it could have been used to further their characters development and major plot-line. 

But I thought the casting sounded impressive & the acting performances were all right as a whole: Dustin Hoffman, whilst I have seen him do better in Tootsie, Hook, Kramer vs. Kramer and Rain Man amongst others, as his first sci-fi outing it was good, Samuel L.Jackson doesn't say much -yet his character still has an impact on the film, Sharon Stone as Beth was rather good and she had better lines and dialogue in this movie than in Basic Instinct. She hasn't had as many varied and good roles that I expected her to have since that film, but it's nice to see her playing a mysterious type of character, who may come across as having ulterior motives or intentions, but also isn't by essence an evil antagonist. At least her role and the film's plot gave her more substantial things to do, rather than to just flash her t**s. But Queen Latifah is sadly relegated to nothing more than a minor character, who literately falls victim to the Sphere predator thing. Peter Coyote, who later appears in 2000's Erin Brockovich, plays the dislikeable main chief.  

The scene where Queen Latifah's character gets killed by the jellyfish was a bit silly and ridiculous and though there is some suspense, I feel that Levinson did slightly underplay it and really didn't take full advantage of it. Had the suspense aspect been elevated more, the characters personalities were more fleshed out, it would have done Sphere a huge service. I guess though that if Sphere had not been based on the book, it would have been at least okay, though I would also have liked it to have had more action-packed and exciting scenes to keep the audience invested in the film. & lastly, the movie should have been under 2 hrs long. 

I'm a fan of Levinson's movies, well most of them and whilst the 1990s has been a mixed bag compared to the dizzy heights of the 1980s with Diner, Rain Man and Good Morning, Vietnam, he is still, in my eyes, a competent director. With Sphere, it falls into the same bracket as Toys as his other notable financial box office flop..... yet what separates Sphere from Toys is that I found this film a tad more enjoyable than the Robin Williams 1992 fantasy vehicle.

Those are really, in essence, my only major complaints with it.

Final Verdict:

Calling this movie a masterpiece is far-fetched because it is nowhere near that level, but regardless, with all the criticism and negativity Sphere has received, to me, it's not that bad. The movie failed because the audience at the time in 1998 had high expectations of what they wanted the movie to be like, more-so than what they expected. & because of that, the movie didn't do too well domestically and internationally at the box office.

But we shouldn't take away from the fact that Sphere does have its shortcomings; hence the story could have been far more compelling, exciting and interesting & that Barry Levinson ought to have made it more action-packed and thrilling and though it is based on the book, I didn't have any preconceptions seeing as I have not read it. But by solely judging it based on a sci-fi mystery movie, it's actually decent with some edgy moments and it is the performances by Hoffman, Stone, Jackson and 
Schieber that make this watchable. Had it not been for them, Sphere would have been not as good. 

Sphere is the unconventional type of psychological thriller that families and people of all ages can enjoy and immerse themselves in. 

It's not great, but it is certainly watchable and an admirable attempt by Barry Levinson of an underwater sci-fi psychological thriller, nevertheless.  


No comments:

Post a comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...