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DEEP BLUE SEA

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Saffron Burrows, Thomas Jane, LL Cool J, Stellan Skarsgard, Samuel L. Jackson
Director:  Renny Harlin
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Widescreen 2.35:1 Anamorphic Transfer
Studio:  Warner Bros.
Features:  See Review
Length:  105 Minutes
Release Date:  December 7, 1999

Film ***

WARNING:  First and foremost, make sure you’ve seen the movie first before watching the features on this DVD!

Give director Renny Harlin this much credit—he knows how to make action films over the top and thrilling.  With Deep Blue Sea, he serves an offering that is more than an amusing enough diversion for an evening’s entertainment, provided you set your brain on cruise control ahead of time.

The sketchy plot is simply a means to an end.  When you hear scientists on screen talking about genetically enhancing sharks in order to use their brain tissue in an experiment to end Alzheimer’s disease, don’t scratch your head in wonder.  Go with it.  All that matters is, Harlin now has an excuse to trap a group of people in an underwater base and let hell break loose on them.

As the film opens, one of the sharks is out in the open, terrorizing (what else?) a group of drunken teenagers in a boat.  Fearing the stock implications, pharmaceutical magnate Russell Franklin (Jackson) pays a visit to the site of the experiment he’s been funding to see what’s going on.  What he finds looks promising…the research done by Dr. Susan McAlester (Burrows) using sharks’ gray matter to combat the dreaded brain disease seems to be working.  Unfortunately, the sharks have other plans.

In a series of rapid fire disasters, the base is crippled, and starting to sink.  It’s going to be a race against both time and the mutant sharks to find a way to reach the surface, and somehow get help before either drowning or becoming fish food.

Paying homage to Jaws, but trying to top it in every way conceivable, we get not one shark, but three.  And as mentioned, not just regular sharks…sharks that have been genetically enhanced.  They’re bigger, faster, stronger, and smarter.  How much smarter?  One of them actually chases a victim into a giant oven, then turns it on.  Talk about your celebrity roast!

As mentioned, there are more than a few instances where you have to forgo thinking and just go where the picture takes you.  Once you start asking questions like, why wouldn’t they have abandoned the base knowing a tropical storm was heading their way, or even if the sharks’ brains are bigger, wouldn’t they still have to go through learning processes instead of just knowing how and why things work, you’re as dead in the water as some of the characters.

If you abandon the logic, what you have left is a pretty satisfying thrill ride.  The sharks, which are a combination of real ones, mechanical ones, and CGI’s look terrific, and the “enhancement” angle really does serve to make these fish the most lethal sea objects on the screen since the iceberg in Titanic.  Renny Harlin knows how to craft each sequence to make it as suspenseful and explosive as it can be, and few directors do it better than him.  The results are inarguably entertaining.

As is often the case with most action films, the characters are sketched only in broad strokes and with no sense of depth, but the movie counters this by providing two very likeable stars, Jackson and LL Cool J.  LL actually has the best part in the movie, a cook known as Preach.  He has the best lines, and also offers the most on-screen charisma.  The other actors, Jane and Burrows, are perfectly fine, though lesser known names.  Despite some weak dialogue to work with, they bring a proper sensibility and feel to their roles.  And Stellan Skarsgard is always a welcome presence in my book.

But perhaps the biggest asset the film has is that it’s not always predictable.  Like the classic Irwin Allen movies, you may find yourself wondering who’s going to live, and who’s going to die.  And I have to say one thing more:  the picture features one of THE best surprise sequences I have ever seen.  When I saw the movie in the theatre originally, it literally rocked the entire audience back in our collective seats.  It alone is worth the price of the DVD.

Video ***

I had hoped this disc might be one amongst Warner’s best offerings, but it falls just a little short.  The anamorphic transfer is very clean, and free of grain or compression artifacts, but there is a bit of coloring problem from time to time.  Yellows are very strong in many scenes, causing occasional instances of unnatural looking flesh tones, a bit less clarity around the edges of images.  And I noticed one or two places where items or people in deep focus went completely soft and lacking detail, though for the most part, this is not a problem.  The base interiors often look fantastic, with sharp imaging and strong detail, back to front. 

Audio ****

The 5.1 soundtrack is absolutely phenomenal.  Sound is very important in this film, and from the most subtle creaks to the loudest explosions of fire and water, and every bit of eerie rumbling in the bass that falls between, this is a sharp, dynamic, clean and powerful audio mix.  The multiple channels are used for maximum effect, and will have you peering over your shoulders at the most suspenseful moments.  This easily ranks amongst the best sounding DVD’s on the market—definite reference quality.

Features ***1/2

The disc contains a commentary with Renny Harlin and Samuel L. Jackson (recorded separately and edited together).  Harlin is very detailed and informative, and Jackson delivers with the affable, enthusiastic style you’d expect someone as cool as him to have.  There’s also a trailer and two short documentaries, one detailing the creation of the shark images, a stills gallery, deleted scenes, cast and crew info, and some extras for your DVD ROM.

Summary:

Deep Blue Sea is perhaps the perfect summer action film…big, loud, suspenseful, engrossing.  It will get your heart pumping while keeping your mind at rest.  And, it will give you an excuse to stay home with the DVD player…away from the water.