DEEP BLUE SEA - Blu-ray review

...silly, campy material presented as serious high adventure.

John J. Puccio's picture
John J.
Puccio

Note: In the following joint Blu-ray review, both David and John provide their opinions of the film, with John also writing up the Video, Audio, Extras, and Parting Shots.

The Film According to David:
There is little time to come up for air in Renny Harlin's "Deep Blue Sea," but not because it is such an engaging story or rich with characters that draw you in. The film is extreme, silly, loud and entertaining--all things that make it worth watching. Throw together three eight-thousand pound Mako sharks with a desperate scientist, a capable but down-on-his-luck grease man, a sharp-mouthed yet religious cook, plus Samuel L. Jackson, and you have one of the more poorly made yet fun to watch disaster films in recent memory.

Upon its release, "Deep Blue Sea" was billed as simply a "Jaws" rip-off. This was not surprising, as Steven Spielberg's 1975 classic sits atop the man-versus-killer-animal film pyramid. In reality, I don't think "Deep Blue Sea" is trying to rip off "Jaws" (although, if you have seen the endings in first three "Jaws" films, you may notice some unique similarities). It seems to go after another Spielberg layout instead: "Jurassic Park."

Think about it in these terms: Each film has an older, wealthy fellow (Richard Attenborough in "Jurassic Park," Samuel L. Jackson in "Deep Blue Sea") who invests in a scientific project (bringing dinosaurs back to life in "Jurassic Park," genetically engineering Mako shark brains to harvest proteins and cure Alzheimer's disease in "Deep Blue Sea") despite a few criticisms from dissenters, only to have everything go wrong amidst a slew of special effects and general chaos. The significant difference between the films is that "Jurassic Park" works because of, among other things, strong characters and a quality script. "Deep Blue Sea," while entertaining, falls short in both regards.

Harlin's filmography provides some insight into why "Deep Blue Sea" doesn't work on these levels. The Finnish director's prior works include "A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master," "Die Hard 2," "Cliffhanger," and the colossal bomb "Cutthroat Island." What sticks out about Harlin's work are explosions, stunts, and near-death experiences (plus actual death experiences for some characters), not engaging dialogue, rich scripts, or deep characters that you find yourself rooting for or against as the films progress. If films were reviewed just on the things Harlin's work tends to be very good at, I might call "Deep Blue Sea" a valuable volume to consider adding to a DVD library. Unfortunately, films need more, and as a result this one lacks in a number of key areas.

The stars of "Deep Blue Sea" are without question the Mako sharks that take over research station Aquatica as it floats off the Mexico coast in the Pacific Ocean. They quickly proceed to bully its human inhabitants into lots of dark hallways, wet labs, and elevator shafts before flooding it. Never mind the awkward sexual tension between Dr. Susan McAlester (Saffron Burrows) and Carter Blake (Thomas Jane), or the comical yet somewhat hypocritical actions of Sherman "Preacher" Dudley (LL Cool J). These sharks steal the show, and rightfully so. There are plenty of avenues Harlin and writers Duncan Kennedy, Donna Powers and Wayne Powers could have gone with character development. In fact, each character has a few hints dropped about him or her that make viewers wonder more. What did corporate executive Russell Franklin (Samuel L. Jackson) "smuggle" to serve two years in jail? What about Blake (Jane), a self proclaimed "shark wrangler" and bad boy with a bad background? We get a taste of each man's past early on, but nothing more. Probably because nothing had exploded yet and no one had been eaten. As "Deep Blue Sea" progressed, I found myself wanting to see more of these sharks in action. If you are patient enough to watch from beginning to end, you won't be disappointed in them. The stunts, special effects and action scenes all hold their own, but the same can't be said for any of the film's human participants.

Like any decent movie where characters battle adversity, there are soapbox speeches woven in throughout, each intended to motivate and inspire others to action. It seems as though each main character gives one, and they vary in degree of credibility. But Franklin's (Jackson) is the winner in one of the film's best, yet hardest to believe, moments. In fact, this particular scene acts as a microcosm for the rest of the film: a brief, yet loud, violent, and entertaining adventure.

The question I kept asking myself as I watched "Deep Blue Sea" was whether or not its strengths (special effects, fast-paced action, and a few good "Did that just happen?" moments) could outweigh its weaknesses (a subpar script, weak character development, and a predictable power struggle). By no means is this a bad film, but it is far from a good one. Within its genre, it is slightly above average, and the kind of movie that provides a guilty pleasure for one who seeks it. I'd likely watch it again, but rather than be entertained, I'd ponder how the potential it has could have been maximized to result in something pretty special. That is, if I could think straight amidst all the flooding, explosions, and shark bites.

David's film rating: 6/10

The Film According to John:
The thing is, in order to appreciate "Deep Blue Sea" on any level, you have to get over its ludicrous premise. And that's very hard to do. Consider: A group of researchers are developing gigantic, superintelligent sharks to find a cure for Alzheimer's disease. I don't think so. But it's a great excuse to make gigantic, superintelligent sharks, which you just know from the beginning are going to go nuts and turn on the people who made them.

I'm assuming here that director Renny Harlin knew the premise was ludicrous, and despite that he wasn't doing the whole thing as a joke. Given Harlin's movie resume before and since, I doubt that he had anything in mind but creating pure action and adventure. But if that's the case, how do you account for Samuel L. Jackson's most famous moment? I dunno. In order to enjoy the film, I had get over its premise and make a conscious effort to take it as a comedy, whether Harlin intended it as one or not. With that in mind, the film has its joys, limited though they may be.

Ludicrous? The movie begins with a group of young people partying on a boat when one of the research team's sharks attack it. Now what would you do if you heard and felt something really big crashing into the bottom of your boat? Would you stand up and balance on the boat's railings, sure to fall into the sea with the next big bang? You would if you were an idiot and in this movie. It's a sign of things to come; the movie is populated by the stupidest people on the planet, scientists and all. Comedy, remember?

Think of the film as "Jaws" meets "Jurassic Park" via "The Towering Inferno" and "Alien," with a bird substituting for the cat in the latter film. And why is it that making sharks smarter makes them more vicious as well? Is that some kind of comment on the advancements in Mankind's science and technology? The smarter we get, the more we increase our power to kill one another in greater numbers? Oh, and making the sharks smarter enables them to swim backwards. Comedy, I tell ya.

The men in the story are mostly heroic, and the women stand around mostly and scream a lot. What can I say? Renny Harlin is a man, and these sorts of action movies appeal mainly to men. Which is also, I suppose, why the sharks upstage the humans in almost every scene, and why the two beautiful leading ladies take their clothes whenever possible. Supersized sharks and scantily clad females are ever so appealing in an action flick.

This movie has teeth. And when the sharks are smart enough, they can blow up more stuff than any human can devise.

It's a pretty dumb movie, actually.

John's film rating: 5/10

Video:
Warner Bros. present the film in high definition in its original theatrical ratio, 2.40:1, using a VC-1 codec and a dual-layer BD50. The colors vary from highly realistic, rich and vivid, to skin tones that are too darkly intense for real life (unless the actors really were as sunburnt as they look here). Black levels are acceptably deep to set off the brighter hues. Object delineation appears only average for an HD picture, generally good with occasional moments of softness, coarseness, or blur; and a fine print grain gives the image a natural, film-like texture.

Audio:
Using a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack, the Blu-ray disc provides all the noise you could as for. Indeed, the audio is about the best part of the movie. There's a good, clear midrange that's only obscured on a few occasions by peripheral sounds; a decent dynamic impact; and a deep blue bass to complement the rumblings of the deep blue sea. The surround channels take a while to warm up, but by the time of the storm at sea, they whip up quite a ruckus in all the speakers; when things start to break apart, debris flies in all directions around the listening area.

Extras:
The folks at WB carry over to the Blu-ray disc most, but not all, of the extras from the DVD edition of the movie. These extras still don't amount to much, or less as the case may be. First off is the compulsory full-feature audio commentary, this one by director Renny Harlin and actor Samuel L. Jackson. After that are a pair of brief featurettes: "When Sharks Attack," fifteen minutes, wherein the director tells us he attempted to make a "big-scale horror film"; and "Sharks of the Deep Blue Sea," eight minutes, mainly on the animatronic sharks. Both featurettes emphasize the fact that Harlin strove first and foremost for action. Then, there's a series of five deleted scenes, totaling about eight minutes, with optional director commentary.

The extras conclude with thirty-three scene selections; a theatrical trailer; English, French, German, and Spanish spoken languages; Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, Norwegian, Portuguese, Romanian, Spanish, Swedish, and other subtitles; and English and German captions for the hearing impaired.

Parting Shots:
If you can tolerate a high degree of preposterousness with your action, "Deep Blue Sea" should please you. As I've said, I could only watch it by assuming director Harlin had his tongue set firmly in his cheek in presenting this silly, campy material as serious high adventure. I don't think that was the case, but with that in mind the film does provide a few entertaining moments, especially the aforementioned scene with Samuel L. Jackson, which has to be a classic of its kind.

Ratings

Video
7
Audio
8
Extras
6
Film Value
6