DEEP BLUE SEA (1999) Reviews and overview

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‘Bigger. Smarter. Faster. Meaner.’

Deep Blue Sea is a 1999 American action horror film about scientists at a research facility who become the prey of super-intelligent sharks.

Directed by Renny Harlin (The Dyatlov Pass Incident; Exorcist: The Beginning; A Nightmare on Elm Street 4; Prison) from a screenplay co-written by Duncan Kennedy, Donna Powers and Wayne Powers. The movie stars Thomas Jane, Saffron Burrows, Samuel L. Jackson, Jacqueline McKenzie, Michael Rapaport, Stellan Skarsgård and LL Cool J.

Review [contains major spoilers]:

This shark attack film takes place in a laboratory that’s floating out in the middle of the ocean.  It’s the weekend so the majority of the people who work at the lab are gone. Only a skeleton crew, made up of recognizable actors, remains.

There’s Susan McAlester (Saffron Burrows) and Jim Whitlock (Stellan Skarsgard), two brilliant scientists.  (Susan is passionate and committed.  Jim is drunk and cynical.)  There’s a marine biologist named Jan (Jacqueline McKenzie), who is such a positive presence that, from the minute she first shows up, you know that there’s no way she’s going to be alive at the end of the movie.

Tom (Michael Rapaport) is an engineer.  Brenda (Aida Turturro) is in charge of communicating with the outside world.  Preacher (LL Cool J) is a chef who acts a lot like LL Cool J.  And then there’s Carter Blake (Thomas Jane), the shark wrangler with a past.  Carter is obviously going to be our hero because, with a name like Carter Blake, there’s no way that he couldn’t be.

Finally, there’s Russell Franklin (Samuel L. Jackson).  Russell is the businessman who has been funding all of the research at the lab.  Even though he doesn’t quite understand what Susan and Jim are doing, he’s been very generous.  However, after a shark escapes and nearly eats four generic teens, Russell decides that he better find out what exactly is being done with his money.

Jim and Susan are trying to develop a cure for Alzheimer’s. Susan says that, if their experiments are successful, one pill will be able to reverse the disease.  They’ve been running tests on sharks and … well, let’s just say that Susan and Jim haven’t exactly been honest or ethical about their experiments.  (Movie scientists always cut corners, don’t they?)  Basically, they’ve been genetically engineering the sharks to increase the size of their brain.

The end result? Super sharks! To paraphrase the film’s poster, these sharks are big, fast, smart, and mean!  And needless to say, they’re sick of being held captive.  Soon, the lab is besieged by angry sharks and no one is safe!

That includes Samuel L. Jackson. Deep Blue Sea is best known for the scene where Samuel L. Jackson gives a rousing speech, in which he exhorts everyone to keep fighting and not give up, right before a shark jumps out of the water and eats him.  It’s a great scene, one that makes brilliant use of Samuel L. Jackson. I mean, let’s be honest. You don’t expect Samuel L. Jackson to get eaten by a shark and, as soon as he’s gone, you look at the survivors and you think to yourself, “So, now you’re depending on LL Cool J and Thomas Jane to save you?  Y’all are so screwed…”

And yet, it’s also significant that the only scene from Deep Blue Sea that people really remember is that shark eating Samuel L. Jackson. With the exception of the one moment, Deep Blue Sea is an incredibly predictable movie. From the minute you see that Jim is played by Stellan Skarsgard, you know that he’s doing something wrong with the sharks. The dialogue is often cringe-worthy and the characters are all thinly drawn. The sharks are occasionally impressive but the movie doesn’t really do enough with the idea of them of being super smart. Was I hoping for scenes of the sharks talking to each other? I guess I was.

That said, as I watched Deep Blue Sea, I was surprised to discover that I had forgotten just how likeable and efficient the movie was. Director Renny Harlin doesn’t waste any time trying to convince us that we’re watching anything more than just a slightly silly shark movie. Wisely, Harlin unapologetically embraces Deep Blue Sea’s B-movie roots and, with the help of a game cast, the end result is a film that is enjoyably unpretentious and straight forward. Samuel L. Jackson was not devoured in vain.

Lisa Marie Bowman, guest reviewer via Through the Shattered Lens

Other reviews:

” …much of the film’s effectiveness lies in its frenetic, action-packed pacing, as it doesn’t take too long for the shit to hit the fan, and once it does, we’re treated to a series of escalating action and suspense sequences. The film’s main conceit is ripe for such sequences […] If there’s one huge weakness of Deep Blue Sea, it’s the extremely poor computer-generated shark effects. While the mechanical sharks look fine, these CGI effects were barely passable in 1999…” Oh, the Horror!

” …humor and drama are not the reason why audiences see a movie like Deep Blue Sea, and Harlin (who is best known for helming Die Hard 2) recognizes that. He gives viewers exactly what they want – a taut, exciting thriller that takes movie-goers and characters deep under water and leaves them gasping for breath.” Reel Views

“The movie is essentially one well-done action sequence after another. It involves all the usual situations in movies where fierce creatures chase victims through the bowels of a ship/spacecraft/building (the “Alien” movies, “Deep Rising,” etc). It’s just that it does them well. It doesn’t linger on the special effects (some of the sharks look like cartoons), but it knows how to use timing, suspense, quick movement and surprise.” Roger Ebert

Cast and characters:

Thomas Jane … Carter Blake
Saffron Burrows … Doctor Susan McAlester
Samuel L. Jackson … Russell Franklin
Jacqueline McKenzie … Janice Higgins
Michael Rapaport … Tom Scoggins
Stellan Skarsgård … Jim Whitlock
LL Cool J … Preacher
Aida Turturro … Brenda Kerns
Cristos … Boat Captain
Daniel Rey … Helicopter Pilot (as Daniel Bahimo Rey)
Valente Rodriguez … Helicopter Co-Pilot
Brent Roam … Helicopter Winch Operator
Eyal Podell … Boy #1
Erinn Bartlett … Girl #1
Dan Thiel … Boy #2
Sabrina Geerinckx … Girl #2
Tajsha Thomas … Friend of Janice
Frank Welker … Parrot Sounds (voice) (as Frank W. Welker)
Mary Kay Bergman … The Parrot (voice) (uncredited)
Ronny Cox … Executive – Franklin’s Boss (uncredited)
Renny Harlin … Worker (uncredited)
Sarah Kelly … Shark Victim (uncredited)
Roark Loedy … Aqautica Dock Hand (uncredited)

Filming locations:

Fox Baja Studios, Rosarito, Baja California Norte, Mexico (studio)
San Diego, California


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