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Deep Blue Sea

Wednesday July 28, 1999

     A liquid to rely on, water is right there when we're hot, when we're thirsty, when we want things to grow. But who speaks up for water's dark side, for its implacable force, the terrifying power of its raging torrents? "Deep Blue Sea" does, that's who.
     A rousing adventure yarn that's paced to kill, "Deep Blue Sea" is an example of how expert action filmmaking and up-to-the-minute visual effects can transcend a workmanlike script and bring excitement to conventional genre material. There's little in this man-versus-shark story we haven't seen before, but we haven't seen it quite like this.
     "Deep Blue Sea" is also a return to form for action director Renny Harlin. Considered one of Hollywood's top shooters after "Die Hard 2" and "Cliffhanger," Harlin lost his way for a while in the great dismal swamps of "Cutthroat Island" and "The Long Kiss Goodnight."
     Here, helped by a trio of veteran editors (Frank J. Urioste, Derek G. Brechin, Dallas S. Puett), cinematographer Stephen Windon and top-of-the-line animatronic and computer-generated image people, Harlin has energetically pounced on this classic Don't Mess With Mother Nature premise.
     In addition to reinvigorating Harlin, "Deep Blue Sea" also brings the shark back to a place of prominence in the menace hierarchy. While this film doesn't approach the elan of the brilliant "Jaws," that picture never did manage a completely workable shark. Here, the combination of animatronic and digitally created beasts, plus footage of the real thing, gives us a 25-foot mako and two smaller companions that are the epitome of destruction.
     Yet, even though we get enough close-ups of nasty-looking teeth to delight a convention of orthodontists (no one has to tell these behemoths to open wide), it is the water as much as the shark that terrifies us here. The nightmarish vision of liquid torrents roaring out of control in a confined space is every bit as scary, if not more so, than creatures that bite for a living.
     That space would be Aquatica's floating oceanic research station, an elaborate compound that's situated almost entirely below the surface. Here the all-business Dr. Susan McAlester (Saffron Burrows) heads up a team that includes hunky shark wrangler Carter Blake (Thomas Jane), comic-relief chef Preacher Dudley (LL Cool J), deep thinker Jim Whitlock (Stellan Skarsgard), a marine biologist (Jacqueline McKenzie) and an engineer (Michael Rapaport).
     Working from the curious premise that sharks might produce a protein that would regenerate human brain cells and thus prevent Alzheimer's disease, Dr. McAlester and company have been breeding bigger and smarter sharks in the hopes of harvesting a potent version of that substance.
     Some bad publicity leads money man Russell Franklin (Samuel L. Jackson) to consider pulling the plug on the whole project, but before he does, Dr. McAlester convinces him to take a flying visit to the facility to see the research for himself. Definitely not a good idea.
     For what Franklin and the research team simultaneously discover is that these sharks, including a giant 8,000-pound beast with a brain the size of a V-8 engine, have gotten too darn big and too darn smart for anyone's good but their own. It's uh-oh time in a big way as the scientists realize "We've taken God's oldest killing machine and given it will and desire." Dear me.
     While "Deep Blue Sea's" script (by Duncan Kennedy and Donna Powers & Wayne Powers) is not going to win any Writers Guild awards, its savvy enough to efficiently set the scene for the physical madness that follows and then get out of the way.
     Yes, there are the expected moments such as doors that are closed just in time and a fetching female who has to strip down to bikini underwear to save her life (don't ask), but the film does manage several twists that are surprising. And the casting of actors who for the most part are unknown to action audiences helps the scenario get closer to plausibility than films like this usually manage.
     The thrills begin, classically, on a dark and stormy night, and once the mayhem commences, with raging waters, dangerous fires and out-of-control sharks attacking every human in sight, there is no rest for the weary. Harlin, orchestrating on-screen hysteria and menace as adroitly as he combined the work of the eight effects houses that contributed to the film's verisimilitude, is completely in his element making sense out of the chaos. This is one summer action film that really knows how to move.


Deep Blue Sea, 1999. R for shark attacks, and for language. An Alan Riche-Tony Ludwig/Akiva Goldsman production, in association with Village Roadshow Pictures-Groucho III Film Partnership, released by Warner Bros. Director Renny Harlin. Producers Akiva Goldsman, Tony Ludwig, Alan Riche. Executive producers Duncan Henderson, Bruce Berman. Screenplay by Duncan Kennedy and Donna Powers & Wayne Powers. Cinematographer Stephen Windon. Editors Frank J. Urioste, Derek G. Brechin, Dallas S. Puett. Music Trevor Rabin. Production design William Sandell. Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes. Saffron Burrows as Dr. Susan McAlester. Thomas Jane as Carter Blake. LL Cool J as Preacher Dudley. Jacqueline McKenzie as Janice Higgins. Michael Rapaport as Tom Scoggins. Stellan Skarsgard as Jim Whitlock. Samuel L. Jackson as Russell Franklin.

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