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The 100




Deep Blue Sea
(1999)
Reviewed by Steve Crow
Rating: 3 Beans

must admit, I find this movie compelling. Every time that it's on cable (which is a lot), I inevitably sit down and watch it. A similar compulsion probably leads people to watch car wrecks.

The basic plot is pretty simple. Scientists are tampering with "Things Man was not meant to know or do" in an absurdly large underwater base, Aquatica. Their attempts to expand the brains of sharks to harvest some kind of anti-Alzheimer's serum go awry in the same way that Miss O'Leary's cow caused a little fire. The three mako sharks turn upon their captors, using their expanded intelligence to kill them one at a time and drive them upwards so that Aquatica is wrecked and they can escape into the "deep blue sea" (yes! We have a movie title!).

Where to start? There are the absurd attempts to invoke the memory of the Jaws movies, like the license plate in the shark's mouth and the means used to dispose the three super-sharks. There is the ignorance of basic laws of science so all-encompassing that even my young son could make out the problems (like, "Why does electricity kill one shark but not the other?" and "How are those big sharks swimming in those little corridors without anyone noticing?"). There's the reliance on CGI for the sharks' victims that makes you think that Lara Croft is the one getting eaten rather than Saffron Burrows (Wing Commander) and Samuel L. Jackson (far far better things like Phantom Menace and Pulp Fiction).

The sharks themselves are a weird breed. The exact limits of their intelligence are never really established, and their plan to escape seems a bit vague. Apparently, they bit off the scientist's arm so that the helicopter would come, and they knew it would accidentally drop the stretcher into the water so they could grab it and use the helicopter to destroy the top half of the base. Apparently they're not only smart: their improvisational abilities rival MacGyver! Because if the helicopter hadn't dropped the stretcher (a key element of the sharks' plan that they couldn't have possibly anticipated), they probably would have been killed.

The sharks also occasionally have the same ability to teleport ahead of their victims possessed by Jason Voorhees. Maybe this is a side effect of expanded brain capacity in sharks? One wonders why they have to drive the survivors ever upwards when half the time they seem to be able to get up just fine on their own. They can also swim backwards (physically impossible for sharks), and seem to shrink and grow depending on whatever the CGI operator felt like from sequence to sequence.

Still, Deep Blue Sea manages to invoke a palpable sense of menace despite itself. Part of this is by invoking (or maybe parodying) the traditional horror movie cliches. People go off on their own and don't get killed, and the main female character gets knocked off at the end. The sharks are exactly where they need to be to inspire maximum terror, and dramatically wait to the same effect. Samuel L. Jackson's character gives a big dramatic speech and then director Renny Harlin (Die Hard 2, Cliffhanger, Cutthroat Island) cheerfully undercuts it by having a shark leap out and grab him (transforming him into a Tomb Raider-style CGI figure in the process). The main black character, Preacher (LL Cool J: Any Given Sunday, Halloween H20) is as self-referential as any character in a Scream movie, knowing he's going to die because the brother always dies in a situation like this. But then his character manages to live despite a mangling that would kill Michael Meyers.

And part of the menace occurs because Harlin plays up the claustrophobia, and the sudden attacks by the sharks (Jackson's death is a definite jump-out-of-your-seat moment), even if he takes them to absurd lengths occasionally. The actors seem to be having fun, and the set work is pretty good. What more can you ask for?

So overall, I give Deep Blue Sea a fairly decent rating for a bad movie. It's an entirely brain-dead movie, but it's self-parodying elements never go so far as the Scream movies or Lake Placid and will keep your interest.






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