Sphere (1998)

sphere_1998_poster
Sphere (1998)
  • Time: 134 min
  • Genre: Drama | Mystery | Sci-Fi
  • Director: Barry Levinson
  • Cast: Dustin Hoffman, Sharon Stone, Samuel L. Jackson, Liev Schreiber, Queen Latifah

Storyline:

1000 feet below the ocean, navy divers discover an object half-a-mile long. A crack team of scientists are deployed to the site in Deepsea Habitats. What they find boggles the mind as they discover a perfect metal sphere. What is the secret behind the sphere? Will they survive the mysterious ‘manifestations’? Who or what is creating these? They may never live to find out.

One review

  • Michael Crichton, a science-fiction novelist and screenplay writer for several of his own adaptations has had many of his ideas become successful and iconic pieces in cinema. The best of Mr. Crichton’s work is by far everyone’s favorite prehistoric predator film, Jurassic Park (1993). That and Westworld (1973) twenty years before. There’s something about Crichton’s work that has many of the same motifs that show up in a lot of his other written works. One of the most notable elements is the discovery of a new science by humans and it ends up becoming more than humanity can handle. Re-emphasizing this again is in this Crichton adaptation that went largely unnoticed. Was it because it was bad? No but as a final product, there’s a lot left to be desired with this sci-fi thriller.

    The story to this movie is about a group of doctors in different fields that travel to the bottom of the ocean to analyze a UFO that has something mysterious inside. The mysterious plot device that’s inside the ship is a giant perfectly shaped golden sphere. After visiting it, strange things begin occurring on the ship and it’s up to the small crew to figure it out. Directed by Barry Levinson (who has produced other Crichton adaptations) shows that he has competent direction in how he wanted the story to play out. Yet his pair of writers didn’t seem to know how to make it work to the fullest extent. The writers on board for this production were Stephen Hauser (which was his only credit) and Paul Attanasio. Both of which flesh out the characters and do create some high-strung tension scenes with minor psychological elements but when it comes to explaining the orb, they miss it almost entirely.

    The underwater crew is made up of Dustin Hoffman (a psychiatrist), Sharon Stone (a biochemist), Samuel L. Jackson (a mathematician) and Liev Schreiber (a doctor in physics) and two operators; Peter Coyote and Queen Latifah. Of these characters, only Latifah (who has a minor role) seemed slightly out of place; all the rest act fine in their roles. That means distinctive personalities and charms. The actor who viewers would probably find the most likable is Hoffman who has a knack for being mostly nonchalant through each situation he’s put into. I guess shrinks are supposed to be this calm? Not sure, but it gives him the right amount of charm. The connection these characters have is that they were all associated with Hoffman’s role. Funny how popular 80s singer Huey Lewis even had a small scene stealing moment at the beginning of the movie. Random but a treat.

    The sphere plot device is also a treat when things start rolling (pardon the pun). However, this is exactly when the problems begin to arise. In order for strange events to happen, there’s got to be reasons to back up and justify these moments. For this case, there is only one explanation given amongst a slew of other questions that go unanswered. One thing that really threw me off was when Hoffman’s character discovers a cabinet worth of a specific item. Who stocked that thing? I could see if it was a mind game or hallucination but it was for real. Tell me who had the time to do that? I have to admit, moments like those will keep its audience guessing and with Hoffman’s character being a shrink, the psychological aspect to the film does help make the tenseness quite intellectual. The only problem is that parts of it only theorized possible reasons but never gave definitive solutions. These of which were all based on observation.

    The only other negative part to the presentation of this movie is how it deliberately splits up its acts into chapters. There is no need, for two reasons. One being that, the audience will figure out when the next act is because each “chapter” if you want to call it that fades out to black. The other reason is that giving a title for the next sequence can somewhat spoil the upcoming surprising scene that audiences may not see coming. Instead, audiences are presented with giant bold print stating exactly what’s headed their way. Why go through the trouble of shooting yourself in the foot like that? But enough on that, the last bits of the film still work in its favor. This belongs to the cinematography shot by Adam Greenberg (The Terminator (1984) and Rush Hour (1998)) and the music composed by Elliot Goldenthal. Since Greenberg has been the director of photography before for bigger projects, he shows that can effectively conceal the illusion during the underwater scenes. As for music, Goldenthal who isn’t always the most memorable actually surprises this time. That means creating themes for certain aspects of the film, which includes creepy piano keys and quite wondrous sounding strings. It really stuck.

    The film has competent acting, cinematography, music, interesting psychological elements thrown in and some tense thrills. However, the writing sorely lacks in clearing up much of the plot device that is directly involved in the story other than giving a small assumption only based on observation. That and the chapter segments are a bit unnecessary.

    Points Earned –> 6:10

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