Deep Blue Sea

Directed by Renny Harlin
Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Saffron Burrows, Thomas Jane, Michael Rappaport, LL Cool J.
MPAA Rating: R for graphic shark attacks, and for language.

Review by Matt Heffernan
July 28, 1999

In the wake of Lake Placid comes another apparent Jaws rip-off. Instead, we get a film that dares to make its own, albeit less powerful, statement.

Samuel L. Jackson plays Russell Franklin, the president of a pharmaceutical company. Dr. Susan McAlester (Saffron Burrows) takes him to Aquatica, her research facility in the middle of the ocean. She is breeding sharks with abnormally large brains, in order to extract a chemical that might revive dead brain cells, thus curing Alzheimer's disease.

A side effect of the experiment is smart sharks -- big makos that are not very happy with their situation. While Carter Blake (Thomas Jane), the resident diver, is trying to anesthetize one of the sharks for another brain tap, two of the three mutant sharks try to attack him from both sides of the shark cage. When he wields his tranquilizer gun, they back off (normally impossible for sharks, who must continually swim forward to survive).

He manages to get one of them into the facility, and Susan gets her brain juice. The shark wakes up prematurely, and bites the arm of Dr. Jim Whitlock (Stellan Skarsgård) right off. The shark is wrangled back into the water, and the crew gets a helicopter to come take Jim away. While the helicopter is pulling Jim's stretcher from the dock, the raging storm causes the winch to fail, dropping Jim in the ocean. The helicopter then crashes into Aquatica's tower, causing a fiery explosion. Meanwhile, a shark grabs Jim and slams him into the big underwater window of the facility, presumably as a warning to the crew.

Now, Aquatica is burning from the top and flooding from the bottom, trapping everyone inside. They must find a way to get out before either the fire, the water, or the sharks kill them all.

Because of this confined space, Deep Blue Sea is able to create a highly tense atmosphere. The crew is very small, and everybody is a significant character. This makes anybody a candidate for shark food (no red jumpsuits here). Very few actions are predictable, which keeps the interest of the audience, and allows them to invest in the characters.

This setting also made for more interior water scenes than any film since Titanic. Only this time there is no slow sinking, but rushing water suddenly coming from all directions, which may or may not contain a shark. When these sharks travel from chamber to chamber, stalking the crew, their believability is elevated by the high concept of the experiment. If only Jaws: The Revenge had something like that for an excuse.

Among the thrills however, is a rather uninspired script, but Renny Harlin's frenetic direction helps cover many flaws. Harlin has been on a losing streak since Die Hard 2, with Cliffhanger being his only modest success. This might do quite well, and I would recommend seeing it. Just don't expect Jaws -- it's ironically a lot more like Alien.

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Deep Blue Sea (1999)

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Review © 1999 Matt Heffernan