Deep Blue Sea

Every Wednesday, I revisit a film that I have strong memories of watching, to see how well my memories of it hold up to scrutiny, and whether the film is as good (or as bad) as I remember. This week is part one of a ‘deep’ special. See if you can work out what the second film will be. That will be fun, won’t it?

What I remember

I have tried to make a list of films that represent a decent span of cinematic history but inevitably they are weighted toward my time at university. (Specifically, my second time at university, see The Boys in Blue for more about my first attempt at a degree.) I liked it. There was a lot of time to watch films and a video player in every shared flat. We even got a bit fancy and borrowed a DVD player (which was the style at the time) in the third year (interestingly, from the woman who a decade or so later would become my wife. I didn’t know that then, of course. She was just a friend of a friend who lent us her copy of Mickey Blue Eyes. You have to admit though, as early impressions go, that’s a strong opening). Anyway, I probably watched Deep Blue Sea some time around then, almost certainly borrowed from Blockbuster Video.

I could sketch you the basic outline of Deep Blue Sea. Some super-intelligent sharks eat most of the people who made them clever. Obviously, I remember one scene better than any other. You know the one. That scene. The one with [NO SPOILERS.] The bit where [SERIOUSLY, NO SPOILERS. I KNOW THIS FILM IS OVER TWENTY YEARS OLD BUT EVERYONE SHOULD HAVE AT LEAST THE CHANCE TO SEE THAT SCENE FRESH.]

What I expected

A bunch of people being eaten by genetically modified sharks.

What I found

Monster-eats-its-way-through-a-cast was a legitimate genre by the end of the 1990s, briefly escaping its B-Movie reputation. Alien and Aliens had showed two ways of doing it with a bit of sophistication and people started throwing money at anyone with an idea for a monster and a vaguely postmodern sense of how it might eat people. The budget for Deep Blue Sea was somewhere between sixty and eighty million dollars. That will get you a good cast (Thomas Jane, Samuel L Jackson, a criminally underused Stellan Skarsgård, a criminally underused Aida Turturro) and a set constructed on the water tanks James Cameron built for Titanic, but it can’t buy you class. And so, while Deep Blue Sea has some decent performances and a couple of great scenes (in particular the one that I can’t mention because of spoilers etc) there are moments where its exploitation film origins show.

Toward the end of the film (and this is a spoiler, I guess, but it isn’t spoiling anything important or good, so who cares? Read on or don’t, yeah?) the super-scientist in charge of the shark-supercharging operation is cornered by a supercharged-shark. She kills it with a loose electrical cable. But first, because Hollywood was, and still is in many ways, a cesspit, she has to take off her wet suit and stand on it, in the skimpiest pair of pants the makers of Deep Blue Sea could find, for about six minutes. Because, I suppose, while her wet suit wouldn’t protect from the electricity while she was wearing it, it would if she folded it up and stood on it? I mean, that doesn’t sound very science-y but I’m not a scientist so I could be wrong.

Or maybe the reason for her actions was that Renny Harlin really wanted to look at Saffron Burrows in her underwear. And he thought you might too. Even if there was no need for it and all you actually wanted was just a tightly-plotted ninety-minute monster movie.

The problem, I guess, is Jaws. If Jaws didn’t exist then nobody would expect anything from a shark movie. We’d shake our heads at all the exploitative crap and say, “that’s shark movies alright”. But Jaws does exist. And it isn’t alright. I know I sound a bit over the top, moaning about a scene where the lead has to stand in her bikini for no reason, but imagine if instead of wasting screen time with stuff like that Harlin had created more rounded characters? Imagine if he’d actually noticed he had Stellan Skarsgård in his cast and employed more of his range than ‘sad because his arm was bitten off’ and ‘sad because some smart sharks had used him and his stretcher as a battering ram to break glass normally strong enough to withstand the pressure of the pacific ocean.’

Sorry, those were spoilers too. Just be grateful I haven’t mentioned the bit where Samuel L Jackson gets eaten by a shark while delivering a speech. That would have really ruined the movie for you, wouldn’t it?

So, how good was my memory?

My memory was OK. I was expecting a more enjoyable movie. I had forgotten how ropey it gets in places.

And how good is the film?

You shouldn’t get bored watching a film about genius sharks eating human geniuses but I did. You may disagree though. Luckily I haven’t ruined the film by telling you lots of spoilers, so you can watch it and decide for yourself.

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention, LL Cool J and Thomas Jane play the only characters who survive to the end of the movie. You think Jane’s characters will have to make the ultimate sacrifice but he doesn’t. He definitely survives.