Deep Rising

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. In part two of a ‘deep’ double bill, I revisited Stephen Sommers’ 1998 action horror, Deep Rising. 

What I remember

For better or worse, this film probably best represents what my friends and I were looking for in a movie back in 1999 or 2000 or whenever it was we first saw it. What could appeal to a bunch of film and literature students more than a big dumb movie that is self-aware and self-mocking? A film with the best/worst catchphrase of all time. “Now what?” A film filled with mercenaries about to be eaten by a hell octopus. A film that gave the world Treat Williams as an action hero. Yes please.

I cannot overstate how much we loved Treat Williams in this film. We spent the next few weeks watching Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead, Mulholland Falls, The Phantom and anything else we could find with him in. We also searched for the same hit that Deep Rising gave us from other monster movies. Lake Placid and Deep Blue Sea and Anaconda. But nothing was ever quite Deep Rising.

What I expected

Imagine my surprise to find that Deep Rising has a 30% score on Rotten Tomatoes. I thought Deep Rising would be considered a classic. Maybe I was wrong. Was this film I hadn’t watched in a very long time actually a bit of a stinker?

What I found

Nope. It’s still great.

Like Deep Blue Sea, Deep Rising is a monster movie, but unlike Deep Blue Sea, Deep Rising fully embraces its b-movie credentials. It establishes very early on that every character with a speaking part (with, maybe, one exception) is a criminal and that, to some degree or another, they ‘have it coming’. As an audience we are not expected to shed many tears for the about-to-be-eaten. Lots of reviews describe Deep Rising as an Alien rip off but they have very different moods and sensibilities. In Alien, the audience’s sympathies are very much with the crew Nostromo, not the alien queen. In Deep Blue Sea? Not so much. Sure, there are a couple of characters we want to survive but, because the silliness of the film is always something the director and audience are aware of, we also want to see that horrible octopus thing get his breakfast. I wouldn’t go as far as saying that anyone who thinks the films are similar struggles in some way to define the difference between a working class crew of a spaceship and a boat load of career criminals but, you know…

Because, seriously, how can a film where Jason Flemyng unloads a comically large machine gun into a computer generated tentacle shouting, “Eat this, you wankah!” only get a 30% score on anything? Is this crazy town we’re living in? Have millions of people stopped understanding how films work? This is the good stuff. Right here. A cockney soldier-for-hire firing his gun wildly at an octopus while calling it a wanker. How is that not enough for you?

[This is probably a good time to take a little break from my thoughts about Deep Rising to celebrate the work of the film’s casting director, Mary Goldberg. The group of mercenaries that are hoping to rob the doomed ocean liner that has become the home for a sea creature with seven thousand mouths are played by Jason Flemyng, Djimon Hounsou, Clifton Powell, Wes Studi, Cliff Curtis and Trevor Goddard. These are characters who get very little screen time before they get eaten by big squid legs with mouths on the end of them; there was little incentive to cast actors as skilled as the ones they got. But doing so raised the quality of the film massively. Thanks, Mary.]

Where was I? Oh yes. Jason Flemyng calling a merciless leviathan a wanker. No, I think I’ve said everything I need to say about that.

So let’s get to Treat Williams, and the character of John Finnegan. And I’ve got to say it. Still great. Still bloody great. I still feel robbed of a sequel. I wanted and needed more Finnegan back then and I still want and need more Finnegan today. I know it’s too late now. Treat Williams is seventy. But… They’re making another Indiana Jones movie. Never say never…

OK. I accept they aren’t going to make a sequel.

But to think we’ll never hear Treat Williams say, “Now what?” again. That just seems wrong. and the film set up the sequel so nicely as well. What’s a devastatingly bad box office take for the first film between friends?

Make a sequel you cowards.

So, how good was my memory?

For once, my memory was bang on the money. The special effects aren’t as good as I remember but technology has advanced so quickly in the last couple of decades that they were never going to be. It’s nothing a director’s cut couldn’t fix.

And how good is the film?

Dude, I still love this movie. Absolutely love it. Is it a masterpiece? No. Will I watch it again? Very much so.