Flashback for one moment to the Winter of 1998 and there is a movie in theaters about a huge cruise ship on its maiden voyage suffering a disaster that kills the majority of its crew and passengers. If you’re thinking of Titanic, James Cameron’s Oscar-winning epic, well, you’re wrong. But good guess.
No, I’m talking about Deep Rising, the somewhat forgotten horror movie that was released in theaters in early February 1998 and quickly sunk faster than the above-named ship. Maybe Disney was hoping for this movie to be a good alternative to Titanic which had been the target of bad press for some time, especially considering how it was initially moved from the Summer 1997 release to the Christmas holiday season of that year. Or maybe they didn’t have much faith in the movie and dumped in winter, which was a common practice back then. Disney under their defunct Hollywood Pictures banner had sunk $45 million into the movie only to see it earn about a fourth of that at $11.2 million. Special effects in post-production reportedly took over a year to complete.
The movie is mostly set on the Argonautic, a luxury cruise ship having its maiden voyage in the South China Sea when a saboteur shuts down the engines. Soon after that, some great force attacks the ship from underneath, causing massive panic and we see the killing on Asian woman off-screen. A thief, Trillian St. James (Famke Jansen) has been discovered trying to steal and locked into a small room and unaffected by whatever else kills most of the passenger and crew.
Many nautical miles away in a rain storm, a charter ship piloted by John Finnegan (Trent Williams) is heading toward an undisclosed location. Finnegan is the type of person who doesn’t ask too many questions but he doesn’t take any shit from people when one of his crew members Joey “Tooch” Pantucci (Kevin J. O’Connor) discovers that their passengers are carrying certain weapons and not too happy he was snooping. Finnegan has been hired by a group of mercenaries, led by Hanover (Wes Studi), who are heavily armed with machine guns that seem to fire unlimited ammunition.
Prior to getting to the Argonautics location, Finnegan’s boat hits a speedboat that they weren’t able to detect as fast in the darkness and the storm. Hanover takes charge and organizes the mercenaries which are played by actors Jason Flemyng, Djimon Hounsou, Cliff Curtis and Clifton Powell, to board the Argonautic. Don’t worry, their character names aren’t really that important as they are eventually picked off by whatever attacked the Argonautic. They intend to go on board the Argonautic, rob it and then torpedo it. The mercenarties take Finnegan and Tooch on board, leading a mercenary with Tooch’s girlfriend, Leila (Una Damon) to finish working on things.
But on the Argonautics, they don’t find many people at first. Trillian has managed to get out of the the room where she was imprisoned and encounters them. When they get to the vault, they discover Simon Canton (Anthony Heald), the ship’s owner, and captain, H.W. Atherton (Derrick O’Connor) locked themselves inside with some other passengers/crew that get killed by accident by gunfire. Soon, they learn that there is a sea creature lurking in the ship somewhere sending out its qiant tentacles to pick people off one by one and as Canton explains “drinks” them spitting out their skeletal remains.
Much of the movie is the characters running around the ship shooting and arguing with each other in traditional fashion. There’s not much originality to it as Alien and Predator already set the stage for this type of movie. Yet we all knew what happens to the Titanic and that movie had Billy Zane chasing Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winselt around with a gun while the ship was sinking and won 11 Oscars and made over $2 billion worldwide.
Maybe the movie was released at the wrong time. Originally intended for a Fall 1997 release, presumably for the Halloween season, it was pushed back. Industrial Light and Magic did the special effects which don’t look too bad for the era. You can clearly see it’s computer-generated images but this is a B-movie not Jurassic Park. Speaking of which, Harrison Ford was originally intended to appear in this movie as he was in that movie, but turned down the role. I don’t think I could see Ford in such a movie like this with its violence even though it was reported they intended to tone down the violence and language. But it works better as an R-rated movie. Williams plays the role perfectly as he repeatedly asks, “Now what?” when something bad is about to happen.
Studi and Heald pull off similar roles they’ve done before as antagonistic characters. It’s revealed that Canton had hired Hanover to sink the Argonautic for the insurance as the price constructing the ship was more than he anticipated. Tooch seems to be the movie’s comic relief as he is constantly hit and slapped by the mercenaries for his behavior. And Jansen shows off some of her action moves that she showed in her scene-stealing role in the James Bond movie GoldenEye.
While the movie doesn’t really explain if there is one creature, known as the Octalus, or many of them, it really doesn’t matter. It does seem highly unlikely one creature could kill hundreds on a ship the size of the Argonautics so fast. And the fact that the tentacles are always a looming threat suggests there are several Octalus creatures lurking around the ship. But what does it matter? There were two giant snakes in Anaconda released less than a year before and that movie was a success.
But maybe people were too busy watching Titanic or renting Anaconda to watch Deep Rising. And like most movies that failed at the box office, it has found it’s audience on the home video/cable TV market. Stephen Sommers, who wrote and directed it, said the movie has a “very fervent following.” Some movies do better in different markets.
There’s also been a popular fan theory that’s been verified that this is the unofficial prequel to the MonsterVerse (i.e. Godzilla, King of Monsters and Kong: Skull Island) as the movie ends with Finnegan, Trillian and Tooch stranded on a island where they hear a loud roar and see a volcano off in the distance. The island is supposed to be Skull Island. Sommers had expressed interest in doing a remake of King Kong but later went on to remake The Mummy in 1999. Peter Jackson would do a remake of King Kong but set it in 1933.
In a way, Deep Rising would lead to a set of movies in the late 1990s/early 2000s that would focus on terror on the high seas. There was Virus released in 1999 followed by Deep Blue Sea and Ghost Ship in 2002.
What do you think? Please comment.