In college, I worked as a night supervisor for the housing department. This meant from about 10 p.m. to 4 a.m., I was assigned to one or more residence halls, where I would make sure all the doors are properly secured and things aren’t getting too out of hand. It wasn’t that bad and usually, I let things slide. A lot of times people pretty much would calm down. It wasn’t unless they were getting really bad that I’d call my superiors or even the university police.
I was in my third year and it was the Fall 1999 semester when I was walking through Dorman Hall at Georgia Southern University. It was around midnight-ish when people were still up when I heard a lot of laughing coming from a room on the first floor. The door was open and there must’ve been seven or eight people crammed into a small room watching Deep Blue Sea on video. There were rewinding the scene in which Samuel L. Jackson’s character gets eaten by a shark. So, my apologies to anyone who hasn’t seen this movie or that Chappelle Show skit where Dave Chappelle plays Jackson promoting his own beer a parody of Samuel Adams.
I asked them to shut the door and to keep it down a little. It was a funny scene because Jackson by 1999 was a major A-list star and seeing his character, Russell Franklin, die about halfway through was a nice surprise. Jackson began the 1990s as a character actor who got rave reviews for his role in Jungle Fever and ended it appearing as Jedi Master Mace Windu in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. But almost 40 years earlier, Alfred Hitchcock decided that Janet Leigh’s Marion Crane should die about 40 minutes into Psycho.
Shark Week was this past week. And while public opinion is changing on sharks following Jaws, Deep Blue Sea is probably one of the best of the Jaws rip-offs also touching on Steven Spielberg’s other work, Jurassic Park, which also featured Jackson who meets an unfortunate end. (Really, if you haven’t seen Jurassic Park after 30 years, no spoiler alerts needed.)
The plot revolves an experiment involving mako sharks that are being used by Dr. Susan McCallister (Saffron Burrows) to study dormant human brain cells like those found in Alzheimer’s Disease patients. She’s doing this along with fellow scientist Dr. Jim Whitlock (Stellan Skarsgard) at a remote aquatic research laboratory that has been funded by Franklin, who is a wealthy corporate executive, and his company.
After an incident in which one of the sharks escapes and attacks the sailboat of some young people, Franklin is sent to the research facility with McCallister to review the work. Carter Blake (Thomas Jane) is the shark wrangler, whose blue-collar and common sense background is in contrast to McCallister. It’s revealed he had some prior criminal convictions.
Also at the facility are Janice Higgins (Jacqueline McKenzie), a research assistant who’s interested in Whitlock on a more personal level and technical assistant Tom Scoggins (Michael Rapaport). There’s also Brenda Kerns (Aida Turturro), who mans the operations for the facility and Sherman “Preacher” Dudley (LL Cool J), who is the head chef. Franklin arrives on the weekend and notes that about a dozen or two people are leaving on a boat. The research facility, Aquatica, is located in the Pacific Ocean which makes me wonder where the other people go on the weekend.
But that doesn’t matter. This movie has a lot of questions it doesn’t really answer. Why would such an extravagent facility just have a skeleton crew on the weekend? Maybe it’s because it’s cheaper to have less than 10 people in a movie so more money can be spent on special effects. Let’s not even mention that sharks have small brains and why the scientiest are using hem for research and many makos don’t get much longer than 10-12 feet, but the ones here look bigger.
The movie does give a little nod and wink to Jaws as a tiger shark has a Louisianna license plate in its mouth with the same numbers and letters. The “Playing God” theme that was explored in Jurassic Park is also here as McCallister and Whitlock increased the sharks’ brain size because they weren’t big enough to harvest a protein complex they were developing. It doesn’t really matter. This results in the sharks becoming highly intelligent to the point they go after the staff to cause Aquatica to sink so they can get out into the ocean.
But how they would know that biting off Whitlock’s arm would result in a rescue helicopter malfunctioning during a tropical storm and crashing into the operators booth killing Brenda is anyone’s guess. The gurney with Whitlock is accidentally lowered in the water when the controls on the cables malfunction. How lucky for the three makos. And the sharkes are able to use the gurney and Whitlock’s weight as a projectile to have him hit the too-thin plate of glass causing all the water to rush in.
I feel in some ways the filmmakers are poking holes as Jaws, its sequels and other killer shark movies. There are a male and female shark that spawn a female. And the sharks have learned to swim backwards, something they just can’t do, even though it was used in Jaws 3-D. Speaking of that movie, the shark was able to break through glass in the movie’s climax flooding an underwater control booth. Of course in both movies, to have an underwater room with glass to see out into the ocean, it would have to be very thick to withstand the pressure.
But anyway, it doesn’t matter. As the movie progresses, the remaining people try to make it to the surface. As in most horror movies like this what I call and A To B Horror involves people people trying to make it from one location to another and they are killed off along the way until it’s only one or a few remaining. There are a few good thrills and scares that I won’t mention as well as a scene in which Preacher is hiding in one of his own ovens and has to find a way out from the shark who has also turned on the controls.
And there’s also the above-mentioned death scene of Franklin. The scene begins with everyone fighting and then Franklin begins a lengthy speech about working together and not fighting amongst each other. And just like the shark is tired of hearing it, it comes up out of water and snatches him. The visual effects aren’t the best, but considering this is 1999, it’s not too bad.
Renny Harlin directed the movie and he’s known for making high-octane action movies where you have to leave your brain at the door. It’s ironic the movie revolves around the study of brain activity but anyone with common sense can see the silliness of this movie. In Die Hard 2, Harlin showed a passenger jetliner exploded into a huge fireball even though it was low on fuel. A movie like Deep Blue Sea is just mindless fun for about 100 minutes.
I should add that this movie was notorious for its ending in which McCallister sacrifices herself. In the original ending, she survives. But test audiences hated this. People saw her as the villain and felt along with Whitlock, she should be punished for genetically altering the sharks’ brains. This was done less than one month before the movie’s late July release. It’s been reported that one audience member wrote on their comment card, “Kill the bitch!”
So, they had to reshoot the ending in one day. This might explain some continuity errors, but this is the type of movie you see theater in eating popcorn and candy, not to analyze its themes. I really don’t think that dorm room of GSU students really cared. That’s not to say they weren’t smart. They knew they were seeing a silly killer shark movie. And while Dorman Hall was closed and demolished a few years later, people are still enjoying this.
What do you think? Please comment.