31 Screams in October, Vol. 3, #11: Deep Blue Sea (1999)

Posted: October 11, 2016 in Movie Review
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11. Deep Blue Sea (1999)

Director: Renny Harlin

Starring: Saffron Burrows, Thomas Jane, LL Cool J, Jacqueline McKenzie, Michael Rappaport, Stellan Skarsgård, Samuel L. Jackson

“Jaws” on steroids. Hilariously exaggerated steroids. To break down “Deep Blue Sea” into its simplest definition, that’s how I would end up describing it to someone who hasn’t seen this movie. Released in the summer in-between my junior and senior years of high school, it arrived during a time before it had become more socially acceptable to be a bad shark movie. If it weren’t for the excellent cast, terrific tension, and a director who by this time had become skilled at making fun, action-filled thrillers with nonsensical plots, “Deep Blue Sea” would be cast back into the water like a puny fish with little meat on its bones.

Dr. Susan McAlester (Saffron Burrows) is a scientist whose mission in life it is to come up with cure for Alzheimer’s disease. A worthy cause, to be sure, but it’s Susan’s way of going about reaching her goal that remains unethical. Working with a team of scientists at Aquatica, a former submarine fueling station, Susan has been using fluid from the brains of three sharks being kept at the facility. What she and Dr. Jim Whitlock (Stellan Skarsgård) have failed to mention to the others is the fact that they’ve been tinkering around with the size of the sharks’ brains so as to increase the chances of their experiment’s success. Playing God has resulted in something they didn’t expect but probably should have. It also resulted in one of the movie’s most memorable, most unintentionally funny lines of dialogue when Susan says, “As a side effect, the sharks got smarter.”

Incredibly, Susan and Jim’s short cut seems to have paid off, as the experiment yields encouragingly positive results. Unfortunately, the shark they sedated in order to run the test comes to and bites off Jim’s arm. As Jim is being airlifted by helicopter, the cable malfunction and, when Jim plunges back into the water, the sharks use him to pull the helicopter into the tower, killing the pilots and the tower operator and causing a massive explosion that rocks the entire facility. They then use Jim’s body as a battering ram to break the glass window of the lab, which when broken will lead to a facility-wide flood. Corporate executive Russell Franklin (Samuel L. Jackson) and shark wrangler Carter Blake (Thomas Jane) lead the frightened scientists out of the room to try and stay ahead of both the rushing waters and the three sharks.

As fear turns to bickering, Russell tells of how he was part of a group which survived an avalanche, citing how ice is just as unforgiving as water. He also mentions how the group turned against one another, and that of the seven who survived the avalanche, the five who remained alive once help arrived vowed never to tell anyone how the others actually died. He tells this story now as a rallying call for unity. This inspirational moment does not last for very long, as Russell is suddenly and swiftly attacked from behind and eaten by the biggest of the three sharks. Janice Higgins (Jacqueline McKenzie) becomes the sharks’ next victim, with one of them grabbing her after she falls into the rising water from a broken ladder.

The problems which Carter, Susan and Tom Scoggins (Michael Rappaport) are faced with reduce by one-third thanks to Preacher (LL Cool J), the facility’s cook, whom they meet up with after he has managed to kill one of the sharks by igniting the gas oven. They then split up, with Carter and Tom to the lab to open a door that will give everyone a way up to the surface. Tom is lost when the largest shark attacks and eats him. Going to her cabin to retrieve vital research data, Susan is forced to electrocute one of the remaining sharks, losing the data in the process.

The three survivors reunite and reach the surface, where Preacher is caught by the big shark. He survives only by stabbing the shark in the eye with his crucifix necklace. Carter sees that the shark is trying to break free of the facility and into open water. Realizing the disaster this would create, Susan sacrifices herself in order to buy time for Carter to stop the shark. Carter tries, but fails to save her. He then grabs hold of the shark’s fin and it pulls him towards the fences. Because a shark movie must end with the shark exploding, Carter has rigged an explosive charge to a harpoon gun, which Preacher fires at the shark, but manages to hit Carter in the leg (attaching him to the shark). Carter insists that Preacher connect the harpoon’s wire to a car battery they’ve set up, and he does so. The shark then explodes, but Carter is shown to have freed himself in the nick of time.

Fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe will recognize several members of the main cast. Samuel L. Jackson is one of the most recognizable actors that there is today, but Marvel fans have come to know him as Nick Fury. There’s also Stellan Skarsgård (Dr. Erik Selvig from the “Thor” and “Avengers” films) and Saffron Burrows (Agent Hand from Season 1 of ABC’s “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”). Thomas Jane, while not involved in the cycle of films and TV series that make up the MCU, did still portray Marvel Comics character Frank Castle, a.k.a. “The Punisher” in the 2004 film of the same name.

The plot of “Deep Blue Sea” is deep blue silly. There would be no getting around this were it not for the excellent cast, suspenseful scenes of sharks chasing the cast, shocking death scenes, the moments of humor (intentional or otherwise) which serve to break the tension, and the fact that director Renny Harlin is well-versed in making these kinds of action-heavy movies. It’s screwball in the same way that an action flick with either Arnold Schwarzenegger or Sylvester Stallone (who starred in Harlin’s “Cliffhanger”) is. Mentioning it in the same breath as “Jaws” is just ridiculous. But if you compare it with all the other “Jaws” clones, that’s where “Deep Blue Sea” fares rather well. Stupid, yet pleasing.

  1. Sylvia Williams says:

    I bet Samuel L. Jackson got a kick out of being among the cast members who were “eaten” by the shark, huh? How were the special effects in this movie? Cheesy or sort of believable?

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