Deep Blue Sea (1999): Exciting, but in a dumb way

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Deep Blue Sea (1999): Exciting, but in a dumb way
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A very short summary of Deep Blue Sea might go something like: “dumb plot, dumb dialogue, dumb characters, dumb situations, pretty good suspense”. And that would more-or-less be that. If you like being jolted out of your seat, this movie contains five or six moments that genuinely deliver. That said, if you like movies with a certain level of intelligence and credibility, you might just as well watch an episode of Road Runner (which would be twice as believable and ten times shorter!) It’s a fair comment to say that Deep Blue Sea is the very epitome of the no-brainer popcorn flick.

Deep Blue Sea (1999): Exciting, but in a dumb way
Deep Blue Sea (1999): Exciting, but in a dumb way(source: hans-zimmer.com)

A team of scientists working on a cure for Alzheimer’s disease have tampered with the genetics of Mako sharks in an effort to speed up their research. Team leader Dr. Susan McCallister (Saffron Burrows) is horrified to learn that her project is about to be shut down so, in an effort to buy more time, she invites one of the main financial backers, Russell Franklin (Samuel L. Jackson), to her oceanic research facility Aquatica to see for himself how close she is to a breakthrough. It quickly becomes apparent that Dr. McCallister’s meddling has had an unusual effect upon the three Mako sharks at the facility. She herself admits that: “as a side-effect, the sharks got smarter”. Before long, Franklin, Dr. McCallister and the rest of the research team – chef Sherman Dudley (LL Cool J), Jim Whitlock (Stellan Skarsgaard), diver Carter Blake (Thomas Jane), Tom Scoggins (Michael Rappaport) and Janice Higgins (Jacqueline Mackenzie) – find themselves being hunted by the three hyper-intelligent sharks. And, following an accident which submerges almost the entire research centre, their chances of survival look slim to say the least…. as the sharks smash into the place and glide ominously through the waterlogged corridors in search of human prey.

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Deep Blue Sea is a very contrived film. The script team of Duncan Kennedy, Donna Powers and Wayne Powers have gone significantly out of their way to devise a sequence of events that manoeuvres the protagonists into danger. The problem is that the whole chain of incident that leads to the submergence of the research facility, and the extra threat posed by the sharks, is too artificially engineered and too low on credibility. No-one seriously buys the idea of accelerating a shark’s brain power to cure Alzheimer’s. No-one seriously buys the idea that the sharks would consequently develop a desire to kill victims in a pre-meditated manner. Yet the film asks us to take these plot developments oh-so-very seriously (or, at least, there’s not enough evidence to suggest that a tongue-in-cheek approach is being employed). Performance-wise, the film asks little of its cast and that’s exactly what they give it. There’s a little macho posturing, and a few bravura speeches, and that is more-or-less it.

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The special effects vary in quality, with some good explosions and shark shots, while the actual shark attacks/killings look laughably fake. The one department where Deep Blue Sea IS effective is in its ability to generate sudden moments of shock. The death of one character after delivering a rousing heroic speech is particularly well-disguised (I’m not saying who, but I’ll wager that it’ll jolt you pretty good on your first viewing of the movie!) Throughout the film there are similar moments where suspense is nicely created and the pay-off – the scream-out-loud-moment – is well timed. Deep Blue Sea is good for a few scares, but fairly mediocre on other levels.

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