Welcome to our newest “Theme Week” (guaranteed to last a month). Yes, we’ve recovered from covering Bud Spencer and his EXTRA LARGE world that we felt we could handle another run of quasi-related reviews. We’ve been all over the map with regard to our choices in the past, so we figured why not hit the biggest location of them all: the ocean.
Covering 70% of our little globe (thank you, Google) the ocean has long been a source of human nightmares. From the Ancient Greeks to JAWS (1975), we’ve always found a way to scare the hell out of ourselves thinking about what lurks in the deep blue sea. While it would be foolish for us to lay the genesis of cinema’s obsession with all things aquatic at one thing, we’ll do it anyway. Jules Verne’s 19th century novel Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea will always bee seen as a crucial point of oceanic fantasy authority. The book’s profound influence on the shaping of cinema can be seen early on as Georges Méliès adapted it into a ten minute silent short in 1907; a feature length silent version from Universal emerged nine years later in 1916. Most folks, however, will cite the 1954 Disney version 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA as a defining moment in combining science fiction and the sea.
It is precisely that combination that has spurred filmmakers ever since and what has drawn us to covering this world. (Okay, I’ll be honest. It was a badass Thai poster for DEEPSTAR SIX that got us on this topic.) While planning this, we had few basic rules. First, a majority of the films had to take place underwater. This will keep aquatic beasties who come to land like CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954) or HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP (1980) out of our overview. Second, an underwater station as the main location was preferable. Finally, the most important rule, Tom had dibs on reviewing J.P. Simon’s THE RIFT (1989), even though we already reviewed it. Anyway, if you feel like throwing on your wetsuit and going for a plunge, join us as we dive into Abyss-mal Cinema. Just make sure you come up slowly as you don’t want the bends.
The film drops the audience 5,200 fathoms (approximately six miles) into the deep sea at Deepstar Six, a state-of-the-art underwater construction facility tasked with building missile platforms for the U.S. Navy. After some gorgeous underwater credits, we open with submarine pilot McBride (Greg Evigan) in bed with Joyce Collins (Nancy Everhard) as they discuss the relationship that has blossomed between them in the six months they’ve been down here. Care to guess which two characters are going to survive the events of this film? McBride is quite a charmer, telling her she wouldn’t like a loner type like him and no doubt knocking her off her feet by saying, “You’re like one of the guys.” We quickly meet the other members of this cranky, eleven member crew. There is Dallas played by Tom Skerritt and Parker played by Yaphet Kotto…ah, crap, wrong film. We have station captain Philip Laidlaw (Taurean Blacque); project head Dr. John Van Gelder (Marius Weyers); marine biologist Scarpelli (Nia Peebles); other sub pilot Jim Richardson (Matt McCoy); Russian geologist Burciaga (Elya Baskin); Navy mechanic Snyder (Miguel Ferrer); underwater construction dudes Hodges (Thom Bray) and Osborne (Ronn Carroll); and doctor Diane Norris (Cindy Pickett). Pop quiz – looking over that cast, can you tell me who is going to be the asshole who finally snaps under the pressure?
bright light. While getting checked out by the doc, it is revealed that Collins has two different heartbeats. “What was that,” wonders the dense McBride. “That was our baby’s heartbeat,” Collins says. Oh Jesus. Like bubbles through the snorkel, so are the days of our lives. Can we have somebody get bit by a sea monster now? With four casualties in one afternoon, the group gets the go ahead to abandon their work and head topside. Of course, Van Gelder is pissed. He tells Snyder to secure the missiles and this leads us to perhaps the greatest/stupidest plot contrivance every put on film. I’m not kidding you. I’ve seen a lot of films and this one is a doozy. In typing up the commands to secure the missiles, Snyder is prompted by the computer for a reason. He is given three options for the missile shutdown: 1. Repair or removal 2. natural forces or 3. an act of aggression. He calls Collins to re-verify her story and ask what he should put in. She says it was aggressive so he goes with choice three. This results in the computer stating that all the nuclear missiles will be detonated. Let me repeat that – all the nuclear missiles will be detonated! Snyder somehow doesn’t feel the need to confer with anyone about this and within a minute they have several nuclear missiles exploding about a mile from them. The resulting shockwave rocks the station and, naturally, incapacitates anything they need like oxygen or the decompression unit on the escape pod.
LEVIATHAN (1989) a few months later in March. I’ll let Tom handle that as I have to get this water out of my ears.