October Horrorshow: Deep Blue Sea

There are some serious contenders on the short list of Official Movie of Shitty Movie Sundays. Alien: Resurrection holds the crown by default, but challengers include stalwart paragons of shittiness such as Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone, and Reign of Fire. Both of those films differ from Alien: Resurrection in one important aspect: they are fun. Alien: Resurrection is an overwrought chore of a film. It has none of the loose bravura of Spacehunter or the hilariously over the top seriousness of Reign of Fire. Why then, does Alien: Resurrection continue to hold the crown? Because it was first. Someday I’ll tire of using Alien: Resurrection as my prototype. For now, long live the king.

Despite Spacehunter’s and Reign of Fire’s merits, a new contender has emerged. Deep Blue Sea, brought forth in the murky past of 1999, is a shitty movie extraordinaire. It’s one of the few bad films Hollywood manages to shit out that works. What makes it work? Why, this:

  1. A shitty premise. Clandestine genetic engineering has produced a group of super-intelligent, hyper-aggressive sharks, who let loose on the scientists who created them.
  2. Scientific gobbledegook. Scientists use fancy scientific exposition clearly dumbed down for a general audience. Did I mention there were scientists in this movie? Because it’s important to the plot.
  3. The main scientist. In this case, a hot lead scientist played by an actress far too young for the role. I give you Saffron Burrows.
  4. Comic relief. Provided in this film by Michael Rapaport. This isn’t a knock on Rapaport, but it is a knock on Hollywood filmmaking practices. Many films with a small cast and a ridiculous plot seem to need one character who is an over-enthused clown. A young Philip Seymour Hoffman had to debase himself in Twister; Rob Schneider made Dredd more unbearable than it already was; Joe Pesci, good lord, made me want slit my wrists in not one, but three Lethal Weapon films; and, in Deep Blue Sea, we have Rapaport. A list like this could go on and on and on. For my purposes, it’s enough to point out it’s a shitty practice that actually works for this dog of a movie.
  5. Location, location, location. A secret scientific base in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
  6. Someone slumming it. Telly Savalas being long dead by 1999, the filmmakers needed a bankable star to pick up the slack from a cast that, while there was talent, was largely made up of also-rans. I give you...Samuel L. Jackson, in a very self-aware performance, but one he didn’t just mail in. The man’s a pro.
  7. Super-intelligent sharks. This point can’t be hammered home enough. Three genetically engineered sharks are eating their way through a secret base in the middle of the Pacific Ocean! Holy shit.

Add all of this up, keep things moving quickly enough to keep the audience from getting bored, and you have one of the best shitty movies I’ve ever seen. Everyone involved, take a bow.

The film begins with a strange nod to Jaws 2, where an escaped research shark attacks a group of supple youths aboard a catamaran. The film’s resident hunk, Carter Blake (Thomas Jane, in his first starring role after Boogie Nights), shows up out of nowhere and saves them. Later, in the headquarters of Evil Pharmaceutical Co., Dr. Susan McAlester (Burrows) is forced to defend her project from cancellation by the skeptical business executive Russell Franklin (Jackson), and his strangely silent boss, played by an uncredited Ronny Cox. The deal is simple, McAlester and Franklin will head to the base where the sharks are kept, and McAlester will perform one last experiment to prove to Franklin the tests are worthwhile.

It’s after arriving at the base and its underwater lab that a viewer meets the rest of the extant cast, left behind for the weekend while all the extras get to go home. There’s the gruff veteran scientist (played by gruff veteran actor Stellan Skarsgård), the naïve scientist (Jacqueline MacKenzie), the kooky engineer (Rapaport), the lonely radio operator (Aida Turturro), and the cook (LL Cool J). And there it is, another small cast in an isolated environment soon to be devoured by monsters. Sure, we’ve all seen this movie before, many, many times. Where this film succeeds where so many fail is mostly a result of its pacing. Once it gets going, there is little let up. The crowning achievement in shitty for this flick are the sharks, though. CGI in 1999 wasn’t as developed as it is today, so these sharks, and their computerized victims, look laughably bad. Not Asylum bad (this movie is far better than anything that group is willing to make), but still bad. Director Renny Harlin’s solution for the bad CGI seems to be avoiding any shots where full-bodied sharks linger on screen. That was a good decision.

Another reason the film is watchable is the cast. The characters are no more or less annoying than a viewer should expect in a film like this. Jackson was acting circles around everyone, but the worst I can say about any of the cast was that they were a little lacking in naturalism. Other than that, I’ve seen worse readings in Shakespearean cinema. If a shitty shark movie can beat the Bard, that’s a win.

This one was easy. Alien: Resurrection didn’t stand a chance. Deep Blue Sea is a better movie.