Sphere Review

by David Sunga (zookeeper AT criticzoo DOT com)
February 14th, 1998

SPHERE (1998)

Rating: 2 stars (out of 4.0)
Key to rating system:
2.0 stars - Debatable
2.5 stars - Some people may like it
3.0 stars - I liked it
3.5 stars - I am biased in favor of the movie
4.0 stars - I felt the movie's impact personally or it stood out *********************************
A Movie Review by David Sunga

Directed by: Barry Levinson

Written by: Kurt Wimmer, Stephan Hauser, Paul Attanasio (adapted from the Michael Crichton novel)

Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Sharon Stone, Samuel L. Jackson, Peter Coyote, Liev Schreiber

Underwater habitat (research station), giant spacecraft, scientific exploration team

Psychologist Norman (Dustin Hoffman), biologist Beth (Sharon Stone), mathematics whiz Harry (Samuel L. Jackson), astrophysicist Ted (Liev Schreiber), and navy guy Barnes (Peter Coyote) are commissioned to stay in an underwater research lab and explore a newly discovered giant space shuttle that appears to have been sitting under the ocean for the last 300 years. Inside the craft the teams finds a gigantic mysterious golden 'sphere.'

Without warning, communications with the surface get cut off, while a mysterious entity takes over the computer and prints cryptic messages onto the screen. Then the nightmares of the team's members systematically get turned into physical reality. For instance, phobias about giant killer squids, sea snakes, and jellyfish come true. (Queen Latifah plays a navy crewman aboard the research lab, who is the first to feel the wrath of the killer jellyfish.) Will Norman and the team figure out who is killing whom before they all die underwater, or will they sit around and passively wait for events to happen?

There are good actors and actresses in this film, as well as some special effects, but the story itself is disappointing. The main problem with this movie is passive characters.

The characters aren't given any motivations or agendas. In a regular movie, any character has a goal, the movie tosses in a dilemma, and the character must overcome the dilemma during the course of the movie. But in this movie, the team doesn't really 'do' anything. The characters just lay around and passively wait for events to happen; they never even take the offensive and counterattack. We the audience don't really care what happens to the team because we don't know what their goals are, and in what way the 'sphere' opposes them. At least two the main characters visit inside the sphere and refuse to reveal any information about what they saw. But throughout the film, and even at the end of the movie, they never reveal why they acted that way, or what they had seen inside the sphere, and why it was such a big secret. For the audience, all of this adds up to an intuitive feeling of a contrived situation.
At unexpected times the music gets overly big and intense, and various team members tell a lie or act insane - - but again, for no explainable reason. We don't find out - - not even in the end - - who sent the sphere, why it was sent, what exactly it is, and what its capabilities are. Nor do we learn anything new about the team's members, even the ones who acted strangely.

Reviewed by David Sunga
February 13, 1998

Copyright 1998
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