Sphere Review

by Bill Chambers (wchamber AT netcom DOT ca)
February 26th, 1998

SPHERE ** (out of four)
-by Bill Chambers
([email protected])

(For more lame-ass reviews visit my scum-hearted website: FILM FREAK CENTRAL!
Lots to read, and a special section where you can tell me (and others) what to see. Visit it, you damn filthy apes!)

starring Dustin Hoffman, Sharon Stone, Samuel L. Jackson, Liev Schrieber
screenplay by Stephen Hauser and Paul Attanasio, based on Michael Crichton's novel
directed by Barry Levinson

I have a bit of a history with Sphere. In May of 1996, I began writing a screenplay
adaptation of Crichton's novel with the naive hope that nice letters to Mr. Levinson would
coax him into taking a look at it. After scripting 96 pages, I broke my arm, couldn't type
for a while... I also hadn't received any word back from Barry Baby after firing off two
notices. I wasn't aware that he had already put his assistant/script reader to work at it. In
the end it was great practice--I was teaching myself the art of adaptation. Still, Mr.
Baltimore could have mailed me a form letter, a polite screw you.
And now, vindication: the movie is just a damn mess.

Hoffman stars as Norman, a psychologist summoned to the bottom of the ocean to
investigate a 300 year old spacecraft as part of the "ULF", a team he proposed during the
Bush administration when asked to write a report on dealing with the possibility of alien
contact. He is joined by Stone as Beth, a neurotic biochemist, Schrieber as Ted, a neurotic
astrophysicist, and Jackson as Harry, a curiously un-neurotic mathematician. What they
discover (along with Peter Coyote as the obligatory military hard-ass) in their exploration
is that ship may not be alien at all but, in fact, American. And they encounter the titular
sphere, a shiny golden ball-bearing the size of a house that reflects people only as they are
about to get sucked into it. When this happens to one (or two, or three) of them, all hell
breaks loose. Soon the proverbial giant squid attacks the ship.
Surprisingly, the first third of the film does the novel justice: the pacing is good and the
dynamic between the characters is quickly established. Now, I try always to judge a film
adaptation and its source material separately, mostly due to my not being well-read and
having no basis for comparison. But in this case, I must. Levinson and his writers make a
wrongheaded left turn in the plot away from the Crichton novel at the end of act one, a
misjudgment that ultimately robs the climax of what could have been a visually delightful
and enlightening revelation. In other words, the filmmakers play their big card too early in
a throwaway moment that is only the first of several head-scratching bits to come.
The acting is strong, Jackson in particular, and they're basically working from nothing; one
would be hard pressed to determine what these characters' occupations are if they entered
the cinema after the opening sequences. The art direction and cinematography are
generally lazy; we've seen these steaming pipes and rusted catwalks before. Did the
engineers of the spaceship refer back to '80's science fiction films before designing their vessel?

The movie also, unfortunately, accentuates the book's flaws, logic-holes that one looks
over in a page-turner. I don't want to discuss them here, now, lest I give away the (goofy,
curious) ending, which stays true to the novel in many ways. One could do worse than
spend a night at Sphere, but it proves that the not-bad Wag The Dog, last month's
Levinson picture, was a blip on the radar. His career is headed the way of Sphere's

-Bill Chambers; February, 1998

More on 'Sphere'...

Originally posted in the rec.arts.movies.reviews newsgroup. Copyright belongs to original author unless otherwise stated. We take no responsibilities nor do we endorse the contents of this review.