Sphere Review

by Curtis Edmonds (blueduck AT hsbr DOT org)
March 9th, 1998

by Curtis Edmonds -- [email protected]

A few years back, they brought in my main man Quentin Tarantino to add a little spice to the script of the submarine action flick Crimson Tide. One of the scenes that bears QT's distinctive stamp is this: Renegade Navy officer Denzel Washington is trying to convince a communications officer to fix a bit of equipment to contact the outside world. Denzel explains: OK, I'm Captain Kirk, and you're Scotty, and I need you to fix this engine before the ship blows apart. The crewman nods, fixes the whatever-it-was, and Denzel saves the day.

I would have felt a little better about Sphere if they had acknowledged, somewhere, that this was a Star Trek movie. Because that's all it is. And it's not a good even-numbered Star Trek film, either, but one of those odd-numbered jobs. Our captain is not Kirk, or Picard, but tweed-blazered psychologist Dustin Hoffman. The crew is a motley band of scientists: marine biologist Sharon Stone, mathematician Samuel L. Jackson, physicist Liev Schrieber. And their mission is to take our $3.75 matinee price and bore us silly for two hours.

You'll notice that I don't mention character names, for the plain and simple reason that I don't remember them. Seriously. Imagine that you're watching, oh, let's say Star Trek 11: The Search for the Voyage to the Final Frontier, except that you've never, ever seen a Star Trek episode or movie ever. The characters are up on the screen, they all know each other, they have a history, but you don't have the first clue who they are or what they're all about or why they're wearing so much makeup. That's exactly the situation in Sphere: All of the characters know each other, some of them don't like each other, and the characterization is so weak and so poor that we don't have a reason to care.

And what's more depressing: These are some damn good actors. Dustin Hoffman just got a Oscar nomination for Wag the Dog. Samuel L. Jackson deserved one for Jackie Brown (although I'm very glad that Robert Forster got one, don't get me wrong). But they're skating, phoning it in, banking on the goodwill from past performances to carry them through. And it doesn't work. The characters are so weak, the plot so filmy, that it even these talented actors can't make it believable or entertaining. (Not to mention the disappointing performances of the usually reliable director Barry Levinson and producer Michael Crichton.)
The plot is dumb, even by Star Trek standards. There's a sphere on the bottom of the ocean, and the away team has to investigate. A couple of minor "red shirt" crew members (Queen Latifah, for one, who deserves better) die for the sake of moving the plot along. The rest of the crew are slowly killed off as a horrible secret manifests itself. Will the three highest-paid actors survive?

Special effects can save a bad movie like this (see The Lost World) but that doesn't happen, either. The major action scene involves an attack by a scary giant squid. But do we get to see the squid? Nooo. We get to see the little eggs being laid, we get to see the undersea habitat being shaken, but no squid. (We do get to see Samuel L. Jackson reduced to choking on a piece of fried calimari to establish that he's afraid of squid, though.)

Rumor says that Levinson delayed filming on Sphere to finish Wag the Dog. May be true, I don't know -- but Sphere certainly plays like a leftover or an afterthought. Do yourself a favor, go rent The Abyss.
Rating: C

Curtis "BlueDuck" Edmonds
[email protected]

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