Sphere Review

by "Luke Buckmaster" (bucky AT alphalink DOT com DOT au)
April 30th, 1998

REVIEW: Sphere (1998)

by Luke Buckmaster

2 and a half stars out of 5

It may surprise some people to know that Berry Levinson, the director who brought us Donnie Brasco and Wag the Dog, has ventured into Stephen Spielberg territory with one of Michael Crichton s less known novels Sphere.

After the opening credits we are hastily introduced to Dr. Norman Goodman (Dustin Hoffman), a calm psychologist with an intellect and common sense that more than matches the specialists around him. Unfortunately, his credibility isn t always dependable. In the 1980 s Norman sold the government a top-secret report explaining what to do if alien life was ever encountered. Also on the report were the names of biochemist Beth Halperin (Sharon Stone), mathematician Harry Adams (Samuel L. Jackson) and astrophysicist Ted Fielding (Liey Schreiber). The problem is, the report was hastily put together because Norman needed the cash and borrowed material from famous writers to meet his needs.
So when a three hundred year old alien vessel is found buried deep in the ocean, Norman s report is followed like a bible. Much to his surprise, all of people he specified (as well as himself) are gathered together and sent to investigate this mysterious ship. But, as would be predicted in this sort of film, when they are stuck hundreds of meters below the surface things start to go wrong.
A funny little character called Jerry, based inside the vessel s computers, pops up and begins to create chaos for Norman and his crew. But all is not what it seems, and as the film delves into the psychological aspects of its characters, tension begins to rise and things start to hot up.

In quality and concept, Sphere is much like last years Event Horizon. They both created interest from the audience, but when they had it they failed to do anything original or engaging with it and at times its incredibly annoying to be witness a potentially great film resort to using clichi characters and confrontations.

It s interesting to note that the vast percentage of Sphere s footage has three of the same characters appear on the screen - and whilst this is not necessarily a bad thing, if limited amounts of characters are going to successfully hold the audiences attention they really need to be something special. In this case, they certainly are not Norman somehow seems to be the most intelligent even though he asks the stupidest questions, the ships commander Barnes Barnes (Peter Coyote) is the diplomatic dork that no body likes, and Samuel L. Jackson s character serves as an excuse to whip up some amusing dialogue. So even though Sphere doesn t produce the most rewarding characters, it s great fun to see them all shoved into situations that have more to do with common sense rather than PHD s.

Yes Sphere succeeds as a not-to-be-taken-seriously film, but this is not what Levinson was after. Psychological thriller it should have been but psychological mediocrity it is.

I would love to announce Event Horizon and Sphere as great films heck, I enjoy so many things about them but they both get so bogged down in a sea of We ve this his all before material that they hardly become a worthwhile experience. But this isn t the main thing that bothers me being Sci Fi movies, these two films lost sight of what they should have achieved rather than thrilling the audience, they merely scare the audience.

But on the up side, Sphere is a treat to watch and the special effects are appropriately impressive. I can not, however, forgive it for watering down such a spectacular concept into a pedestrian (and very Hollywood) flavor.

As for the three dependable actors Hoffman, Jackson and Stone they do look great together, and Sharon especially is certain to arouse male interest with a notably tight singlet/shirt. But at the end of the day, when these three people are resorted to driving a film stuck in neutral, one must wonder why Jim Carey or Mike Myers weren t cast as the alien vessel s comic relief s. At least then we could laugh at them, and not the film.

As it so happens, the day after I saw Sphere I watched Basic Instinct on TV. And let s just say, Sharon Stones vessels were moving much more appealingly in the later film.

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