Sphere Review

by Bob Bloom (cbloom AT iquest DOT net)
February 25th, 1999

Sphere (1998) 1 1/2 stars out of 4. Starring Dustin Hoffman, Sharon Stone, Samuel L. Jackson and Liev Schreiber. Directed by Barry Levinson

Sphere is an adult science fiction movie, which means a lot of jabber in scientific wordspeak that's supposed to impress as well as substitute for laser blasts or bug-eyed monsters.

Sphere is absorbing and suspenseful, but at almost two hours and 20 minutes, the guessing game becomes tedious, especially when it seems the protagonists are repeatedly covering the same plot points.

Ironically, the film's strong point is also its flaw. Director Barry Levinson builds up audience expectations to such a fever level that the payoff is a complete letdown, leaving you to ask, "Is that all there is?"
The screenplay by Stephen Hauser and Paul Attanasio (Donnie Brasco, Quiz Show), was adapted from a novel by Michael Crichton. The story revolves around a spaceship discovered at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. It seems the ship has been resting in the deep for about 300 years.

A team of scientists, played by Dustin Hoffman, Sharon Stone, Samuel L. Jackson and Liev Schreiber, are drafted by the government to investigate.
Unfortunately, every answer they find leads to another riddle. Thus, the questions pile up rapidly - too rapidly at times - while the few explanations devised by the scientists seem feeble and far-fetched.
The characters themselves act illogically and obtuse, especially for scientists.

They don't seem to ask the right questions - or even know them. It's as if their synapses are frequently short-circuited.

Ultimately, you are left to draw your own conclusions, which is a weak device on the part of the filmmakers and frustrating for the audience.
Many loose ends are left dangling while the resolution for other events merely goes unexplained.

The acting as well is inconsistent. There is a lack not only of chemistry, but of communication and teamwork among the leads. It is as if each were involved only in his or her own character without taking the time to relate to the others.

Hoffman, as a psychologist, seems rather dense, while Stone, as a biochemist, goes from cold, scientific logic to near-hysteria and emotional insecurity.

Jackson literally sleeps his way through the film, coming alive in spurts. He fails to get a handle on his character, and it's difficult to discern whether he's apathetic or possessed by an alien presence.

Sphere tries hard to be an intelligent genre piece, but a weak and convoluted storyline only leads to a disappointing experience.

Bob Bloom is the film critic at the Journal and Courier in Lafayette, Ind. He can be reached by e-mail at [email protected] or
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