Sphere Review

by Jon Popick (jpopick AT sick-boy DOT com)
October 28th, 1999

PLANET SICK-BOY: http://www.sick-boy.com

It sounded too good on paper. One of my favorite directors, Barry Levinson (Wag the Dog), re-teaming with one of my favorite writers, Paul Attanasio (Quiz Show), to adapt a book by one of my favorite authors, Michael Crichton (AirFrame). They pulled it off with Disclosure and its A-list stars, so why couldn’t…no, why SHOULDN’T they be able to do it again?

Well, I imagine the main reason is that the story is no good. I never read Sphere, but have it on good authority that it kinda sucked rocks. Levinson and Attanasio probably polished this turd as well as they could, and the end product is a dull rip-off of the superior films in its genre.

One should have become suspicious when Levinson ordered the actors back to shoot additional footage less than three weeks before the scheduled release date. I guess the reactions from the test screenings made the executives at Warner Bros. a little antsy. Who could blame them? WB’s latest crop of box office bombs include The Postman, Mad City, The Man Who Knew Too Little, Steel, Free Willy 3 and Fire Down Below. By Jobe, there should be people jumping out of windows!

Sphere opens with four “experts”, a bio-chemist (Sharon Stone), a mathematician (Samuel L. Jackson), an astrophysicist (fat head Liev Schreiber) and a shrink (Hoffman) joining a military leader (Peter Coyote) to explore what is believed to be an ancient alien craft buried beneath the floor of the Pacific Ocean. Throw in rap star Queen Latifah and performance artist Marga Gomez, and you’ve got yourself an eerie preview of the next season of MTV’s The Real World. Seven strangers… picked to live in a submarine…

After it kills off all of the people that don’t receive billing above its title, Sphere proceeds to “borrow” ideas from Alien, 2001, The Thing, The Abyss and probably a bunch of other groundbreaking films that I was too bored to notice. Want to see a much better sci-fi film about strangers unwillingly thrown together in a confined space? Wait for Cube, which will hopefully be released later this year. Its budget was about 2% of Sphere. Literally.

The thing that is supposed to separate Sphere from silly films like Deep Rising and Anaconda is that there really isn’t a giant snake or angry octopus to do battle with. The real enemy is the imagination of the characters. Personally, I would have used my imagination to create a world where I was the slave master and my harem included the entire lineup of those Cover Girl commercials. Instead, the characters predictably and boringly turn against each other in individual fits of distrust.

Levinson displays similar editing techniques to Homicide: Life on the Streets by quickly replaying the actors dialogue from several different camera angles. He also lays the film out in titled chapters, which will make it easy to “pause” and “pee” when you’re watching the video, or to get up and sneak out of the theater.

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