FANGO Flashback: “DEEP BLUE SEA”Fearful Features,Movies/TV,News Ken W. Hanley
As this writer has made abundantly clear, there’s few horror filmmakers that can churn out something as insane and kick-ass as frequently as Renny Harlin. Harlin has truly done it all, from reshaping iconic film characters like Freddy Krueger and John McClane to working with Sylvester Stallone and Shane Black to sinking Carolco with one CUTTHROAT-ISLAND sized bomb. But at the end of the day, Harlin hits his material with an infectious gusto, which is why so often his films are unmistakably entertaining. And in the case of films like DEEP BLUE SEA, the more over-the-top the vehicle may be, the more Harlin seems to find his cinematic strength.
Now, on one hand, one can’t necessarily blame DEEP BLUE SEA for its sillier, more exploitative nature; after all, JAWS has ultimately decimated the killer shark genre with its near-unreachable benchmark. At the same time, DEEP BLUE SEA is also very much a product of its time, in which Hollywood was desperately attempting to revive the creature feature with films like MIMIC, ANACONDA, THE RELIC, AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN PARIS and LAKE PLACID arriving before or around DEEP BLUE SEA, many of which tried to replicate the post-JURASSIC PARK world of CGI. Yet looking back, DEEP BLUE SEA is a particularly ambitious venture, and more-or-less takes the ballsy move to apply a pick-’em-off slasher construct to a movie about genetically altered sharks. It’s a big, dumb, expensive ensemble film, and one that ultimately is a blast to revisit.
To be 100% fair, DEEP BLUE SEA, taken beyond face value, is not a great film, loaded with contradictory logic lapses with somewhat dodgy CGI and an incredibly self-important script. Yet Harlin isn’t trying to craft CITIZEN KANE out of CRUEL JAWS; from Trevor Rabin’s gleefully bombastic score and Harlin’s staging of DEEP BLUE SEA’s many set pieces, it’s clear that Harlin understands just how campy this film is… and exactly how he’s aiming to use that to his advantage. Luckily, by throwing caution to the air and embracing the $60 million in tools and resources at his hand, DEEP BLUE SEA carries just the perfect size and scope to sell this shark attack film as something a bit more vicious and epic than one might expect. Rather, DEEP BLUE SEA feels like a ludicrous pitch meeting that was sold in one phrase: “this ain’t your father’s JAWS.”
As one might expect from a Renny Harlin picture, DEEP BLUE SEA finds a way to feel slick and modern while simultaneously feeling sleazy and sadistic. Harlin makes no apologies either: from torn apart limbs to long pauses on guilt-ridden faces, the filmmaker takes a strictly shock-and-awe approach to dispatching his many characters. Hell, there’s an almost uncomfortable, degrading nature to few scenes of sexuality in the film, especially when Saffron Burrows undresses to evade electrocution in a small quarters battle with a shark; the camera is way more interest in her half-naked form than it is to the shark, as if Harlin needed to earn his R-rating in every mature way possible. Yet somehow, DEEP BLUE SEA finds a way to make this machismo-laden approach feel organic to the story, and is, in many ways, representative of the studio system mindset, as the film is certainly at the crossroads between blockbuster and monster movie.
Harlin also benefits from his superb casting of the film, offering a largely solid ensemble that effectively give more effort than expected for such a bizarre, ridiculous horror film. Thomas Jane sells his badass character quite well, and his chemistry with the rest of the cast helps sell their individual relationships confidently. Meanwhile, Burrows feels a bit more complicated than a mad scientist character might appear to be, and her final moments feel oddly earned and subversive, especially when the film could have certainly taken an “ice queen” approach. Meanwhile, Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Rappaport, Jacqueline McKenzie, Stellan Skarsgaard, Aida Turturro and LL Cool J all uniquely contribute strong performances across the board, with Jackson memorably adding a sense of gravitas for his limited screen time in the film. And man, it’s a bit depressing that there’s a certain thrill in seeing these actors occasionally appearing on-screen with animatronic, practically-realized sharks, which certainly make up for some of the more grating CGI creations in the film.
Overall, DEEP BLUE SEA is one of Harlin’s career high points, and has a replay value that is remarkably strong after over 15 years since its release. Perhaps the lack of shark films over the years gives DEEP BLUE SEA a pass in many departments, or perhaps the story’s boldness in committing to its absolutely absurd scenario is one that feels wrong to question. In any case, it’s hard to deny just how fun DEEP BLUE SEA can be, and if you’re willing to appreciate the inherent madness with no strings attached, you too may realize DEEP BLUE SEA is not the super-powered shark film we deserve, but the super-powered shark film we need.