Water Foul: “Deep Blue Sea”

Deep Blue Sea

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Today, I’m going to be concluding this week’s spotlight on awful marine monster movies with a personal favorite: 1999’s “Deep Blue Sea.”

The three writers for “Deep Blue Sea” were the duo of Donna and Wayne Powers (“The Italian Job”) and Duncan Kennedy, an Australian who was inspired to write the initial screenplay by an experience he had as a child, where he witnessed the aftermath of a fatal shark attack. The event was apparently highly traumatic, and led to him having recurring nightmares throughout his childhood.

The director of “Deep Blue Sea” was Renny Harlin, who is best known for such action flicks as “Cliffhanger,” “12 Rounds,” and “Mindhunters.”

The cinematography for “Deep Blue Sea” was provided by Stephen F. Windon, who has done photography for “Furious Seven,” “The Patriot,” “The Postman,” and “Crocodile Dundee II” over his career.

The makeup effects team for “Deep Blues Sea” included Clinton Wayne (“Daredevil,” “The Perfect Storm”), Allan Apone (“Evilspeak,” “Going Overboard”), Chad Atkinson (“The Cell,” “Bubba Ho-Tep”), Jeff Dawn (“Total Recall,” “Last Action Hero,” “Terminator 2”), Jim Kail (“Anaconda,” “Ghosts of Mars”), Steve LaPorte (“Van Helsing,” “Caddyshack II,” “The Judas Project”), Michael Shawn McCracken (“Congo,” “The Midnight Meat Train”), and Matthew Mungle (“Daredevil,” “The Midnight Meat Train,” “Congo,” “Class of 1999,” “Roar”).

The impressive special effects team for “Deep Blue Sea” included Craig Barnett (“Speed 2,” “Congo”), Darrell Burgess (“Anaconda,” “Batman & Robin”), Walt Conti (“Free Willy”), William Dawson (“Waterworld,” “Drive Angry,” “Blade”), Michael Duenas (“Thor,” “Iron Man”), Eugene Hubbard (“Face/Off,” “Demolition Man”), Michael Clarke (“Interstellar,” “The Avengers”), Mario Vanillo (“The Last Airbender,” “The Prestige”), Jim McPherson (“Leviathan,” “State of Play,” “Escape From LA,” “Men In Black”), Rick Thompson (“The Aviator,” “Die Hard”), John Richardson (“Straw Dogs,” “Aliens,” “Superman”), Wes Mattox (“Daredevil,” “Pulp Fiction,” “Maniac Cop 3”), and Barry McQueary (“Ant-Man,” “Argo”), among many, many others.

deepbluesea6The astonishingly large visual effects team for “Deep Blue Sea” honestly has too many key people for me to list, but it includes common personnel with such diverse films as “Sphere,” “Van Helsing,” “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” “Paul Blart: Mall Cop,” “The Abyss,” “The Omega Code,” “Red Planet,” “RoboCop 3,” “Small Soldiers,” “Space Jam,” “Iron Man,” “Pacific Rim,” “Judge Dredd,” “Guardians of the Galaxy,” “Kazaam,” “Avatar,” “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen,” “Kangaroo Jack,” and “The Matrix.”

The dedicated animation department for “Deep Blue Sea” was composed of Steve Nichols (“Van Helsing,” “Guardians Of The Galaxy”) and Rick O’Connor (“Jurassic Park III,” “Signs,” “Battleship”).

The score for “Deep Blue Sea” was written by Trevor Rabin, who has contributed music to a number of other memorable films such as “12 Rounds,” “Torque,” and “Con Air.”

“Deep Blue Sea” featured three editors: Derek Brechen (“Stargate,” “The Patriot,” “Iron Man”), Frank Urioste (“RoboCop,” “The Hitcher,” “Road House,” “Total Recall”), and Dallas Puett (“Red Planet,” “Kull The Conqueror,” “2 Fast 2 Furious”).

deepbluesea2The cast for “Deep Blue Sea” includes Samuel L. Jackson (“Kingsman,” “Pulp Fiction,” “Jackie Brown”), Thomas Jane (“The Punisher”), Saffron Burrows (“Troy”), LL Cool J (“Rollerball,” “S.W.A.T.”), Michael Rapaport (“The 6th Day,” “True Romance”), Stellan Skarsgard (“Thor”), Aida Turturro (“The Sopranos”), and Jacqueline McKenzie (“The Water Diviner”).

deepbluesea3The story of “Deep Blue Sea” takes place on an experimental marine facility, where scientists are studying sharks for a potential cure for Alzheimer’s. However, when the project goes over-budget and ethical concerns begin arising, their primary benefactor comes to investigate the situation himself. From there, things rapidly go awry.

The role of the chef, which ultimately went to LL Cool J, was initially offered to Samuel L. Jackson, who turned it down due to it being too small of a role. Ironically, due to script changes, the chef role wound up being arguably larger than the character Jackson wound up playing in the picture.

“Deep Blue Sea” is likely best known for a dramatic twist, in which Samuel L. Jackson’s character is surprisingly (and brutally) killed in the middle of the film. This move was apparently inspired by Tom Skerritt’s role in “Alien,” according to Renny Harlin. In theory, because he was the most recognizable face, audiences naturally latch to him as a point of reference. Of course, when the character dies, it has the effect of pulling a rug out from under the viewers. Harlin used this same technique again in “Mindhunters,” in which two different recognizable (and assumed lead) characters are shockingly killed off early in the film.

deepbluesea4The plot of “Deep Blue Sea” is loosely based on the amount of real life medical research that has been done on sharks over the past few decades, but it also perpetuates some significant falsehoods about the creatures. For instance, the belief that sharks can’t get cancer has been recently debunked. Also, the popular myth that sharks have to continue movies to survive isn’t true across the board: some species are capable of pumping water across their gills without moving.

There have been a few other movies called “Deep Blue Sea” over the years, including 2011’s “The Deep Blue Sea” starring Tom Hiddleston, and a 1955 romantic drama of the same name starring Vivien Leigh. Neither of those movies involved CGI sharks, however.

The modified sharks featured in “Deep Blue Sea” are shortfin mako sharks, which are known particularly for their speed, and are the fastest among all sharks. In line with the movie’s plot, they are also one of the smartest species of shark, and have an impressive brain to body ratio. However, they are also particular ill-suited for captivity, which pokes a significant hole in the underlying concept of the film.

“Deep Blue Sea” was filmed primarily at the Baja Studios near Tijuana, Mexico, which were built specifically for the filming of “Titanic.” Unfortunately, it hasn’t been used for filming in a number of years, and the town where it is located has apparently been deteriorating over the past few years.

At the beginning of “Deep Blue Sea,” a bull shark is shown with a license plate stuck in its mouth. The license plate number and state match the same one that was featured in “Jaws,” which was a nice, subtle homage.

The submarine the appears in the background of the well room also appeared in “Sphere,” an earlier film that also starred Samuel L. Jackson, alongside Dustin Hoffman.

According to Harlin, it took 20 takes to film his very brief cameo towards the beginning of the movie, and he apparently hasn’t taken any on-screen roles since.

“Deep Blue Sea” had a particularly notable tie-in single and music video, performed by LL Cool J, one of the co-stars of the film. It is one of the most baffling and catchy themes I have ever heard for a film, and essentially retells the entire plot of the film from the sharks’ perspectives.

“Deep Blue Sea” featured a number of impromptu screenplay changes along the way, including combing two characters into what became LL Cool J’s chef character and expanding the role (allowing him to survive), ultimately killing off Saffron Burrows’ character, and changing how some of the sharks were killed.

deepbluesea5The estimated budget for “Deep Blue Sea” was $60 million, and it ultimately grossed around $164 million in its total theatrical run, making it a significant hit. The reception wasn’t quite as positive as those numbers suggest, though the film certainly has a cult following. It currently hold an IMDb rating of 5.8, alongside Rotten Tomatoes scores of 56% (critics) and 38% (audience).

The biggest issue with “Deep Blue Sea” is definitely the poorly-aging CGI effects, but it is worth noting that the practical sharks look pretty good. As you might expect, there are some big drawbacks to mechanical sharks in regards to movement limitations and costs, and they are also notoriously fickle (I recommend reading about “Bruce” from “Jaws”). There are also some brief moments of CGI water in the background that, without fail, always looks awful.

There are undoubtedly some big problems with the plot of “Deep Blue Sea,” specifically regarding the impossible intelligence of the sharks. For instance, it is claimed that the sharks planned the flooding of the research facility in order to escape, which would require knowledge of the schematics of the building, the makeup of the fences, and the weather conditions. It is even possibly implied that one of the sharks operates a convection oven in order to flush out LL Cool J (a point of some contention). It is one thing for the sharks to be exceptionally smart, it is another thing for them to manifest knowledge they would have no way of knowing, unless the experiments made them psychic. Which, honestly, would be a hilarious twist.

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“IT’S AFRAID!”

Much like “Piranha” and “Humanoids From The Deep,” “Deep Blue Sea” taps into popular fears about genetic modification and the potential for science to go awry (there are definitely some “Frankenstein” nods as well). There is also a popular fear of sharks in the public consciousness since the cultural phenomenon of “Jaws,” which definitely adds to the atmosphere of “Deep Blue Sea.” It is fair to say that the film wouldn’t be the same with intelligent, giant rabbits, even if they were vicious and vindictive.

Something I particularly like about “Deep Blue Sea” is the concept and design of Aquatica, the floating research fortress. The aesthetic is always something I though was cool, and it doesn’t have the same overused “grates and pipes” look from “Alien,” “Leviathan,” etc. It is generally pretty sleek and polished, which makes it look more like a sparkling, new research facility.

Overall, “Deep Blue Sea” has plenty of problems, but the sheer “fun” factor is off the charts. The performances are great, the plot is cheesy, the atmosphere is fantastic, and if you can swallow the bad CGI, there is no way not to have a good time while watching this flick. Honestly, the CGI here still looks better than the “Sharknado” movies, well over a decade later, so it isn’t impossible to stomach. For people looking for a Hollywood cheese fest, a bit of nostalgia, or a top-flight shark thriller, “Deep Blue Sea” should fit your bill.

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