Tag Archives: crichton



Today, I’m going to cover the 1998 Michael Crichton adaptation, Sphere.

The setup for Sphere is summarized on IMDb as follows:

A spaceship is discovered under three hundred years’ worth of coral growth at the bottom of the ocean.

The director for Sphere was Barry Levinson, who is known for movies like Wag the Dog, Sleepers, Toys, Rain Man, The Natural, Good Morning, Vietnam, and Bugsy.

Sphere is based on a novel of the same name by Michael Crichton, who was a well-known producer and director on top of being a best-selling author. Westworld, Jurassic Park, E.R., Congo, Twister, The 13th Warrior, Timeline, The Andromeda Strain, and many other prominent television shows and movies were either adaptations of his works, or were directly created for the screen by him.

While Crichton did occasionally provide screen treatments for his own novels, in the case of Sphere the adaptation work was done by Kurt Wimmer, who is best known for writing and directing the movies Equilibrium and Ultraviolet.

Additional screenplay credits were also given to Paul Attanasio, who has also written for films like The Good German, Donnie Brasco, Disclosure, Quiz Show, and The Sum of All Fears, and Barry Levinson’s former assistant, Stephen Hauser.

The cast for Sphere includes Dustin Hoffman (The Graduate, Rain Man, Marathon Man, Straw Dogs), Sharon Stone (Casino, The Quick and The Dead, Total Recall, Basic Instinct), Samuel L. Jackson (The Hateful Eight, Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown, Django Unchained), Liev Schreiber (Spotlight, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Goon), and Queen Latifah (Taxi, Chicago, Bringing Down The House, Stranger Than Fiction).

The cinematographer for the film was Adam Greenberg, who also shot movies like Rush Hour, North, Eraser, Ghost, Three Men And A Baby, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Iron Eagle, and Near Dark.

The editor for Sphere was Stu Linder, whose other credits include cutting Quiz Show, Rain Man, Sleepers, Wag The Dog, and Toys, among others.

The musical score for the movie was composed by Elliot Goldenthal, who also provided music for the films Heat, Frida, Batman & Robin, Demolition Man, Alien 3, Pet Sematary, Batman Forever, Titus, Public Enemies, and Across the Universe, among others.

Sphere‘s production designer was Norman Reynolds, who also designed movies like Raiders of the Lost Ark, Return of the Jedi, The Empire Strikes Back, Alien 3, Mission: Impossible, and Return to Oz, and additionally served as art director for Star Wars – A New Hope, Superman, and Superman II.

As with any adaptation, there are a number of details from the Sphere book that were changed for the film. Aside from the elimination of a few characters, the most interesting of these changes is actually the eponymous sphere’s coloration. In the book, it is silvery and chrome-like in appearance. Apparently, this was initially supposed to be the case on screen as well, but the decision was made for the sphere to be gold in the middle of the production, apparently for aesthetic reasons.

Interestingly, the ending of the movie was re-shot due to complaints from test audiences. While these sorts of changes are typically in response to petty complaints from fickle or shallow audience members, in this case, the change made the move more sensible. The initial cut failed to account for the decompression needed for the characters to acclimate from being in the far depths of the ocean, and test audiences didn’t buy it when the survivors made it to the surface.

Sphere grossed just over $50 million in its worldwide theatrical release. However, the production budget alone has been recorded as anywhere from $73 million to $80 million, making it a significant financial failure.

Unfortunately, the critical reception to the movie wasn’t any better: it currently holds Rotten Tomatoes scores of 12% from critics and 38% from audiences, along with an IMDb user rating of 6.0/10.

Personally, I think there are definitely some things to like about Sphere. For instance, Samuel L. Jackson is pretty damn good here, and is about as restrained, menacing, and cerebral as you’ll see him in anything. In general, the small cast puts out some solid performances. Aside from Jackson, Liev Schreiber is always a great supporter, and Stone does a serviceable job with her role. However, I think Hoffman doesn’t quite fit with the rest of the cast, and wasn’t the best choice to lead the film. I suspect that Levinson just likes working with him, and he was the most bankable name that was available to the production.

The biggest positive for the movie, however, it its design. The underwater facility just looks cool, and does a lot for the atmosphere of the film. Everything has a compelling science-fiction appearance, and it gets across the concept of the deep sea as a foreign world.

Likewise, I really like the concept for the story. I remember reading the book many years ago, and liking it quite a bit. The story is a bit surreal and highly psychological, which could have made for something compelling on screen. The book uses the high tension, claustrophobic setting to great effect, so there was certainly something for the film to work with. In the right hands, Sphere could be an effective science-fiction whodunnit, not unlike The Thing. At least, the blueprint was certainly there.

Unfortunately, in spite of the performances, the design, and a decent source, this movie is incredibly boring and forgettable. Honestly, it is a bit difficult to nail down exactly why. The whole movie feels a bit rushed, which makes it particularly difficult to get invested in the characters. At the same time, it is far from action-packed, so it is hard to say where all of the time goes. The movie certainly could have benefited from some character building sequences, as well as some better moments of sustained tension.

I think the biggest issue with the movie is that it was just put in the wrong hands. There’s nothing about Barry Levinson’s works that would indicate that he’d be a good fit for a psychological science fiction thriller. On top of that, the screenplay sounds like it was bounced around quite a bit, and probably suffered from that.

Overall, as I stated previously, Sphere is pretty forgettable. I do think that the source could make for a good sci-fi thriller someday, but this certainly isn’t it. With the recent television success of Westworld, I’m hopeful that people will start digging back through Crichton’s works, and will see the potential that was squandered with this iteration of Sphere.




Today’s feature is one of the lesser films to be based on a Michael Crichton work: 2003’s Timeline, directed by Richard Donner.

The plot of Timeline is summarized on IMDb as follows:

A group of archaeological students become trapped in the past when they go there to retrieve their professor. The group must survive in 14th century France long enough to be rescued.

Timeline is based on a novel written by Michael Crichton, who is best known for Jurassic Park, Congo, WestWorld, The Andromeda Strain, and E.R.. However, the screenplay adaptation for Timeline was penned by Jeff Maguire (Gridiron Gang) and George Nolfi (Sentinel, The Bourne Ultimatum, Ocean’s Twelve).

The director for the movie was Richard Donner, who is known for such features as The Toy, Superman, Superman II, The Goonies, Scrooged, and Lethal Weapon.

The cast of Timeline includes Paul Walker (The Fast and The Furious, The Skulls, She’s All That), Gerard Butler (Reign of Fire, Dracula 2000, 300, The Ugly Truth, Olympus Has Fallen), David Thewlis (The Island of Doctor Moreau), Anna Friel (Limitless), Neal McDonough (Minority Report), Billy Connolly (The Boondock Saints), and Frances O’Connor (Windtalkers).

timeline5The cinematographer on the movie was Caleb Deschanel, whose other credits include Killer Joe, Winter’s Tale, The Patriot, The Right Stuff, National Treasure, and The Passion of the Christ.

The editor for Timeline was Richard Marks, who has cut films like The Godfather: Part II, The Hand, Broadcast News, Serpico, Pretty In Pink, As Good As It Gets, and Julie and Julia over his career.

The music for the feature was provided by Brian Tyler, whose other credits include Simon Sez, Dragonball: Evolution, The Expendables, John Dies At The End, and Iron Man 3.

Apparently, Michael Crichton so hated the film adaptation of Timeline that he ceased licensing out his properties for the rest of his life, which unfortunately ended only a handful of years later.

The actors David Thewlis and Anna Friel met while working together on Timeline, and were romantic partners for many years afterwards.

Timeline experienced a number of behind the scenes issues. It was initially supposed to release in 2002, but was delayed after the studio was unsatisfied with Richard Donner’s cut of the film. The film had to be entirely re-cut twice more, which led to the entire Jerry Goldsmith score having to be replaced with one by Brian Tyler, due to Goldsmith’s failing health.

Initially, the role eventually filled by Gerard Butler was offered to James Bond actor Pierce Brosnan, who turned it down.

A third writer, Frank A. Cappello (Suburban Commando, Constantine), was at one point credited for film. He apparently wrote an entire draft of the screenplay, and was even credited on some of the film’s early promotional materials.

The battle at the center of Timeline‘s plot is entirely fictional, though the overarching conflict of The Hundred Years War was very much real. A number of liberties are taken with historical accuracy, as you might expect,  including some intentionally anachronistic insignias placed in the background as Easter eggs. One of these is the Quebec flag, which appears on a shield as a nod to the filming location.

Financially, Timeline was a significant loss. On an $80 million production budget, the movie only grossed just under $44 million theatrically, leaving the production significantly in the red.

timeline3Critically, Timeline fared equally as poorly. Currently, it holds a 5.6/10 IMDb user rating, and Rotten Tomatoes aggregate scores of 11% from critics and 45% from audiences.

Roger Ebert was one of the more charitable critics of the lot, giving the film a 2 star review. However, his criticisms echo much of the negative reaction to the feature:

“I felt too much of the movie consisted of groups of characters I didn’t care about, running down passageways and fighting off enemies and trying to get back to the present before the window of time slams shut…Just once I’d like to see a time-travel movie inspired by true curiosity about the past, instead of by a desire to use it as a setting for action scenes.”

As Ebert stated, one of the biggest weaknesses of the movie is the un-enthralling cast of characters. The interpersonal relationships and individual characters are all incredibly forgettable, to the point that some are only distinguishable based on their accents. Part of this is due to the cast just being unnecessarily large, to the point that the characters don’t get the space to develop on screen. As far as the dialogue and characters go, this movie is roughly as fleshed out as a lesser Friday the 13th sequel: individuals are only as identifiable as stereotypes, and only exist to be arrow fodder.

Plenty of fans of the source material have complained at length about changes to the screenplay, but I tend to let those kind of details slide: movies need to fit a more compressed medium, and writers and directors have the right to put their own creative stamps on things. So, for this movie, I’m not going to delve into those.

One of the more widely-mocked sequences from the movie involves the English army launching a volley of “night arrows” at their enemies. I remember this from the first time I saw this movie as a kid, and I definitely recall it not making any sense. “Night arrows” are not a thing: they are just normal arrows, shot at night, that aren’t on fire. The fact that characters act like this is some some of tactical brilliance is absolutely baffling to me, and I’ve never figured out just why that sequence was included.

Overall, Timeline is a way cooler idea than an actual movie. The weak casting and writing certainly didn’t help matters, but I’m not sure if this movie would have resonated with audiences even if everything fired on all cylinders. Even if Donner’s initial cut was a masterpiece, I don’t think a time travel movie set in this particular time period was going to excite anyone. The Hundred Years War just isn’t something that clicks for people in general at this point, let alone your average American audience.  If you want to mess with time travel, go to the dinosaurs, go to Rome, go to the Revolution, go to the Civil War, go to a recent 20th century decade, or go to the future. Some time periods are just more cinematic and intriguing than others for Hollywood, and I don’t think this time period makes the elite cut as far as options go for blockbusters.

As far as a recommendation goes, I found this movie to be incredibly dull and forgettable, and I’m hard-pressed to think of any redeeming qualities. Outside of seeing Gerard Butler in his long-hair period, or Paul Walker doing his damnedest to be a leading man, there’s not much worth seeing here.