A Psychological Thriller Under the Sea
May 3, 2009 (Updated May 4, 2009)
a Very Helpful Review
by the Epinions community
Pros:excellent acting, intense drama, beautiful cinematography, strong characters, Dustin Hoffman, Samuel L. Jackson
Cons:wild and twisty plot
The Bottom Line: "Sphere" is an intense experience you won't forget.
There's nothing wrong with a good genre film, but I think all movie watchers should watch a movie that stretches the boundaries of genre every now and then for the sake of their sanity. "Sphere" is just such a film. I tend to mentally categorize the movies I watch within a few minutes of the opening credits -- most of the time, I can lump them with other similar movies I've watched before that explored similar themes. With "Sphere", though, I just couldn't do that. I tried, of course. Since the start of the movie covers the assembly of a team of scientists to investigate something unusual underwater, I thought it must be a monster flick at first; although a giant squid, unusual jellyfish, and venomous sea snakes do make appearances in the film, this isn't really a creature feature because it isn't truly about a struggle between man and thing. Since the scientists are sent to investigate a futuristic space ship that appeared to have been underwater for centuries, I next categorized "Sphere" as a movie about time traveling. Again, I was wrong -- although time travel is important to the backstory, it isn't explored to any great depth in the plot. My next guess was that it must be a movie about intelligent aliens because there appeared to be something alive on the ship capable of contacting the team of scientists. That guess worked for a bit, but it, too, proved to be wrong. My inner reviewer had met its match: a movie that defied a quick classification!
Recommend this product?
Although the plot of "Sphere" does involve sea monsters, time traveling, and aliens, it ultimately isn't really about any of those things. Instead, it's about the human mind put under intense pressure and forced to adapt to highly unusual circumstances. The focus is less on what the team of scientists happens to discover and more on the impact the discoveries have on the scientists themselves. Additionally, the movie has an important point to make regarding the limitations of human beings; you may not agree with its ultimate conclusion, but it forcefully makes the case that there are certain powers we cannot handle without destroying ourselves and certain doors we should not open for our own good. Seen in that light, "Sphere" is quite an impressive movie. Considered purely as a science fiction film, it doesn't deliver -- the plot is too full of holes and too lacking in detail to seem truly realistic. Those willing to suspend their disbelief when it comes to the more fantastic elements of this twisty plot will find a great deal more realism when it comes to the characterizations of the scientists.
A movie like this stakes everything on dramatic impact, but luckily for "Sphere" it has an excellent cast of dramatic actors. The four central figures are the scientists: psychologist Norman Goodman (Dustin Hoffman), biochemist Beth Halperin (Sharon Stone), mathematician Harry Adams (Samuel L. Jackson), and astrophysicist Ted Fielding (Liev Schreiber). Norman is the nominal civilian leader of the team, but all four have a tendency to act independently which can at times lead to disaster. Hoffman's and Jackson's performances are particularly impressive. Hoffman's Norman is hardly a heroic or a decisive leader -- he cannot act quickly even to save the life of a friend and, while all the members of the team are haunted by their fears, Norman appears dogged by guilt over his past. Jackson's Harry is a strangely detached, sometimes humorous mathematical genius. In contrast to Norman, he is very quick to act and the most unpredictable of the quartet. The supporting cast includes some famous names -- Huey Lewis and Queen Latifah among them -- and also does a solid job.
"Sphere" is a well-shot film with some beautiful underwater scenes. The film is so intense because one always has an awareness that the story is taking place in an extremely dangerous environment, and the cinematography really brings out the menace and majesty of underwater life. You never forget where this film is taking place. I've seen so many films that have taken place largely underwater or in space where that sense of danger is curiously missing -- you totally lose the sense that the action is taking place in an environment hostile to human life. In "Sphere", however, the harsh conditions are like another, ever-present cast member...you're always aware of them, and an aura of danger permeates virtually every scene.
I would recommend "Sphere" to anyone interested in watching a genre-bending, thoughtful, and extremely intense film. If you're a fan of any of the actors, I'd also recommend it because the performances are all good, and it's an absolute must-watch for Dustin Hoffman and Samuel L. Jackson fans.
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