FEBRUARY 8, 2009
One of my all time favorite movies is The Abyss, which came out the same year as two other unwater monster/alien movies that I never got around to seeing. One is Deepstar Six, which was directed by Sean Cunningham. The other is Leviathan, which boasted a better cast (which is why I chose it over Deepstar, but I'll get to that one eventually). Anyway, I was surprised to see how similar it was to The Abyss (which came later in the year). Both involve a storm keeping an underwater “blue collar” team from going to the surface, both involve finding a new species, and both have human characters with ulterior evil villain motives. Hell, Abyss star Ed Harris even resembles Leviathan’s Peter Weller at times (and they’re both playing an almost identical character).
But while Abyss is great, Leviathan is a dull bore. for the most part It’s basically an Alien/Thing hybrid set in the water, but the water locale is never really used - no “we need to go outside and fix that thing” type sequences. Hell they don’t even have a nice window to look out and see some fish or whatever. The problem is, they copied Alien’s model of suspense over action, but failed to actually make it suspenseful. Nothing happens, and when it does it’s off-screen half the time (Christ, Daniel Stern’s character “dies” via a line of throwaway dialogue).
Plus, everyone dies in the exact order you think they will, which also kills suspense. It’s got a good cast (Hector Elizondo, Richard Crenna, Ernie Hudson!) but they do little to elevate their stereotypes, and it doesn’t help that the monster only appears when a character is about to die anyway. It’s almost like a slasher movie in that regard. Remember how shocked you were when Tom Skerritt got killed? None of that here. And why have Stan Winston design some cool-ass monsters and then never show them off? Even at the end they’re half obscured by something or seen in incredibly brief cuts.
I also never quite got the sense of claustrophobia that is essential to this kind of movie, and that’s mainly because I could never understand the layout of the ship. I could probably tell you how to get to the engine room from the galley of the Nostromo, but no such luck here. We see a variety of rooms, but never how they relate to one another, and you sure as hell can’t tell from a goofy exterior model that’s onscreen for two seconds.
The final five minutes is pretty goddamn amazing though. The survivors make it to the surface, and the coast guard spots them. Then a few sharks happen by, before completely disappearing as the monster surfaces. The coast guard guy is pretty blasé about the whole thing (he seems more terrified about the sharks than a 40 foot monster) and then Weller blows the thing up (which is a plot hole - we are told that it will just regenerate from any one part, so now there’s probably a hundred of the damn things). Then he punches Meg Foster in the face, and not because he simply cares too much. If the whole movie had this sense of ridiculous fun, they would be on to something, but in trying (and failing) to make it a bit more “legit”, they ended up making something I won’t even remember in a few weeks.
And to its credit, Peoples and Jeb Stuart toss in a few nice character moments; most revolving around Weller. He’s been sort of thrown into an authority role, so we see him reading a self help book on how to manage people. There’s also a funny bit of how he manages to hide some vodka from the crew. My favorite involves a jigsaw puzzle. Hudson and another guy fight, and in the fracas, Hudson destroys the guy’s puzzle, which he had just completed. Hudson makes up with him later by offering to help him put it back together. As a jigsaw puzzle enthusiast, I appreciated this atypical moment, and felt kind of sad they never do get to put that puzzle back together, since the other guy dies like 5 seconds after Hudson leaves the room.
The DVD only has a single extra: the trailer, which makes it look a lot like that fun/action packed type of movie I was hoping for. The main menu also inexplicably has a little cartoon robot dancing around near the different options, a nice nonsensical touch. But Robocop smacking Evil-Lyn around and a peculiar DVD menu aren’t enough to warrant a recommendation. Stick with Deep Rising.
What say you?
NOTE - I'd usually put the trailer here, but the only one I could find on Youtube had embedding disabled. So thanks a lot, douchebag! (aka SteelEye009, who coincidentally just added the thing like 3 days ago).