RogerBW's Blog

Deep Blue Sea 21 May 2019

1999 science fiction horror, dir. Renny Harlin, Saffron Burrows, Thomas Jane: IMDb / allmovie. On a remote floating shark research station, things are going to go very badly wrong.

It's a Renny Harlin film, and that sets certain expectations; while the result can sometimes be fun, you just know that nothing he touches is ever going to be any actual good. We start as we mean to go on, with a female scientist who works on Alzheimer's because it's what affected her daddy (it can't just be because she likes science, after all she has to be a Proper Woman too or the audience wouldn't cheer for her).

To be fair, there are some very good animatronic sharks (done by Walter Conti, who was apparently hired on the strength of his work on Anaconda, which, um). Jaws had made a virtue of necessity by keeping its unconvincing shark model off-screen much of the time (and thus doing a great job of building up tension); Harlin reckoned that twenty years later shark models were better (true), and so if he could put them on screen for more of the time the film would also be better (less true).

The science is utter rubbish, of course; starting from the real-world idea that sharks don't get cancer, we have miraculous Alzheimer's-healing goop extracted from shark brains, so obviously rather than harvesting more sharks you need bigger ones, and with bigger brains they become smarter. (This is why elephants are smarter than Hollywood scriptwriters.)

These sharks are basically horror-film psycho killers; not only do they know all about how the inside of the base works, something they've never seen, but even though they're seven feet high they can swim invisibly through three feet of water in a flooded corridor, not to mention teleporting off-screen into places they couldn't possibly have got into. They can break through pressure-tight windows (but not glass oven doors, that would just be silly).

Did you know that when someone's arm has just been bitten off, there's really all that not much blood? Just a slowly-spreading pool. "He's haemorrhaging!" Uh, yeah. But it's a good excuse to send out an evacuation helicopter (in the middle of a tropical storm, to a place so remote they went in by seaplane earlier) and, of course, to crash it. I confess I was laughing out loud during this sequence, particularly the fate of the guy who was being medevaced (Stellan Skarsgård in an early English-language role), but I am a nasty cruel heartless person. And anyway he deserved it; he lit a cigarette.

Did you know that when you are a couple of hundred feet underwater and the Great Big Picture Window breaks, you can outrun not only the water but the shrapnel? Useful science fact. And the people who do that aren't even the Odious Comic Relief, who can of course survive anything.

Did you know that if you're wearing a wetsuit and you take it off, you're no longer wet, so when you short out the mains power through the water that's half-filling the room up to the table you're standing on you won't die? But you do have to strip down to your underwear, obviously.

Did you know that full SCUBA tanks float?

Did you know that becoming hyperintelligent gives sharks the ability to swim backwards?

If you're worried about the pressure differential when you open the hatch, maybe when you open the hatch you should get through quickly rather than standing around gawping at each other.

The film eventually tries to have a very brief Serious Moment, arguing about the ethics of whether you should use the (very dodgy, even if not done on humans) research… and eventually decides that, no, you shouldn't, and the person who did it should just commit suicide instead. So all those deaths really were for nothing.

The actual action isn't too bad - it's competently shot, it generates a bit of interest and tension, and it's basically all right. It's everything else that's terrible, all the support structure that would shift the action from just a series of exciting moments into an exciting story; the characters barely reach one-dimensional never mind two, the science is just Science Words to show the audience which of the characters are the smart ones, and the plot is nonsensical.

In the end: not only is Tampering in God's Domain bad, not only are the hyperintelligent sharks killed off, but all the smart people are also killed off while most of the working stiffs make it out alive. If you're reading this, Renny Harlin thinks you're too intelligent to be allowed to live.

See also Lyz Kingsley's review at And You Call Yourself A Scientist which goes into the bad science in rather more detail. (And it was Lyz's mention of a sequel that caused me finally to watch this one.)

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