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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Deep Blue Sea (review)

Jurassic Shark

In my attempts to get some scum-sucking Hollywood type to fork over a high six figures for the screenplay I’m currently peddling, I’ve been haunting every imaginable script resource online. At many of them, prospective sell-outs like myself can post loglines (two-sentence summaries) or synopses of our scripts, or even entire scripts themselves.

So, as I was perusing one of these sites recently, I came across this gem: Being Kevin Spacey. I thought it was a joke, at first. Surely, some newbie screenwriter was not trying to get Hollywood’s attention with so obvious a retread of one of the few truly original films to come along in a good while? But it was no joke, and the posted synopsis demonstrated how this script was entirely and utterly different from that other one: A character gets inside Spacey’s movies, not inside his head. Totally not the same movie at all.
This scriptwriter may be on to something. Because isn’t this exactly how Hollywood works? Take a fairly recent flick — preferably one that did boffo box office, but one with Oscar cachet is okay, too, and if you can manage both, you get promoted to senior executive vice president — and give it the slightest of tweaks. Audiences don’t give a shit — in fact, they’d rather see more of the same old stuff than anything daringly new — and no one cares what critics think. Hell, you’ll probably even get some critics to praise it if it contains one, like, totally cool scene, even if that one scene was in all the trailers and TV commercials.

Deep Blue Sea is not Jurassic Park. Of course it isn’t. This one is about sharks, not dinosaurs. Any idiot could see the difference.

Yes, the research lab (research lab, not theme park) Aquatica is in the middle of the ocean, but it’s located on an old WWII submarine refueling station, not an island. And yes, the lab is reduced to a skeleton crew for the weekend, but that’s normal operating procedure and has nothing to do with the fact that a big storm is heading right for Aquatica. And yes, scientist Dr. Susan McAlester (Saffron Burrows: Wing Commander) and CEO Russell Franklin (Samuel L. Jackson: The Phantom Menace, The Negotiator) head out to the lab for the weekend because things are not as safe as they could be, but it’s not because insurance companies are worried but because the company’s stock is about to hit the markets on Monday morning.

Pop quiz: “We’ve had some problems at the facility.” Is this line from Deep Blue Sea, or is it from Jurassic Park?

McAlester and Franklin have been heading up a project to use shark brains to create a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, and just as other meddlers in God’s domain have turned to the evils of genetic engineering, so have they, breeding big-ass test sharks with huge brains (think “increased crop yield”). And now the sharks are turning on their human masters, escaping into the wild to chew up pretty, golden, unsuspecting white teenagers. Damage control is in order.

What McAlester and Franklin hope to accomplish over the weekend isn’t quite clear, except — after an unlikely explosion destroys much of the lab — survive a scenario that’s kinda like JP plus Aliens multiplied by The Abyss. The ten little Indians here include shark wrangler Carter Blake (Thomas Jane: Magnolia, The Thin Red Line), scientists Jim Whitlock (Stellan Skarsgård: Passion of Mind, Ronin) and Janice Higgins (Jacqueline McKenzie: On the Beach), and a few others. There’s no point in trying to remember any of their names.

Hasn’t anyone here seen a retread SF/horror flick before? They seem to realize they’re in a movie, because one of them, the wise-cracking cook, Sherman Dudley (LL Cool J), notes, with the ironic detachment of self-referential movie characters, that “brothers never make it out of situations like this, not ever.” All they need to do is look around at the handful of shark bait– I mean, people left on the underwater lab to know that only the prettiest and highest-billed among them will survive the next 90 minutes. Don’t they know that the price of the folly of human hubris, of fooling with Mother Nature, of tampering with things that man was not meant to tamper with, is gruesomely kicking the bucket in a crappy movie?

Legs will flail underwater. Big red buttons will get pressed in slow motion. Dialogue will be stilted and overly expository, unless it’s a quip. Glass will be broken. Everyone will reveal how the angst-ridden tragedies in their pasts will enable them to survive… until they don’t. Special effects will be cheap looking. You will insert your favorite quotes from JP or Aliens at appropriate intervals — when the sharks destroy the cameras in their pool early on, I favor a vintage Bill Paxton: “Whaddaya mean they cut they power? They’re animals, man!”

And remember, when the shark goes after Sherman in the half-under-water kitchen, and he hides in the industrial-size stove, it’s entirely unlike the scene in Jurassic Park when the kids hide from the raptors in the restaurant kitchen. Those kids didn’t go anywhere near the oven.


MPAA: rated R for graphic shark attacks, and for language

viewed at home on a small screen

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