Deep Rising (1998)
The recommendation to see this film came from an odd source. An internet radio show discussion about the biggest box office bombs of all time. Deep Rising did just over $11 million on a $45 million budget in 1998 with a cruddy January release date. This was undoubtedly a major failure on behalf of the marketing campaign because, for me, this is a fun, exciting, scary, and action-packed film that is designed as a crowd pleaser. This comes to us from Stephen Sommers whose follow-up would be the massively successful and entertaining The Mummy, and if you enjoyed that film I really believe Deep Rising should work just as well for you.
The most luxurious cruise liner in the world, owned by Simon Canton (Anthony Heald), is on her maiden voyage when it is damaged and attacked from beneath the sea. Meanwhile, John Finnegan (Treat Williams) and his crew, who have a policy of “if the cash is there, we don’t care,” transport what turn out to be a band of ruthless hijackers who intend to seize and rob the cruise. However, when they all arrive, they discover the passengers have mysteriously disappeared, but they are not alone. Something is lurking behind every deck and passageway, snatching the intruders one by one, and they all now must fight together to escape with their lives.
What pleasantly hooked me first is the good cast. It’s not a stunning set of acting jobs, but these are actors who were having fun with the material and strike a solid chemistry. I’ve been seeing Treat Williams lately in television guest spots, but as a fatherly figure. Him as more of an action centric lead was really good. He demonstrates a fun, lively charisma that keeps you invested in how this plot unfolds. He felt very capable and comfortable in this role, which was originally intended for Harrison Ford. If you can think of Air Force One Harrison Ford, I’m sure the idea fits fine in your head, but Williams really does a superb job in this lead role. One might expect having him and Famke Janssen billed as leads would add up to a particular romantic subplot. There is a relationship built up between them, but the film doesn’t slow down for them to develop it in a traditional way. It’s more of a bond built out of the intensity of the situation, but there’s some nice pay-off with them at the end. They work well together equally carrying the weight of the action nicely.
Famke Janssen’s character, Trillian St. James, is a thief who tries to use slight of hand to slip into Canton’s vault early on, and really only survives due to being locked in the brig. However, the character doesn’t have much to her after the thief plot has evaporated, and is certainly doesn’t show off Janssen’s incredible talent. So, it’s not a film that’s going to go deep into characters like Die Hard, but the action moves fast enough that you don’t really notice it. I also enjoyed the humor from Kevin J. O’Connor’s character of Joey, Finnegan’s fun and quirky mechanic. Stephen Sommers would use him very regularly in his films from here on out, and I think O’Connor is a very good actor showing a range from serious roles like in Lord of Illusions to outright comedy in The Mummy. It’s possible that not everyone would enjoy him as the comic relief, but for me, he’s a little charming and surely funny. I never found him obtrusive as he definitely works well with Treat Williams, but also has some good adversarial dynamics with the mercenary characters.
Wes Studi portrays the mercenary leader Hanover to great effect. The actor should be known to Michael Mann fans as he had a supporting LAPD role in Heat and a prominent role in The Last of the Mohicans. Here, the work as Hanover is not as demanding, but he portrays a solid adversary who holds a tenuous allegiance through this harrowing scenario with Finnegan. At anytime, he can be strictly in command, but he can be, usually, smart enough to know when to work side-by-side in order to survive. The actors portraying his mercenaries are very good especially Trevor Goddard who was Kano in the live action Mortal Kombat movie. I enjoyed him being in the movie so much that I wish he was in more of it.
I’m actually a big fan of Anthony Heald. I’ve seen him on screen a few times on Law & Order and Miami Vice, but my fandom is more from his great voice work on various Star Wars audio books. He’s got a lot of sly, ingenious talent, and he portrays Simon Canton very entertainingly. As the film progresses, you learn some unsavory, underhanded things he’s done, and Heald plays up that aspect more and more. He takes what appeared to be a very refined yet charismatic and cowardly character and deteriorate him into a despicable, enjoyably sleazy adversary. He was fun to watch, and the film deals with its less desirable characters with a lot of satisfaction. Overall, I think all of the actors do a good job as they seemed to all put their best foot forward for this fun thrill ride.
The pacing right out the gate is really solid. It keeps moving forward at a tight rhythm and pace to rarely ever linger on any one scene. This is aided by some signature Sommers humor that is sharp and succinct. The actors all have really good chemistry to make this work, and Sommers maintains the right balance to not sacrifice good tension and terror for laughs. Still, I was thinking about halfway through the runtime how the film was going to keep up this survival / escape plan plot for another fifty minutes, but it throws in a number of smart turns, dangerous obstacles, and thrilling sequences to achieve that. Sommers keeps the film rolling forward with a lot of momentum, and of course, people get picked off one-by-one escalate the peril. Sommers gives us a fine melding of horror and action with enough to satisfy whatever you primarily desire more. Plenty of people get killed and eaten in bloody fashion, and there’s more than enough gunplay and fiery explosions to amp up the excitement. Yet, overall, it’s just fun without taking itself too seriously.
By no doubt, this is a fairly simple plot. Deep Rising starts out as a covert heist mission on the sea, but intriguingly twists into a sea monster movie that requires everyone to fight to survive. Why they don’t just haul ass out of there is handled well as Finnegan’s boat needs hull and engine repairs. Yet, it’s not a simple task getting out of the luxury cruise liner as danger awaits at every turn and in every flooded deck. Even then, not everyone between Finnegan’s crew and these mercenaries can trust one another, and that plays nicely into keeping the adventure treacherous. This felt like a nice mix of The Poseidon Adventure and Aliens with a little dash of Die Hard for the thieves / mercenaries plot. I just really liked the close quarters feel of the ship which also reminded me of Friday The 13th, Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan, but achieved with better results. There really is so much potential for a suspenseful movie set in that environment, and this film really delivered that to my satisfaction.
Still, as I was watching this I was waiting for something to pop up on screen to justify this film’s box office reputation. Just something stupid or low grade. I was enjoying it so much that I was expecting the CGI to be really bad, but quite frankly, in general, this is particularly good for the late 90’s. It’s rather on par with the digital effects in The Mummy for the most part, and the sea creature itself is impressively designed. That design is courtesy of Rob Bottin who was responsible for the groundbreaking and timeless creature effects in John Carpenter’s The Thing. There’s some traces of that in here, but Bottin is able to make it its own distinct creation. Tentacles are everywhere, and the long jagged teeth springing out from it are frightening. The tentacles frequently slither out from nowhere, or bust out from the hull or metal corridors. Sommers does a great job building up tension and suspense by gradually unveiling the creature. We get small glimpses of it, and even when you think you’ve seen it in all of its slimy, ferocious glory, the climax gives you the Coup de grâce. There are plenty of fun scares and thrills in how these dangerous scenarios unfold from well crafted tension to straight out intense action beats.
The action all around is just great with a really great, slick, high octane finale, and all of those thrills, tension, and intensity are well fleshed out with Jerry Goldsmith’s score. It just has a great driving rhythm and rousing, dramatic momentum to it, clearly reflecting the movie right on the mark. I didn’t expect Goldsmith’s name to be attached to this movie, but he really did deliver something solid that played up the strengths of it. It’s never going to amongst his revered legacy of work, but he did his job perfectly with this score by giving it just what it required.
Held together by some solid cinematography that always keeps the geography of these close quarters very coherent, and editing that maintains that consistent rhythm and tempo, I really have to say Stephen Sommers did an excellent job here. No one tried to make Deep Rising out to be more than what it was designed to be – a big, fun, suspenseful, action-packed ride. The film does have this sequel tease at the end, and while that was probably a fun final moment back in 1998, it’s not so much fifteen years later. Knowing the film bombed and no sequel was ever made, it just leaves you desiring a more proper conclusion to this adventure. Regardless, Deep Rising showed a lot of potential to be a hit. However, its failure was not the fault of the movie, but of a really underwhelming marketing campaign. The trailer feels like a slapped together direct-to-video trailer which conveys none of the film’s suspense or wider plot elements, and instead, relies a lot on CGI shots of the monster. That trailer sells this as a forgettable, cheaply executed movie. The poster campaign had some good teaser style ideas but lacked a big eye catching poster to encapsulate the film’s overall excitement and scare factor. It even resorts to promoting it as being “from the special effects team who made Total Recall and Star Wars.” How is that supposed to sell the quality of the movie? Beyond all that, a late January release was not a target for big box office success. Stephen Sommers made a really solid crowd pleaser of a movie, but was marketed lazily. That’s a real shame because this is a film I would’ve loved to have even seen back in 1998. It would’ve been a long time action favorite of mine. Still, I really like the tagline of “Full Scream Ahead.” Anyway, you can tell that I give Deep Rising a really solid recommendation. I thoroughly enjoyed everything it had to offer, and I think a lot of other people will, too.