“You think water moves fast? You should see ice. It moves like it has a mind. Like it knows it killed the world once and got a taste for murder. After the avalanche, it took us a week to climb out. Now, I don't know exactly when we turned on each other, but I know that seven of us survived the slide... and only five made it out. Now we took an oath, that I'm breaking now. We said we'd say it was the snow that killed the other two, but it wasn't. Nature is lethal but it doesn't hold a candle to man. Now you see how bad things can get and quick they can get that way. Well, they can get a whole lot worse. So we are not going to fight anymore! We are going to pull together and we are going to find a way to get outta here. First….<>” – Samuel L. Jackson, Deep Blue Sea
When Deep Blue Sea debuted in 1999, audiences were ripe for another sharkfest adventure. We were far removed from the original Jaws film of the late 1970’s and those campy mutated shark films that now appear so regularly on the SyFy channel had yet to burn our eyes.
The one-sheet for Deep Blue Sea held incredible promise. Thomas Jane, Michael Rapaport, LL Cool J, Saffron Burrows and Samuel L. Jackson were listed as stars. And action director Renny Harlin – he of Die Hard 2 and Cliffhanger – was calling the shots from behind the camera.
The film takes place in a floating remote research where scientists have genetically altered sharks in an effort to obtain a potential cure for Alzheimer’s disease taken from the shark’s brain. When funding to their operation nears a close, financier Russell Franklin (Samuel L. Jackson) travels to the facility for a demonstration. An increasingly ferocious storm isolates them even further and when one of the killer sharks fights back (farewell to arms Stellan Skarsgård!), things go from bad to worse and soon the humans and the sharks are logged into a cat and mouse game throughout the maze of halls, rooms and floors that make up the matrix of the complex. This leaves the surviving group of stranded humans to ask, “Here’s the riddle. What does an 8,000 pound mako shark with a brain the size of flathead V8 engine and no natural predators think about?”
Intelligent sharks are nothing new to the genre. Hell, the shark in Jaws: The Revenge was smart enough to follow the Brody family from the East Coast all the way down to the Bahamas to continue its reign of terror. But the sharks in Deep Blue Sea were extremely menacing. They were fast, could swim backwards and they had the intelligence to think strategically in their revolt against the humans. Having a jaw and razor sharp teeth that could crush a tank and being in a watery environment also helped tip the scales into their favor.
So the sharks begin picking off the humans with a few surprising deaths along the way. Unfortunately, the movie repels from the strong premise and becomes a little formulaic in its approach, but the action sequences were enough to keep you interested and at the edge of your seat while the story played out in mostly routine fashion.
I do note ‘mostly routine’ as there were a few ideas that separated Deep Blue Sea from its peers. We mentioned a few surprise deaths (and at surprising times) that we will leave well alone for you to enjoy at your leisure, but we will spoil the survival of the LL Cool J character at the end of the film.
A lot was made about how LL Cool J – a black actor – survived at the end of the film (people of color don’t normally make it from credits to credits in horror/thriller films. LL’s character himself (who plays a cook in the film) says “Brothers never make it out of situations like this – not ever!”, and considering Hollywood’s treatment of colored actors in horror films – he would be correct. They still managed to make the black guy look like the most-unstable person in the facility (LL talks to himself, talks to God, talks to his bird, talks to the walls, talks to a video camera…), but the fact that a person of color made it to the end is somewhat of a genre surprise.
Years removed from the initial theatrical run, Deep Blue Sea can seem a little foolish upon revisit. But I think that is all part of its charm. They weren’t making The King’s Speech here, just a fun movie about sharks that liked to eat the humans that were harvesting them for scientific experiments. And on those notes, they scored a fairly enjoyable thriller.