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(1998) (Dustin Hoffman, Sharon Stone) (PG-13)

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Science-Fiction/Thriller: A team of scientists finds themselves trapped on the bottom of the ocean next to a centuries old spacecraft that contains a sphere capable of reading their thoughts and nightmares and turning them into reality.
Dr. Norman Goodman (DUSTIN HOFFMAN), a renowned psychologist, finds himself summoned to a top-secret government site in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. A spacecraft, apparently three hundred years old, has been discovered on the ocean floor. Harold Barnes (PETER COYOTE), a mysterious government official, has assembled a team to investigate the enormous wreckage. Joining Norman is Beth Halperin (SHARON STONE) a biochemist, Harry Adams (SAMUEL L. JACKSON) a brilliant but skeptical mathematician, and Ted Fielding (LIEV SCHREIBER) an astrophysicist.

Diving to a depth of one thousand feet, the team meets Barnes' associates, Fletcher (QUEEN LATIFAH) and Edmunds (MARGA GÓMEZ) in their high tech underwater habitat. Once inside the enigmatic spacecraft, the team makes several startling discoveries, including a huge, mysterious sphere that seductively lures the crew to it. Soon strange events begun occurring and several members are killed. It's only then that the crew figures out that the sphere can turn their thoughts and nightmares into reality. Cut off from the surface, the crew must do what they can to survive their encounters with this strange entity's creations.

If they're familiar with the original novel, or are fans of any of the cast members or of science fiction type stories, they just might.
For sci-fi action including some startling images.
  • DUSTIN HOFFMAN plays a psychologist who previously had some sort of relationship with Beth.
  • SHARON STONE plays a biochemist with a previous suicide attempt in her background.
  • SAMUEL L. JACKSON plays a brilliant mathematician who turns a little deranged as the story progresses.


    OUR TAKE: 3 out of 10
    A sphere, according to the dictionary definition, is "a three-dimensional surface, all points of which are equidistant from a fixed point." In other words, it's a near-perfect object. One could also be led to believe that this week's biggest release, that just so happens to be entitled "Sphere," might be near perfect as well.

    Based on the best selling 1987 novel by Michael Crichton (whose other works, like "Jurassic Park," have been adapted into big hits), this film features a gaggle of noteworthy talent. Among those who've received Oscar nominations in the past are performers Stone and Jackson, screenwriter Paul Attansaio, cinematographer Adam Greenberg, editor Stu Linder and composer Elliot Goldenthal. The Oscar winners include Hoffman, director Barry Levinson, and production designer Norman Reynolds. With such a bevy of talented individuals combining their collective focus on one film, the expectations for a blockbuster are high.

    Unfortunately, instead of arriving like the sphere in the movie -- big, impressive, and nearly perfect -- this feature crashes onto the screen like a mangled polygon. Bits and pieces are scattered everywhere, and by the end, none of it equates in a mathematical, logical or even entertaining sense.

    It does start off promisingly. We're immediately drawn into the story of a 300-year-old spacecraft that's been discovered at the bottom of the ocean. Much like that other underwater movie, "The Abyss," however, this story can't work its way out of the intriguing premise. As it plods along, it just becomes increasingly preposterous until it finally collapses under the weight of its own ludicrousness.

    Anyway, back to the plot. Of course there has to be a team of specialists who go to investigate the just discovered spacecraft, but that's where the movie takes its first, but very serious misstep. I'm sorry, but if such a spacecraft were found, the team sent to check it out wouldn't consist of these characters.

    Granted, they throw in a clause that Hoffman's character wrote a paper years earlier for the White House about what sort of team should be used should such a situation arise, but they'd never follow that, especially with this group of civilians. The military and/or other top secret government agencies would be all over that craft like flies on you know what. Sure, Coyote's character plays that part, but he's just one government spook surrounded by scientists who are way over their heads for this sort of matter. Beyond that, we're supposed to believe that all of them become highly proficient at deep (and we mean really deep) sea diving in a very short amount of time. That whole plot element just doesn't work and the film never manages to survive this initial problem.

    Let's say, however, and just for argument's sake, that you can get past that point. While I haven't read Crichton's original novel, I certainly hope that it was different from this adaption. For this film has ripped off the old "our dreams/thoughts are becoming reality" plot that has permeated science fiction for years. Not only was this recently done in "Event Horizon," but that film itself was a remake of the early 70's film, "Solaris," where an oceanic entity read people's minds and manifested those horrors/complications for them. To go back even farther, this same plot idea was better executed in the classic "Forbidden Planet" and even the award winning episode, "Shore Leave" from the original "Star Trek" TV series.

    To make matters worse, the "horrors" that they dream up here certainly aren't that frightening. If you're going to use nightmares as scary or suspenseful cinematic elements, at least make them noteworthy. While the things that pop up might be scary to the characters in the story based on their past experiences and/or fears, they don't do a thing for the audience.

    Instead of some truly horrendous monsters, we get Jules Verne's giant squid (from "20,000 Leagues," that we never see, unlike the fun creation in the recent "Deep Rising"), some poisonous sea snakes (that are "nocturnal" so they don't bite Dustin Hoffman when they manage to wiggle up his pants leg) and...don't tell me cuz it's really scary -- some violent, marauding jelly fish.

    Is this the best these people's imaginations (both the characters and the film makers) can come up with? While a few viewers may find some of the proceedings as a little tense or scary, more seasoned moviegoers will find all of it rather trite and dull. What also hurts the film is that it doesn't really have a spooky aura permeating the story. We watch the events, and see the characters battling fires and the obligatory flooding compartments and the occasional "monster," but none of it's gripping or even, for the most part, too terribly interesting.

    Part of the problem also lies with Levinson's use of non sci-fi or even horror elements in many of the "suspense" scenes. We do see long bits with the crew trying to increase and then decrease the habitat's internal pressure (so that they don't implode or explode), or battling those fires and floods, or even their own paranoia. The problem is, while the scenes marginally work in creating suspense, that's not the reason the audience came to see this movie. Besides, we've seen such moments so many times before that their impact on our senses is greatly reduced. Levinson tries to add some zing to such moments by drowning the scenes with overly dramatic music and employing a lot of shaky camera movement, but his efforts don't help.

    The film also suffers from being just too similar to many other movies we've already seen, from the before mentioned sci-fi features, to the "Alien" films, the "Abyss" and all of those other underwater monster movies. For example, much like "Alien" where some mysterious monster hunts the crew, this film uses a modified sequence from that film. Jackson's character encounters the orb (whereas an "Alien" character encounters an egg pod), and is found unconscious and remains that way for some time (as does the other character with a space creature on his face). Then suddenly, Jackson is awake and has a voracious appetite (just like the character in "Alien"). Of course, no alien creature bursts from Jackson's chest, but he does choke on some calamari like the other guy who chokes just before the big chest opening event.

    Any serious logic, of course, is also thrown out the window in movies like this. After a character is killed by a swarm of stinging jellyfish, you'd think they wouldn't let anyone else out of the habitat. But no, moments later there are more people out in the water where they find yet another dead body. This one's been mangled, and they ponder away some precious moments not being smart enough to figure out that whatever killed that person might still be lurking about. And these are supposed to be some of the most brilliant minds available? There's also the scene when Hoffman and Jackson are adamantly convinced that Stone has had a mental breakdown (because of her not seeing something) even though they've just realized that weird events are occurring all around them. The moment isn't at all believable.

    Then there's the time where Hoffman's character swims around in the ice cold water for several minutes without a suit (after we've been told that such a move would cause death from hypothermia in just two minutes). Even after he finally makes it back inside the ship, he doesn't immediately get out of the water or shiver from the cold (as did Ed Harris' character in a similar, but much more believable scene in "The Abyss"). I could go on and on, but you probably get the point.

    The only saving grace is the cast, although one questions why some of them signed on with this project. A charismatic group of performers, they're the only reason to watch this film, although you'll feel sorry that they got wrapped up in such a project. Surely the best are Jackson and Liev Schreiber. At first, Jackson delivers his trademark "sarcastic" attitude (much like his character in "Jurassic Park"), but after his encounter with the sphere, he gets more than just a little goofy around the edges and that's when it's the most fun to watch him. Schreiber ("Scream 2," "Phantoms"), who often plays slightly twisted characters, does the same here and like Jackson, adds some much needed zest to the proceedings.

    Stone ("Basic Instinct," "Casino") isn't given much to do other than play the scientist whose confidant exterior hides some inner self doubts. Meanwhile Hoffman essentially plays the same character he did in"Outbreak" and should probably give up the "action" films and stick with what he does best. Then there's Coyote who simply resumes his stereotypically shady government character "Keys," and his extraterrestrial hunt, from "E.T."

    Perhaps it relates to the old adage about too many cooks being in the kitchen, but you can't help but wonder how this film went so wrong. Were there too many bits of creative input submitted by the many stars and acclaimed crew members? Or did all of them get too close to the sphere from the movie, resulting in a collectively delusional thought that they were making a quality film? Much like the unsolved mystery surrounding the downed spacecraft, the world may never know what really happened here.

    Reportedly long held up from its initial target release date, the film makers recently re-shot and reedited several scenes after test audiences weren't crazy about what they saw at advance screenings. Well, much like attempts at making oneself prettier through plastic surgery, you can nip and tuck here and there, but you can't make a beauty of something so far gone. And you certainly can't make a perfect sphere out of an obscure, tangled geometric mess. We give "Sphere" just a 3 out of 10.

    This PG-13 film gets that rating from some scary/suspenseful scenes that may be unsettling to younger kids (and possibly some adults), but most teens and adults will probably find them only compelling at best. Some people are killed in accidents, and others by attacks from creatures seen and unseen, but beyond a few brief images, none of it's too gory. Profanity includes 9 "s" words and an assortment of others. Considering the cast and the sci-fi element, many kids may wish to see this film. Accordingly, you should look through the scene listings to determine how appropriate it is for them or for youself.

  • Beth is asked about a scar on her neck and she says that it came from a car accident. The interviewer then asks if she was drinking. She replies yes, but that she wasn't driving.
  • The team finds a dead and nearly mummified-looking body on the spacecraft (that might scare younger kids).
  • We see a dead person's swollen and somewhat grotesque face as jelly fish and their tentacles are pulled from it.
  • We see brief, fleshy glimpses of a dead body (a bloodless, but mangled face, a torn up foot, etc..) that's been torn up by some unknown creature.
  • A few characters have just minor bits of bloody scrapes on their bodies.
  • Norman admits having only written half of his report to the White House, with the other half being "borrowed" from other writers.
  • The surviving members begin questioning the other's actions and take steps to prevent them from harming the others, but beyond becoming somewhat paranoid, none of it's too bad.
  • When asked if he's a religious man, Norman says, "I'm an atheist, but I'm flexible."
  • Younger kids and/or infrequent moviegoers may find the following tense, but more seasoned viewers might find some or all of it rather tame:
  • Several scenes where the team walks through dark passageways on the spacecraft (reminiscent of scenes in the "Alien" movies and others) may prove to be suspenseful to some viewers.
  • A character is surrounded and then attacked and killed by many large jellyfish (and screams and writhes during the stinging attack).
  • Some viewers may be unnerved by Harry's strange, creepy behavior that starts after his contact with the sphere, while others might feel the same way once the "entity" contacts the humans through the computer and becomes more menacing as the story progresses.
  • Several characters find a fellow crew member who's dead and has been torn up by some unknown creature. As they drag the body back toward the ship, Barnes informs them that something on the sonar is closing in on them as they race back toward safety.
  • Something attacks the habitat and they begin losing pressure. Ted has to raise the pressure level before the habitat is crushed. He then goes too far, and the others must try to stop the ever increasing pressure. After that, they must contend with many fires that break out. This whole sequence goes on for several minutes.
  • A character begins to lose air underwater and his mask begins fogging up. A sea snake then repeatedly attacks him as he tries to get back to the habitat.
  • Some more sea snakes attack a man inside the habitat and wiggle their way up his pants.
  • One character floods another person's compartment to convince them of their point. That second person then must swim outside the habitat and try to get back inside.
  • The survivors must escape before a bomb detonates (the scene go on for several minutes).
  • Handgun: Carried by Barnes when they first enter the spaceship.
  • Explosives: Blown up at the end, destroying many structures.
  • Phrases: "Pain in the ass," "Screwed up," "Nutbag," "Shut up," and "Piss him off."
  • An "elevator" suddenly propels Norman and Beth upwards through the spacecraft (the jump comes from the sudden sound of it starting).
  • Another jump scene occurs from sudden, startling music that plays as the team finds a dead body.
  • A sea snake suddenly attacks a character.
  • There is a heavy amount of dramatically suspenseful music.
  • None.
  • At least 9 "s" words, 19 hells, 3 asses (1 using "hole"), 3 damns, and 8 uses of "Jesus," 6 of "Oh my God," 5 of "Oh God," 3 of "My God," 2 of "G-damn," and 1 use each of "Oh Jesus," "For Christ's sakes," and "Jesus Christ" as exclamations.
  • We see just an ever so brief glimpse of part of Harry's butt while he's in the shower.
  • None.
  • None.
  • The ramifications of something like this story (finding a spacecraft) actually occurring.
  • None of the following involves direct human to human contact.
  • A character is surrounded and then attacked and killed by many large jellyfish (and screams and writhes during the stinging attack).
  • We see brief, fleshy glimpses of a dead body (a bloodless, but mangled face, a torn up foot, etc..) that's been torn up by some unknown creature.
  • Several characters are hit and/or knocked unconscious by falling equipment and debris inside the habitat.
  • A man is partially incinerated (and killed) during a fiery explosion, while another person is crushed (and/or cut in half -- we never see the results) when he's caught in a closing hatch.
  • A sea snake attacks a man underwater and repeatedly bites at his mask.
  • An explosion destroys most of the structures.

  • Reviewed February 11, 1998

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