Sphere (1998)
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Sphere (1998)

Continuing my to revisit some of my discs in my collection and I decided on different criteria for selection. I looked for films constructed upon the same or very similar premise to a successful, Oscar worthy movie currently available. One of the very best recent science fiction movies is ‘Arrival.' The main theme is one of the oldest in modern science fiction, first contact with an exit terrestrial race. During the 50s such an encounter was almost inevitably to the detriment of humanity. The first earnest attempt to show an alien race with benign intentions would have to wait until the release of the movie ‘The Day the Earth Stood Still,' and that maybe it was a peaceful alien immediately hunted by the armed services of a distrustful government. A primary reason for the negative you attitude that dominated the alien encounter films of the time was the intension for a significant portion of them to be allegories for the Cold War, specifically the methodology employed by the Soviet Union infiltrating American culture. Slowly changes were made since how we would imagine America’s first contact. Abject fear became steadily replaced with curiosity and wonderment. Currently, the pinnacle of this genre of the movie above,’ Arrival,' was an example of such excellence in filmmaking that it garnered eight Academy Award taking home two wins. Three of the nominations among the most coveted of these golden statues, Best Picture, Best Director and Best Screenplay. Unfortunately, while searching the myriad of inhabiting the majority of shelf space I was unable to find any other example of this genre come close to the quality of this movie. That meant me to a different approach; I search for an easily found the polar opposite, ‘Sphere’ 1998 with an All-Star cast and crew apparently forgot how to bring their professionalism to work plummeting down into the ‘Razzie’ worthy performances. Revisiting this movie after many years, I did play more recent high-definition version rather than relying on the original DVD release or repressed memories of the experience in the theater.

Scientists have discovered an unusual object on all the Pacific Ocean. While placing papers on the ocean floor, an object deeply buried that was unimaginably vast in its scope. It’s been assumed to be used for guidance jutted out from the ground measuring more than a football field. The amount of coal grown onto the object indicated that it has rested on the bottom of the ocean almost 300 years. By a protocol devised by a government-funded think tank or group of scientists with particular specialties was assembled. Dr. Elizabeth 'Beth' Halperin (Sharon Stone) was a biologist necessary to determine physiology. To assist in determining their point of origin an astrophysicist, Dr. Ted Fielding (Liev Schreiber) with the next team member included. Since mathematics would likely be the most reliable source of establishing communication that I special this was the very self-assured Dr. Harry Adams (Samuel L. Jackson) and much to everyone’s surprise rounding out the group with its fourth member, Dr. Norman Goodman (Dustin Hoffman), a psychiatrist. As the naval officer in charge of the expedition, Captain Harold C. Barnes (Peter Coyote), the protocol required a psychiatrist to be included because of the unknown psychological and emotional stress that encountering an extraterrestrial life form would inevitably present. We never get to see the actual crafted at the entirety, not least at this point. As it turns out it is not in the vehicle itself what it contains that holds the interest to the scientists and the audience.

Because of the extreme depth of the object, it was necessary for extraordinary measures to be taken to allow the team assess. There were to bring to the staging area by a submersible capable of withstanding the extreme depth. To prevent the bends their air was switched over to a breathing mixture containing helium. As anyone who is ever played around with the party balloon knows entailing the periodic table 2nd lightest gas will cause your voice to go up several octaves in pitch. To avoid having the remainder of the movie sound as the Munchkin Studios made it, the employer a plot contrivance without an intrusive device that renders their voice back to normal pitch. Typically these technological loopholes are ridiculous and more annoying than useful. While this particular effort orders on such a classification it was obviously necessary to help offset the obvious reuse of you many filming techniques, and apparently cinematically too close to the far superior film, ‘The Abyss.'

One of the most important aspects of any movie of this type is the depiction of the alien craft. This is the special effects team has to achieve the delicate balance between something entirely futuristic and alien something that can be easily comprehended by the audience. The visual style they decided upon was a rippling silver mirror effect as if the sphere crafted from undulating; gold tinged mercury. It was the requisite scene when a scientist approaches the oddly rippling surface, tentatively touching it ever so lightly as to provide an illusion of motion. The film may have a credit list full of highly recognizable and well respected names, but its dominant downfall is attributed to being overly ambitious regarding which genre it belongs. An unknown object sitting for 300 years on the bottom of the ocean qualifies as a science fiction. Having to walk in complete diving gear to get to the actual opening of the craft is a standard horror technique used to isolate the intrepid band of potential victims any hope of escape or rescue. Including a psychiatrist as a team member is a not so gentle hint that the filmmakers are going for a psychological thriller. All the final credits containing those illustrious names roles a few other minor additions to this mélange of genres will be added.

Quickly, the team was informed that the craft is not of extraterrestrial origins at all. Incontrovertible evidence has been found that is an American spaceship containing technology significantly beyond what is currently available but apparently somehow when used 300 years prior. As the script ws not already sufficiently muddled at this point, somebody felt that an enigmatic time paradox would help win the favor of critics and fans. Culottes have been found to provide little information as to the details of what happened to the crew. The only thing that they were able to deduce was the mission concerned obtaining an object of immense scientific importance, but during the investigation, they encountered what they termed an ‘unknown event.' The most probable scenario they could come up with is an encounter with a black hole. At this stage of scientific understanding, black holes will utterly mysterious without even the scaffold of understanding recovery manager have obtained. This made an ideal means to insert a Deus ex machina plot point into a story. It sounds super scientific, and since nobody knows the exact properties of a black hole, the screenwriters are free to confer upon any properties convenient to driving the storyline.

They reach an agreement that no one should attempt to penetrate the mirrored interface into the sphere. Already shown to be overly independent and feeling to superior to be restricted by others rules, the mathematician Harry manages to walk into the interior of the sphere. The next day some unfathomable alphanumeric characters appear on the computer screen. As loyal fans of science fiction already know the best ways to date a movie is to look at the level of computer graphics available to the characters. A small screen with green characters and primitive graphics indicates an error when EGA monitors all the rage. Younger viewers will have to either ask their parents or grandparents open up a window to check out Wikipedia for the exact implications of this visual. Each time one of the crew enters the sphere is a different manifestation of waiting for them to the exit. Harry manages the disciple code and establishes contact with some form of intelligence which he names ‘Jerry.' As both the crew and the audience will discover this plot point was a means to ensure an unreliable narrator into the mix.

The character development is gossamer thin attempt to flush out before primary characters are insulting and how it fails to provide an adequate showcase for a group of incredibly talented actors. Samuel Jackson was even able to make a film like ‘Snakes on a Plane,' watchable if even just as an MST3K home game experience. In this flick, the other use of his talent makes his supporting character role in the original ‘Jurassic Park’ appear Shakespearean and stature. Mr. Schreiber has only slightly better as the astrophysicist. The goal was attempted in a modern movie the screenwriter would have to contend with the understanding that the public is considerably more aware of the particulars of this profession. This is due to the popularity of so many people in that field of science that are proliferating is talking heads on television series hosted by the Science And Discovery Channels. At least they did manage to avoid turning Sharon Stone into some stereotypical panicking female allowing her to maintain at least a modicum of some professional decorum. Dustin Hoffman had worked with the director Barry Levinson, in an earlier film, ‘Rain Man.' this film won Mr. Hoffman Best Actor and Mr. Levinson Best Director in a movie credited as Best Picture of the Year. I can only surmise that even Hollywood’s greatest occasionally given advice or in a position conducive to accepting an obviously less than a mainstream worthy project. Just in case you plan on watching this film will avoid spoilers by saying that the dénouement is so overly convenient and in retrospect so completely telegraphed that it seems entirely possible that they quickly had to come up with an ending the corresponding had suddenly dried up. The studio executives that approved this film lost their window offices bellman so funny much more claustrophobic floor one system was released. With an estimated $80,000 budget the entire box office return for the initial theatrical run was less than $37 million. Fortunately, most of the talented individuals were able to shake off any lasting effects of participation in this movie to continue with solid careers.

bulletCommentary By Dustin Hoffman And Samuel L. Jackson
bulletFeaturette Shaping The Sphere: The Art Of The Visual Effects Supervisor
bulletTheatrical Trailer & TV Spot

Posted 03/05/2017

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