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DEEP BLUE SEA, VFX, and Natural Selection in Horror

April 21, 2015

Yes, that Deep Blue Sea. The one where scientists run a medical laboratory floating in the middle of the… deep blue sea. The one where they’re testing Alzheimer’s drugs on marine life. The one where normal sharks become supersharks. Despite its late night movie trappings, director Renny Harlin’s Deep Blue Sea is pretty enjoyable pop art.

At times, the tone suggests horror comedy like Tremors, Lake Placid or Slither. But Deep Blue Sea (1999) often takes itself a little more seriously than those, and generally not to its detriment. The most apt comparison might actually be Jurassic Park. While Deep Blue Sea simply doesn’t have the gravity of the Spielberg film, it does dial up a lot of junk science mumbo jumbo, and feature genetically enhanced monster mayhem.

“What in God’s creation?”

“Not in His. Ours.”

Deep Blue Sea came about at an interesting time in the history of visual effects. In 1999, we were still a few years away from blockbusters becoming the Dionysian orgies of CGI they are today. The use of computer generated effects had been ramping up since James Cameron’s The Abyss really got the party started in 1989. Jurassic Park (1993) and the works of Cameron wowed audiences in the early to mid nineties and hinted at what was to come after the turn of the century.

1999 featured two other major visual spectacles in Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, and The Matrix. Both films featured prominent digital effects, but in combination with savvy practical (non-CGI) effects. Going beyond savvy, The Matrix combined practical and digital in ways that forever changed cinema, not unlike Jurassic Park‘s hybrid of animatronics and digital. Deep Blue Sea may not have had the same attention lavished on it as any of the above films, but it does effectively blend practical and digital effects. The CGI is actually very convincing about half the time, while looking like a campy Syfy movie (perhaps a prequel to Sharknado) during the other half. This is a movie that’s just good enough to make you wonder if certain effects are practical or CGI, a claim not many recent films can boast.

Samuel L. Jackson is nominally the lead in this movie. His role, smaller the typical Jackson role, leaves plenty of scene-stealing opportunities for the rest of the cast. Deep Blue Sea is flush with interesting character actors including; Stellan Skarsgård, Saffron Burrows, Michael Rapaport, Thomas Jane, and even LL Cool J. The performances are committed and generally pretty strong considering this boils down to a movie about supersharks destroying an underwater laboratory.

If you are the sort of person to believe that the selection of surviving characters in a horror movie provides some level of meta commentary, then you have a goldmine here. The analysis of which characters made it out alive became popular with slasher films in the eighties. To its credit, Deep Blue Sea offers a splash of unpredictability among the deceased, not to mention the survivors. Ultimately, I think the most interesting actors/appealing characters made it to the end, with a few surprises thrown in for the schlocky thrill of it.

For the record, no, Halloween (1978) did not consciously kill off teen characters for participating in vice or other “immoralities.” That’s not the way it works. Laurie Strode survived because she was smarter than her peers and reacted to signs of danger rather than wandering out into the street with a raging hard-on, so to speak. That’s also part of what makes Halloween the great achievement it is, but that’s a conversation for another time.

Deep Blue Sea is good fun, and worth a late night look while it’s currently streaming on Netflix. Before we go, savor this quote from LL Cool J’s Preacher:

Einstein’s theory of relativity. Grab hold of a hot pan, second can seem like an hour. Put your hands on a hot woman, an hour can seem like a second. It’s all relative.

Junk science indeed.

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