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Sphere

(1998)
I can think of no earthly reason why this ended up in my queue; obviously I put it there, but what was I thinking and why did I break down after fourteen years of avoidance and watch this film? I have no salient answers, only the glum look on my face when I opened the Netflix envelope and saw the title. Sphere is a sci-fi film from the late 90s starring Dustin Hoffman, Sharon Stone, Sam Jackson, Peter Coyote and Live Schreiber not a bad cast, all recognizable names fifteen years down the line, though not exactly an assembly to raise the pulse much. Apparently the government has found something mysterious and ooky under the water, and Hoffman and the rest are summoned by Coyote to investigate it, as it is believed to be an alien spacecraft. We are given all the technical mumbo jumbo about underwater effects on the body in dialogue, knowing every theoretical situation discussed will eventually occur; all we have to do is sit back and wait for things to fall apart, which they do, sort of, eventually. Weve seen all this before (and since), and weve seen it way better. Oddly enough as I watched it I was most strongly reminded of Prometheus, another drab sci-fi movie with a promising cast that ultimately went nowhere. All the creepy atmospherics and handsome actors in futuristic outfits cant disguise the fact that you have a crap story where nothing really happens and theres no real resolution (sounding a lot more like Prometheus, isnt it?); yeah, we get minor disasters galore in the undersea base an attack of jellyfish, fires, decompression, and oh, Sam Jackson seems to be going a little crazy. But we never really get to see whatever it is thats hiding in the giant golden sphere (hence the title), and all it really is, like so many films of this ilk, is a weak horror movie dressed up in sci-fi trappings. If you have a hankering to see exactly that sort of thing done well, rent Alien. If youre not bothered by lackluster quality, rent the eight hundred rip-offs its spawned. Theres nothing particularly wrong with the acting. Hoffman would not be my first choice for this material, and he sometimes feels out of place, but he does an acceptable job (one scene where he is emerging from the water oddly reminded me of the pool scene in The Graduate). Stone and Jackson big or emerging stars then, not taken as seriously now (Jackson is the very definition of hit and miss) are both perfectly acceptable as unhinged scientists (hes a computer guy, I think, and its never really stated what Stone brings to the mission aside from having a goodlooking woman in the cast). Live Schrieber probably delivers the best performance of the lot, but that would likely still be true today. And for some reason Queen Latifah has an extended cameo as a redshirt waiting to be sacrificed by the creepy otherworldy thingie, and, head-scratchingly, Huey Lewis plays a helicopter pilot for all of twelve seconds. Sphere is dull, and is widely accepted as such. Theres nothing new here, and unless youre a completist for one of the leads (and I pity you if you are), theres

absolutely no compelling reason to sit through over two hours of this. Its not so bad its good, its just numbingly dull, and youll find yourself fidgeting by the forty minute mark, if not sooner (I groaned aloud at 45 minutes in that there was so much more of this left. I thought it might get better as it went along, but no, that was misplaced faith). If you insist in movies like this, suffer through Prometheus. At least the production design doesnt feel so dated, and the effects are a lot better. November 19, 2012

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