DEEP BLUE SEA)
Synopsis: When a test shark from her research facility escapes and almost kills four young people partying on a catamaran before being re-captured, Dr Susan McAlester (Saffron Burrows) is summoned to the head office of Chimera Pharmaceuticals, the company funding her research into Alzheimer’s Disease. Threatened with a loss of funds, Susan begs for a chance to demonstrate how close her team is to success. She pleads her case so well that Russell Franklin (Samuel L. Jackson), Chimera’s president of the board, accompanies her back to Aquatica, the converted submarine re-fuelling station where the shark program is located. Susan introduces Franklin to Janice Higgins (Jacqueline McKenzie), a marine biologist, who shows him around. Franklin looks on in horror as shark wrangler Carter Blake (Thomas Jane) jumps into a pen containing a tiger shark. However, no-one else seems perturbed. After swimming with the creature, Blake dislodges a car license plate from between its teeth. He drops this at Susan’s feet, muttering that the two of them need to talk…. Aquatica’s staff departs for the weekend, leaving only a skeleton crew on duty. Blake corners Todd Scoggins (Michael Rapaport) and accuses him of screwing up the anaesthetic that he, Blake, used to subdue the escaped shark; two full shots barely slowed it down. Blake further suggests that Scoggins may have left the shark pen door open in the first place. Scoggins angrily denies both charges, and after a moment, Blake asks him thoughtfully how high the pen fences are…? Susan begins to prepare for her team’s demonstration. She asks her colleague, Dr Jim Whitlock (Stellan Skarsgard), whether he dosed the second-generation shark with the serum. He replies that he had Blake do it, and that the animal should be ready the following night. Whitlock then expresses his concern over the pace of the work, particularly the omission of a series of tests. As she practices on a model her technique for collecting fluid from within a shark’s brain, Susan says quietly that they had no choice…. Elsewhere, Franklin is trying to draw Blake out, and eventually reveals that he is aware the diver once served a jail term for smuggling. Scoggins releases the tiger shark into the pen of the three test sharks; they dismember it in seconds. That night, during a surprise birthday party for Susan, Janice speaks enthusiastically to Franklin of their work, explaining that sharks do not suffer from degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s. By using a hormonal enhancer, the team has increased the size of the female shark’s forebrain to five times its normal mass – thus increasing also the yield of the precious fluid they hope to harvest. Franklin marvels that so much has been done without genetic engineering. Meanwhile, Blake tells Susan that the test sharks are behaving unnaturally – hunting in a pack, eating only other sharks. Susan asks him pointedly if he likes his job? The time for the demonstration arrives. As the team monitors him on their video screens, Blake enters the mesh tunnels that run through the shark pen. Suddenly, two of the test sharks attack simultaneously, bending the mesh in at Blake from both sides. Blake raises his dart gun, and the two sharks immediately back away and swim off. In the control room, as the stunned researchers discuss these events, the picture on two of the video monitors is lost. Then the third cuts out, too – as a shark swims up and deliberately destroys a camera….
What I said then (“Snap Judgement”, posted 11/10/99): I have a feeling this film is benefitting from my seeing it two days after seeing The Haunting. After that fiasco, anything would look good. Sure, Deep Blue Sea is crappy and idiotic, and perfectly adequately summarised by the phrase “mindless action movie”, but I find myself disinclined to pan it the way I might under other circumstances (and the way I probably will, when it comes out on video or cable). While it isn’t anything like a good movie, it held my attention for its running time, once or twice surprised me, and occasionally made me laugh, intentionally as well as unintentionally. If I’m having trouble, three days after seeing it, in actually remembering enough about it to review it, I guess that’s the nature of the beast. The film has so few ambitions, it seems churlish to criticise it at that level. All it really wants to do is impress you with its special effects (partial success), frighten you (close to total failure) and gross you out (bull’s-eye). The film’s shark effects are pretty good – not perfect, but convincing enough, particularly if you’re scared of sharks (which I’m not). The sets are also interesting, if not entirely credible. Less praiseworthy is the film’s tendency to fall back upon boring old action film cliches: a storm hitting during the crisis; people being blown through the air by fireballs; the disaster being kicked off by a helicopter crash (I really wish they’d never learnt to do that convincingly).
Perhaps the most notable thing about Deep Blue Sea is its willingness to kill off nearly its entire cast, regardless of billing. Its choice of survivors, however, seems a bit questionable. While I’m not entirely sure what the point is, the screenplay was obviously intent on killing off the wealthy and the educated, while rescuing the working-classes. Given the film’s mega-budget, this attitude seems hypocritical at best. Another problem is one of tone: while some of the deaths – one in particular – seem to be played for laughs, others are meant to be disturbing. This makes it hard to connect with the characters sufficiently to be really affected by what’s going on. For the record, the audience I was in seemed most bothered by the demise of marine biologist Janice Higgins, possibly because she was played by Our Jackie, more probably because she’d just earned the gratitude of everyone present by calling Susan McAlester a stupid bitch.
The opening of the film, leading up to the first shark attack and the inevitable damaging of the facility, contains so much stupidity that I hardly know where to start. It hardly needs saying, but the actual underlying premise of Deep Blue Sea is utterly untenable. I won’t get into the “science” here (that too will come when I get hold of a copy on video and can get stuck into it in some detail), but I will lodge a protest against the single most unlikely thing in the whole film: Susan McAlester was conducting illegal experiments, and not one other person in that entire facility realised what was going on? I guess if you can swallow that, the rest of the film’s gaping plot holes shouldn’t bother you: the sharks’ ability to change size and shape when they need to; the strange resilience of oven-front glass, compared to laboratory glass; the mysterious invulnerability of the facility’s crew to water pressure, flying glass, electrocution--- To everything, in fact, but shark-bite, and occasionally even that. As usual, the film’s climax contains events that surely go beyond anyone’s powers of suspension of disbelief; for example the non-killing of one of the chosen survivors, whose life is spared in a particularly irritating instance of what the Jabootuites call the Hero’s Death Battle Exemption. While everyone else in the film gets crunched into pieces by the sharks in about one second flat, we’re supposed to believe that this one character just get dragged along by the leg, leaving him injured but able to take action in the final scene. As you’d expect, the acting in Deep Blue Sea is nothing to write home about. Samuel L. Jackson’s character is annoying, but obviously intentionally so. Jacqueline McKenzie gets the unenviable task of spouting most of the expository dialogue, and does a pretty good job. Thomas Jane and Michael Rapaport are adequate. LL Cool J’s comic relief wears thin by the end, while Stellan Skarsgard learns why it’s not a good idea to light a cigarette in this kind of film. Saffron Burrows, the film’s alleged star, is a wash-out. Not only is her character utterly unbelievable (something I will also deal with at a later date), but she simply can’t act. I don’t even think she’s particularly pretty. However, I will say this for her: her underwear is nothing short of spectacular.
What I say now: Bigger. Smarter. Faster. Meaner. Stupider. Crappier. Yes, I knew I’d been way too lenient upon this piece of nonsense when I first saw it. I don’t, generally, feel comfortable reviewing films immediately upon cinema viewing. I find that the memory can be surprisingly unreliable in that situation, and I like to feel certain I have my facts straight – particularly if I intend to put the boot into a film. My avowed intention upon returning to Deep Blue Sea was to take a look purely at the science, but there is so much wrong with the film it’s hard to stop there. Deep Blue Sea is a staggeringly dumb movie; the kind that begs the question, does it really take so much more mental effort to write something vaguely credible, rather than something that is absolutely impossible on every conceivable level?
The only remotely clever thing about Deep Blue Sea is the way that it acknowledges each of the Jaws films that obviously inspired it (if that’s the right expression). When Carter Blake pulls the license plate out of the teeth of the tiger snake, it proves to be the same one that Richard Dreyfuss pulled out of Little Shark© in Jaws. The three test sharks, one after the other, are disposed of in the same manner as their forebears in, respectively, Jaws, Jaws 2 and Jaws 3-D: the first dies in a gas explosion, the second is electrocuted, and the last is blown up with an explosive device. (And since the sharks in Deep Blue Sea are, without question, taking it all “personally”, I guess you could say it acknowledges Jaws: The Revenge, too.) Other than that, the other thing I can think of to praise is the quality of the film’s animatronic work, which is first-class – surprisingly so – astonishingly so – considering that it was the work of Walter Conti, who was hired because of (get this!) his work on Anaconda!! Fortunately, Conti’s work here demonstrates an improvement of quantum proportions. Seriously. The animatronic sharks in this film spend a lot of time on camera, often in full light, and their artificiality is often commendably difficult to spot. (The one thing they really can’t get right is the sinuous tail-movement of a real shark, but that’s a comparatively minor point.) There are also CG sharks in Deep Blue Sea, which are---well, CG. You know how I feel about that. However, the use of CG was generally only resorted to where the animatronics simply weren’t an option, which I very much appreciate. (Hilariously, director Renny Harlin spends much of this film’s promotional material challenging people to spot where CGI was used. Hey, Renny! Over here, mate!) But as for everything else….
You know, it fascinates me that there are people – a lot of them, apparently – who have the ability to look at something in a movie that is frankly impossible – impossible in a real world way, I mean – and to just shrug it off and stay connected with the movie. I can’t do it. I really can’t. Although I like to think that my powers of suspension of disbelief are, overall, pretty good, there is a point beyond which I start to feel insulted: you shouldn’t have to suspend disbelief that far. In Deep Blue Sea, I reached this point precisely 40 minutes in – not good, in a 100 minute movie. The film’s first casualty is scientist Jim Whitlock, who has not only been in on the illegal experiments, but – worse, far worse! – foolishly lights a cigarette on screen; for which act of temerity he is (she said, bowing in the direction of the BMMB) boned perhaps as thoroughly as any movie character has ever been boned. First, no sooner is the cigarette lit than the supposedly sedated shark wakes up and bites his arm off (leading to the film’s single most hilarious line of dialogue: “He’s haemorrhaging!” Jeez, you think?). The others patch him up and send for help; and although by now the de rigueur action movie tropical storm has hit, the rescuers come in a helicopter. Yeah, right. Whitlock is lifted on a gurney, but things go wrong with the winch, leading to him being dunked in the shark pen – like perfect bait. One of the sharks grabs him and tows the helicopter towards the facility, leading to the still more de rigueur action movie helicopter crash. (It’s 100% original, yes sir!) And then the cream of the jest: the shark drags poor old Whitlock (still strapped in his gurney, and still alive!) along under the water and slams him into a big glass underwater window – giving his colleagues inside a perfect view.
Now, of course, all of this is stupid and impossible, but it’s also rather fun, in a goofy-sadistic sort of way. (As Leonard Nimoy [sic.] would say, these are “entertaining lies”, and therefore forgivable.) But what happens next puts Deep Blue Sea beyond the realms of forgiveness. You see, when poor old Jim hits the glass, it cracks. And the cracks spread. There are tons of water behind that glass. A football-sized chunk of glass bursts from the window and smashes upon the floor. And yet everyone just stands there, gawping – until the glass actually does implode, when it finally occurs to them that it might be a good idea to, you know, leave.
Now, consider this, people: (i) there are pieces of glass the size of small meteors flying about; (ii) there are several tons of water spilling in; (iii) the water is soon filled with smashed masonry; (iv) the room is filled with live electrical equipment; (v) the room is also filled with lots of hard, sharp, pointy metal objects. Yet for all this, not one of the characters emerges from this little adventure with so much as a bruise. And this is because most of them manage to outrun the in-rushing water.
It was at this point that Deep Blue Sea and my willing suspension of disbelief announced their separation, citing irreconcilable differences. They’re signing the papers on Wednesday.
Anyway--- Well, let’s just say that the rest of the film doesn’t getting much better, in terms of its credibility. So I think I’ll just forget about all that, and concentrate on the reasons I wanted to re-visit this film in the first place: its sharks, its “science”, and the character of Dr Susan McAlester.
Just so that we’re all on the same page: in her quest for a cure for Alzheimer’s Disease, Dr Susan McAlester has initiated a research program that involves extracting proteins from the brains of sharks. The reasoning behind this is that sharks never seem to develop degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and may therefore possess some kind of natural protection against them. (I’m not sure there is any evidence to support this, by the way, although it seems to be true – as I discuss in my review of Peter Benchley’s Creature – that sharks don’t get cancer) However, normal sharks do not yield sufficient material. Consequently, Susan and her colleague, Dr Jim Whitlock, have instigated an illegal and unethical gene therapy program intended to increase the brain mass of two of their test sharks, and hence the possible yield of brain protein. (We know why Susan’s doing this; we never learn why Whitlock should have gone along with the scheme. They probably killed him off first so they wouldn’t have to think of a reason.) As a side-effect of the genetic manipulation, the sharks have become – gasp! – SUPER-INTELLIGENT!! They have also bred a second-generation female that is larger, faster and smarter than themselves.
Well, where to start? With the sharks, I guess. It’s only mentioned once, very briefly, in Deep Blue Sea itself, but the film’s pre-release publicity made much of the fact that its sharks were modelled upon real makos. They’d have been better off keeping that piece of information to themselves. At 15 feet long, the two first-generation test sharks are, for a start, both larger than any mako ever recorded: 12 feet, 8 inches is the record; 10 feet is more likely. I suppose their “treatments” may have increased the animals’ body size as well as their brain size, although as to why it would, you got me beat. (Of course, in reality all that increasing the brain size of any animal – including the shark, even though its skull is mostly cartilaginous – would achieve would probably be death due to pressure haemorrhage.) At 25 feet, the test sharks’ offspring is a physical impossibility. And speaking of impossibilities – one of the most jaw-dropping moments in the film has the sharks backing away from the mesh tunnel through which Carter Blake is swimming. “Sharks can’t swim backwards!” cries a watching Janice Higgins, presumably to enlighten anyone in the audience who might have been unaware that they had just witnessed one of the film-makers’ most pointless real world transgressions. No, they can’t. Let me just say that again: Sharks cannot swim backwards. The structure of their fins simply doesn’t allow it. I don’t care how big they are. I don’t care how fast they are. I particularly don’t care how genetically-modified and/or SUPER-INTELLIGENT!! they are. Unless that treatment completely altered every single aspect of their physiology, SHARKS CANNOT SWIM BACKWARDS!!
Sorry to go off like that, but it’s stuff like this that really pisses me off. It’s so senseless. Why is that scene – that two-second clip, rather – even there? Why couldn’t the sharks just turn away, as real sharks would? Well, okay – actually, I know the answer to that one: it’s because, as Carter has already warned Susan, the test sharks are “behaving unnaturally”. (I’ll say!) They’re hunting in a pack (hmm….okay, I’ll allow it); and they’ll only eat other sharks. (Eh? I presume this means that the altered sharks are trying to eliminate the competition. Or perhaps since, ironically enough, mako sharks are themselves often preyed upon by other, larger species, perhaps these sharks are out for….revenge!! [Hey, it’s no sillier than anything else in this film!]) Curiously, Carter fails to mention another piece of remarkable behaviour – one that should have vetoed the use of makos in this movie. Right through Deep Blue Sea, we see the test sharks tearing apart what they eat, from the unfortunate tiger shark of the opening scenes to, well, most of the cast. Problem is – makos don’t feed like that. You see, sharks tend to fall into two broad categories, according to what kind of teeth they have. There are those with “cutting” teeth, which have serrated edges; these sharks (great whites and tiger sharks amongst them) latch onto their prey and literally saw chunks out of it by shaking their heads and moving their jaws from side to side. Other sharks have what are known as “holding” teeth, which have smooth edges. These sharks tend to feed only on prey small enough to be swallowed whole. And yes, you’ve guessed it: makos fall into the latter category.
I do applaud the makers of Deep Blue Sea for trying to get away from the Great White Cliché; and I can see why they might have been attracted by the idea of the mako in the first place. They are amongst the fastest of all sharks, and they also have a reputation for being “jumpers” – which is presumably how the escapee shark got out of its pen in the first place (an event that causes astonishingly little concern back at Aquatica). But why pick a species that behaves nothing like you need it to? Personally, if I’d made this film, I’d’ve made it about tiger sharks. For a start, they’re bigger than makos. They’re also much more aggressive – and in real world terms, they probably pose more of a threat to human beings than any other species of shark. And finally – they look really cool. But what do I know?
(Speaking of “unnatural behaviour” – not that this has much to do with anything in the long run, but I can’t let it pass without a comment – I just love the way that shark wrangler Carter spends the first part of the film affectionately running his bare hands back and forth over the sharks. Even better is his “swimming with sharks” scene early on, where he grabs the tiger shark’s fin and literally rubs his bare abdomen and legs all over the animal’s side. Carter, my man – that would rip you to pieces! You jerk.)
Anyway – we all know how the makos in this film got the way they are, don’t we? EEE-vil science, of course, conducted by EEE-vil scientists; although with the purest of intentions. After the test shark has been recaptured (and we never do learn just how Carter managed to track it down), Susan McAlester is summoned to the head office of Chimera Pharmaceuticals, the company funding her research. Being a beauteous young female scientist, Susan naturally made her choice of career because of a personal tragedy: she lost her father to Alzheimer’s. Seeing that her funding is about to be cut, Susan plays her trump card, demanding of Russell Franklin, “Have you ever known anyone with Alzheimer’s?” – thereby setting up one of the film’s funniest moments (and by saying this, believe me, I mean no disrespect to any real Alzheimer’s sufferers or their carers). With Franklin clearly discomforted, Susan goes on to describe what it was like to have her father ask over and over where his wife was, and to have to tell him over and over that she was dead. Apparently, it never occurred to this unethical young scientist, whom we meet while she’s up to her eyebrows in illegal research, that it might have been kinder to simply lie. Anyway, Franklin is sufficiently impressed by Susan’s passion to accede to her request for forty-eight more hours in which to arrange and stage a demonstration of her work. He agrees to accompany her back to Aquatica.
(Not to rain on anyone’s parade or anything, but if the, “Tell me: have you ever known anyone with Alzheimer’s/cancer/AIDS/cystic fibrosis/cerebral palsy line actually worked, then a depressing proportion of scientists wouldn’t be either unemployed or doing something else with their time.)
Re-watching Deep Blue Sea, I was surprised at how little actual science there is – no more than about a dozen lines of dialogue; just enough to alert us to the fact that something’s wrong in the first place, and then for Susan to acknowledge that she’s been tampering in God’s domain. However, even though the characters open their mouths so seldom, they do it long enough to get their feet in there. The most amusing thing about this film is that the writers clearly have no grasp of the science that they are referencing: they have confused gene therapy with transgenics. (Well, what the heck? They both have that “gene” thing in there, right?) Initially, they’re reasonably on the money. It is left to Janice Higgins, herself innocent of any wrong-doing, to alert the audience to what the problem is, via an incredibly clunky exchange with Russell Franklin. First, she explains that a “hormonal enhancer” has been used to increase the brain size of the test sharks, leading Franklin to marvel that they’ve come so far, and so fast, without genetic tampering. Since (at least in the world of the film) such a thing would have been both illegal and against Chimera policy, and since, presumably, both Franklin and Janice know that, you’d rather expect Janice to reply with something like, “Yeah, I know – great, isn’t it?” But she doesn’t. Instead, she recites awkwardly, “Genetic engineering to increase brain mass is in direct violation of the Harvard Genetics Compact, not to mention Chimera policy.” Not to mention. (There’s actually no such thing as “the Harvard Genetics Compact”, by the way.) Now that we’re all up to speed, we cut to a muttered conversation between Susan and Jim Whitlock, letting us know that these are our transgressors. On that subject, I did make a mistake in my Snap Judgement of Deep Blue Sea: Susan is not entirely alone in carrying out the illegal experiments. However, my fundamental objection stands. It’s not like a gene therapy program is something you can hide. Who orders the reagents? Where are they stored? Who does the extensive in vitro lead-up work? And even if the answer to all three of these questions is “Susan and Jim”, didn’t it occur to anyone to ask why their project’s two senior scientists were themselves carrying out all the technical crap-work? Please.
Be that as it may--- Susan and Jim have used illegal gene therapy techniques to increase the brain mass of their test sharks, in order to increase the yield of the precious brain fluid. So far, so good. However, the screenwriters didn’t stop there. The two main test sharks have apparently bred the third shark, which has all of its parents’ genetically-enhanced characteristics, only more so. Moreover, the harping on the fact that the third shark is female, and the panic over the possibility of her escape at the end of the film, clearly imply not just the fear that this shark will eat a bunch of people, but that she will breed a race of SUPER-INTELLIGENT!! sharks like herself. Nice try, but that’s not how it works. Genetically-altered somatic characteristics cannot be passed to an animal’s offspring; to do that, you need to introduce foreign genes into the germ cells – that is, to create a transgenic animal. The third shark would have been an ordinary mako, regardless of what had been done to her parents; and any offspring she produced would be the same.
Susan’s demonstration requires the capture of the second-generation female, so that (in a scene that conjures up gigglesome memories of Linda Hamilton in King Kong Lives) she can withdraw from within the brain the fluid that is able to “reactivate” damaged human brain tissue. (There’s an odd moment when Janice comments that the human brain cells have been “stored in the forebrain of the shark”, which implies xenografting. I suppose that’s possible – although we must be talking about a different shark, since that tissue would have to be harvested….terminally, shall we say?) Naturally, being a movie scientist, Susan makes no attempt to maintain the sterility of her brain tissue culture; she just plonks it down on a table and pours shark brain fluid – unpurified shark brain fluid – all over it. The effect of this is instantaneous: to quote Susan herself, “Protein complex interacting with neurones! Neurones becoming hyperosmotic! Membrane integrity improving! They’re firing!” The team celebrates its success. Jim Whitlock lights a cigarette. And things go very wrong, very, very quickly.
Several major disasters later, we get down to the nitty-gritty of things, as Susan confesses her tampering to what’s left of her colleagues. (Quoth Janice Higgins: “You stupid bitch!” I’m sorry. I just enjoy that moment.) As we’ve already gathered, along with increased brain mass, the sharks have gained SUPER-INTELLIGENCE!! – which is about as dumb as the sharks are supposed to be smart. Brain size has nothing to do with intelligence. Otherwise, Renny Harlin would be smarter than, say, a newt. (Maybe that’s a bit unfair on Renny. Here’s a better example: one of Deep Blue Sea’s producers was Akiva Goldsman. Hey, nice work, Akiva! Someone give that man an Oscar!) And not only are the sharks SUPER-INTELLIGENT!!, but as usual, the script interprets “intelligence” as “the automatic and mysteriously acquired knowledge of things of which you have had no prior experience and therefore could not possibly know”. In the immortal words of Eros the alien – “Stupid. Stupid, stupid, STUPID!!” The only bit of this I’m prepared to go along with is that the sharks may have learned – learned, I said – what a tranquilliser gun is. But that’s it. They could not know what security cameras are, or how they work. They could not know what gas ovens are. And above all, they COULD NOT COULD NOT COULD NOT know the layout of a facility which they’ve never been inside, they COULD NOT COULD NOT COULD NOT understand the physics of water pressure, and they COULD NOT COULD NOT COULD NOT figure out how to “herd” human beings to the surface (which among other things implies that animals that live underwater somehow understand the concept of “lungs”) – even if they were dealing with some of the dumbest humans ever to disgrace God’s earth.
(Oh, yeah – and they couldn’t swim backwards, either!!)
Now, all of this is simply (as I may have mentioned) STUPID!! But there’s something else going on in Deep Blue Sea, something that is also dishearteningly common. The film itself does pose the question: “What does an 8,000 pound mako with a brain the size of a Flathead V8 engine and no natural predators think about?”, eventually giving the answer, “About freedom. About the deep blue sea.” But that is not the film’s true answer. Deep Blue Sea is one of an extensive and profoundly depressing group of films whose main thesis is that “intelligence” is a bad and dangerous thing that will inevitably lead to disaster. It is fully in keeping with this attitude that, as I pointed out originally, the film is merciless in killing off its scientists, guilty or innocent, and its “rich suit”, while at the same time allowing its working-class stiffs to make it out alive – even though one of them is – gasp! – black. Even the black guy himself, Sherman “Preacher” Dudley, is astonished by this turn of events, having commented earlier, “Brothers always die in situations like this!” Not always, Preach. Not if a film has already killed off one black guy – who made the fatal error of being wealthy and successful – and not if the second black guy is also – the Odious Comic Relief….
(I spent some demoralising minutes while I was writing this trying to think of a film, any film, in which “intelligence” is depicted in a positive light; and the only one to come immediately to mind was, perversely enough, Legally Blonde, which does indeed have its central character discovering that using your brain can be an exciting and rewarding experience – even if it is a knowledge of hair care that ultimately wins her fame, fortune and love. Oh, well. I guess you can’t have everything.)
So, what does a SUPER-INTELLIGENT!! 8,000 pound mako shark really think about? Why, about new and ever more sadistic ways of killing human beings, of course – what else? The sharks in Deep Blue Sea are, in fact, human phobia made flesh. Their one goal in life is to hunt down and kill as many people as possible. They kill humans preferentially. And they do it just for kicks. In truth, done with a little subtlety, this theme may actually have made Deep Blue Sea a genuinely scary movie; but as with everything else in the film, it is taken to such extreme lengths that it finally becomes risible. These sharks really belong in a slasher film – and they’ve got all the necessary credentials. Their ability to teleport around the flooding facility as the plot demands it would turn Jason Voorhees green with envy. But even this pales in comparison with their dimensional transcendentalism. Watch this film carefully, and just count the number of times one of the sharks changes size, or appears from out of a corridor it couldn’t possibly have fit through, or emerges from a body of water too shallow to hide it. In the end, Deep Blue Sea summons up irresistible memories of writer R.A. Lafferty’s explanation of how a camel can, in fact, squeeze through the eye of a needle. (“He just closes one of his eyes and flops back his ears and plunges right through. A camel is mighty narrow when he closes one eye and flops back his ears….”)
There were, however, some things about Deep Blue Sea I found harder to laugh off. Few things annoy me more than the tendency of science fiction films to throw the baby out along with the bath water; that is, simply to toss away what’s good and helpful about their science along with the EEE-vil bits. Take the original version of The Fly, for example. A scientist creates a teleportation machine and then, because of his own carelessness, disaster strikes. Does the scientist react by saying, “Well, the machine’s great! Just don’t be careless, like I was.”? He does not. Instead, he destroys the machine and all of his notes, so that “this will never happen again!” And so the possibility of teleportation is lost. Brilliant. Deep Blue Sea has perhaps the most hair-clutchingly painful example of this kind of thing I’ve ever seen. About two-thirds of the way through, while Carter and the soon-to-be munched Todd Scoggins are off trying to restart a generator, Susan takes the opportunity to return to her quarters, trying to retrieve her data. Preacher objects, but Susan insists, arguing that if that data at least doesn’t survive the crisis, then the whole tragedy has been for nothing. And for once in her life, she’s right. So she sets off down a flooded corridor, treading carefully (as well she might: that water’s nearly three feet deep, and you just never know where a seven-foot-high shark might be lurking), and makes it to her room. No sooner has she grabbed her computer disks (sensibly packed in a waterproof container) than she is threatened by one of the sharks. She manages to fry the animal with an electrical cable (yes, folks: this is “the underwear scene”!), but destroys her disks also in the process.
Which means that the one place in the world where a cure for Alzheimer’s Disease might be found is inside Susan McAlester’s head.
The final sequence of Deep Blue Sea has the three survivors, Susan, Carter and Preacher, trying to prevent the escape of the female shark. It is at this moment that Carter wakes to the realisation that the sharks have been “herding” their captors, using them to flood Aquatica so that they can, supposedly, get at that section of the facility fenced in by steel, not titanium. What follows is more than a little confusing. The surviving shark, the enormous female, hits the fence over and over. Given what we’ve seen so far, including the sharks smashing their way through solid steel doors, that fence should have crumpled up like a soggy piece of paper. Yet the animal makes little headway, which implies that the fence is titanium after all. The shark eventually resorts to biting its way through. (I guess being SUPER-INTELLIGENT!! makes your teeth grow roots, too.) This scene is supposed to be suspenseful. Instead, it makes you wonder why, if the sharks were capable of chewing through titanium, they didn’t just do that in the first place? Rather than, you know, that whole swim -backwards -destroy -the - cameras - shatter - the - glass - flood - the - facility - herd - the - humans thing? (I’m just asking….)
Through the last section of the film, Susan makes various (and it must be said, fairly feeble) attempts to justify her conduct by arguing that her research, be it ever so illegal, will in time will save millions of lives and prevent incalculable suffering. The unforeseen consequences of the gene therapy were, it should be remembered, a side-effect; we are given no reason to believe that Susan hasn’t truly discovered a cure for Alzheimer’s. (Of course, given the way in which her discoveries were made, Susan is facing professional ruin and a lengthy jail sentence, even aside from the repercussions of the facility disaster. We can only assume that, like Paul Holliston in Embryo, she considers the personal price one worth paying.) Carter, however, will have none of it, and throws those already killed in the facility in her face. What we have here is a fascinating moral dilemma. If you could save countless lives by sacrificing a dozen people close to you, would you do it? Could you do it? Do Susan’s ends, in fact, justify her means? Alas, the makers of Deep Blue Sea weren’t much interested in moral dilemmas, or in ethical debate, or in anything, it seems, that might have required the exercise of a brain cell or two. They seem to be more the “neat little package” kind. When the final shark is on the verge of escape, Carter tries to get a shot at it but can’t get the angle he needs. Susan then comes up with another way of stopping the shark in its tracks: she slices open her own hand so that the blood is flowing copiously, and jumps into the water. She doesn’t shake her hand so that the blood falls in but not herself (and the shark would certainly smell it). She doesn’t jump in where she might be able to climb out again. Effectively, she commits suicide. Which means that the potential cure for Alzheimer’s is lost, and this whole sorry mess – the deaths of not just the scientists, but of Russell Franklin, the helicopter team and poor Brenda up in the communications tower – has indeed been for nothing. Way to go, Suze. You’re a credit to your profession.
Well – I guess that’s it. Deep Blue Sea is an action film posing as science fiction; and it suffers from just about every shortcoming that an action film can. There isn’t much more to say. Except that---- After re-reading my initial reaction to the film, I’ll close by stating that I stand by my remarks about Saffron Burrows’ appearance (she’s got that eyes-too-big, pre-anorexic look going that I find particularly creepy), and those about her underwear. And I’m still waiting for a reasonable explanation for why Susan McAlester, alone of all the characters in Deep Blue Sea, has a wetsuit that opens down the front…