CREATURE FEATURES #3: Deep Rising (1998)

The director of The Mummy started here with this sea-swept monster yarn. Anyone remember Treat Williams? 

Who made it?: Stephen Sommers (Director/Writer), Laurence Mark, John Baldecchi (Producers), Hollywood Pictures.

Who’s in it?: Treat Williams, Famke Janssen, Anthony Heald, Kevin J. O’Connor, Wes Studi, Cliff Curtis, Jason Flemyng.

Tagline: “Full scream ahead.”

IMDb rating: 5.8/10.

The recipe for Deep Rising is pretty simple: begin with a dosage of The Poseidon Adventure, mix in a bit of Aliens, Jaws, Titanic and any heist film, and pepper the concoction with a goofy, self-aware sense of humour before adding guns, gore and a campy octopus-like creature. Voila! To be sure, this is a powerfully dumb and unoriginal assembly of other films, but – more often than not – Deep Rising is an old-fashioned, flat-out fun horror-actioner which benefits from an engaging lead performance and an enjoyably brisk pace. In essence, it’s the type of junk food that you know is bad for you, but remains eminently edible nonetheless and you’ll no doubt be back for seconds.

In the film, a behemoth of a leisure cruiser (with a supposedly “impregnable” hull) known as the Agronautica is making its maiden voyage at full capacity across the South China Sea. Not far behind the Agronautica is a small vessel captained by freelance rogue Finnegan (Treat Williams). He has been hired to transport a bunch of armed badasses who plan to hijack and rob the luxurious ocean liner. After Finnegan’s ship is damaged in a small collision, they spot the Agronautica on radar and decide to approach it for spare parts and petrol. By the time the armed thieves and Finnegan’s crew board the Agronautica, though, the ship is empty. Soon enough, they discover the reason for this: a giant, tentacled, man-eating sea monster has eaten most of the ship’s occupants.

From this point onwards, Deep Rising adopts a largely predictable pattern of cat and mouse on-board the gradually sinking Agronautica, with the cavalcade of characters getting picked off one at a time by the marauding sea creature. The creature itself is also predictable; it’s a powerful mass of spiked tentacles and endless rows of teeth, and it possesses the uncanny ability to reach any part of the ship at the most convenient time. So, really, Deep Rising is a compilation of clichés and well-worn situations, but so what? Not even the filmmakers would try to argue this criticism, and thus writer-director Stephen Sommers chose to infuse his flick with a tongue-in-cheek sensibility. After all, how could anyone take this stuff seriously? For crying out loud, an Asian woman is sucked down a toilet bowl! Hence, all the same tricks we’ve seen countless times before are included in the movie but are spruced up with a bit of humour. Sommers also ensured his screenplay was drenched in one-liners and comedic moments, and this is why the movie is such a bona fide guilty pleasure.

Prior to Deep Rising, Sommers had only helmed two other features, both of which were children’s films: The Adventures of Huck Finn and The Jungle Book. One cannot mistake Deep Rising for anything close to resembling a children’s film, though, since the movie contains as many gross-out moments of violence as Sommers could think of (or as many as the MPAA allowed him to get away with). Sommers has always excelled as a director of cinematic junk food, and Deep Rising is further evidence of this talent. The pace is kept taut, the action is exciting, and the jump scares are somewhat effective. Jerry Goldsmith’s accompanying score is fantastic, as well. In the acting department, Treat Williams is impeccable as the Han Solo-esque hero, while the supporting cast is filled with a variety of familiar faces. Famke Janssen is appealing in her role as a thief here, Anthony Heald plays the sleazy creator of the ship, Sommers regular Kevin J. O’Connor plays Finnegan’s second-in-command, and Cliff Curtis and Djimon Hounsou appear as mercenaries.

If you wish to criticise Deep Rising for the idiocies, clichés, one-dimensional characters, obvious CGI (the creature effects are at times distracting), and the repetitive, predictable nature, you can. Hell, you have every right to. Deep Rising wears its glitches on it sleeve, but it throttles forward with such playful abandon that you should be willing to overlook the rough spots in order to enjoy this actioner. It’s an early example of Sommers’ unique brand of entertainment, solidified in later years by such titles as The Mummy and The Mummy Returns. Switch off your brain and enjoy this movie for what it is.

Creature Chaos

Why not watch the whole damn thing? Cheers YouTube!

Creature Confidential

(Via IMDb)
  • Harrison Ford turned down the role of Finnegan. The production’s budget was then downsized.
  • Famke Janssen’s character Trillian is named after the Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy character of the same name. Although here Trillian is her actual name, in Hitch-Hiker’s it’s short for Tricia McMillan. Claire Forlani was cast originally. She even started shooting, but walked out after just three days, due to creative differences with director Stephen Sommers.
  • One of the few films that has no heroes or heroines. Finnegan and his crew are hired for villainous reasons. Trillian is a thief. The mercenaries are simply mercenaries.
  • In the original script, John Finnegan’s catchphrase was “what now?” In the film it was changed to “now what?”

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