Shark films… whatever started that craze off? Well, in 1999 we had another one of them featuring a massive budget and a big name star in Samuel L. Jackson. And it’s enjoyable in its total stupidity.
Deep Blue Sea
Brace yourself on this one as the plot is a bit all over the place. A high-concept sci-fi and horror idea that makes giant mako sharks superintelligent.
Dr. Susan McAlester (Saffron Burrows) is a doctor. She’s battling Alzheimer’s disease (AD)—as in, looking for a cure.
In a massive underwater facility off the coast of America, a business-funded venture is using genetically engineered mako sharks as a possible answer.
The idea is the protein complex from the shark’s brains could bring dying brain cells back to life.
After an incident with one of the insanely dangerous sharks at the facility, Russell Franklin (Samuel L. Jackson) is sent to investigate and ensure company money is put to good use.
There we meet hot stuff shark wrangler Carter Blake (Thomas Jane), Dr. Jim Whitlock (Stellan Skarsgård), Dr. Jan Higgins (Jacqueline McKenzie), and engineer Tom Scoggins (Michael Rapaport).
There’s also Sherman “Preacher” Dudley (LL Cool J) who provides the comic relief for most of the film.
Blake is able to subdue one of the sharks and Dr. McAlester takes the brain matter—all seems to go well.
But the shark bursts into sudden life and Dr. Whitlock loses an arm, before things really do hit the fan for him and everyone else.
There’s a fair bit of gore ahead, so if that’s not your thing skip ahead, eh?
With the whole underwater facility imploding on itself, it’s one of those good old fashioned, hearty fights for survival.
And one of the things the film does do well is play fast and loose with its cast. As with Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, it’s unclear who’s going to survive.
That paves the way for one of the moment of moments in 1990s cinema history.
Deep Blue Demise
And so we get to what Deep Blue Sea is most famous for. You get in your A list actor legend Samuel L. Jackson. And you wipe him out halfway through the film with dodgy CGI.
Now this was a big shock at the time. We remember expecting him to make it to the end of the film. It’s Samuel L. Jackson, for crying out loud! But, nope, he’s gone.
Some even hail this as the last truly great surprising movie death.
Jeff Okun was responsible for the special effects in Deep Blue Sea. He recalled in July 2019 (marking 20 years on from the shock death) the actor’s monologue was initially much longer. Seven pages of ranting of hammy dialogue.
Unhappy, he rang Samuel L. Jackson to discuss what to do with the scene. They agreed they should just wipe out the character mid-speech.
You can read the full details on “The sooner you kill me, the happier I’ll be“: A VFX Oral History of Samuel L. Jackson’s Shocking Deep Blue Sea Departure. That’s on Before & Afters, so thanks to Ian Failes for the excellent piece.
Okun confirmed of the final process:
"So, I finish up all my passes, and I get to the dining hall. And I bee-line it to Sam, and I go, ‘Sam, you know, we can kill you even before you’re at the end of the pool, if you’re happy.’ And he goes, ‘Yeah, I’m not happy. Just kill me. The sooner you kill me, the happier I’ll be.’"
He revealed director Renny Harlin didn’t get it at first. He insisted over 20 takes to cover all of the dialogue.
Eventually they convinced him this was the right approach to take.
They were correct. 20 years on, it’s what everyone remembers about Deep Blue Sea.
“You ate my bird…”
The rest of the film manages a decent sense of claustophobia in the fight for survival.
Chef Dudley makes his way out of the slowly imploding facility alone, eventually catching up with the remaining survivors.
More shock deaths await as the omnipresent superintelligent mako sharks infiltrate the facility to hunt the people down one by one.
And, well, as a daft horror/action film it’s incredibly stupid, a bit campy, but ultimately engaging and mindless entertainment.
Some of the acting is a bit ropey. Saffron Burrows is the worst offender, she’s rather wooden at times.
Although she has a few decent emoting scenes, she appears to be there simply as she looks nice. That includes a gratuitous underwear scene later in the film to (wahey) keep the teenage boys watching happy.
Thomas Jane and Michael Rapaport make an strangely enjoyable odd couple with a bit of a bromance going on.
They’re surprisingly good! Displaying the relevant defiant fear you’d expect to see as the disaster unfolds.
Jane never became a househould name despite his leading man looks, whilst Rapaport is most famous for starring as one of Phoebe’s boyfriends in Friends.
LL Cool J is also very entertaining as the Bible quoting chef on his way out of the chaos. He’s very quotable and you do come to love his character.
And, well, this isn’t a film you can really analyse on a grand level. It’s a daft action film with horror elements.
The concept is completely idiotic (superintelligent mako sharks, anyone?) but it’s one that’s able to deliver the standard mayhem film buffs enjoy with these types of films.
On the downside, a lot of the CGI is now rather poor. In fact, the famous scene with Samuel L. Jackson looks appalling. It’s so obviously computer effects!
But nevermind, it’s the thought that counts, eh?
Directed by Renny Harlin (Cliffhanger, Die Hard 2 etc.) it had a whopping budget of $82 million—it was able to recoup $164.6 million. A decent success in Hollywood land.
That was surely a big relief for Harlin, whose 1995 Geena Davis vehicle Cutthroat Island cost $98 million and could only make $10 million back.
That makes it one of the biggest box office bombs in history. Adjusted for inflation, that’s a $173 million loss. Yikes.
Anyway, Deep Blue Sea was written by screenwriter Duncan Kennedy. In Australia, he’d seen a terrible shark attack and adapted the idea. Plus, you know, Jaws and all that.
With CGI still pretty new and exciting 20 years back, the studio clearly felt here was a chance to go above and beyond Spielberg’s classic.
But due to ageing, not surprisingly the best effects are now the practical ones. Those are very impressive. But some of the underwater CGI is still just about able to hold up.
Harlin also took inspiration from Ridley Scott’s Alien (1970) to heighten the sense of unpredictability and claustrophobia.
A good decision, but whilst Scott’s film descends into full existential horror, Deep Blue Sea is only on a Spaceballs level in comparison.
Deep Blue Sea 2
Finally, a direct-to-video sequel turned up out of the blue (lol) in 2018 for no apparent reason.
Directed by Darin Scott it stars no one famous and was absolutely panned by critics.
Given the relative success of Deep Blue Sea in 1999, it’s weird the studio waited so long for another one. No one was really asking for it. It’s not like we’re short on horror shark films.
Whatever, if you want to watch the thing it’s there for you.