Based on a novel by Michael Crichton, Sphere is one of those science fiction movies that really influenced me. Directed by Barry Levinson (Good Morning, Vietnam, Rain Man, Sleepers, Wag the Dog) it was my introduction to hard science fiction. This was a huge movie at the time, starring Dustin, Sharon, Samuel and Peter Coyote who was still Oscar from Bitter Moon, at least for me. At the time I was just discovering science fiction movies and Sphere was a revelation. Well, it wasn’t as good as Contact that came out a year earlier, but it was something in the mainstream vibe that it was sporting.
The story is your standard-issue encounter with aliens gimmick, only this time with sea as the backdrop. A submarine, to be more precise. This created a cramped and very intense atmosphere. You can clearly see Alien and Solaris influences here, especially when it comes to exploration of an unknown vessel. However, the thing that amazed me was the scientific approach to this mission.
This is what blew me away. They were thinking logically and rationally and everything about the first half of the movie was just perfect. Far from those movies for the general population with strong characters who are blasting alien ships to kingdom come.
However, in the second part of the movie, the pacing starts to wobble and some other problems start occurring. This cost Sphere its cult classic status. For example, The Abyss from 1989 managed to pull through this and it features a relatively similar story, so check it out if you like this sort of stuff.
An alien ship has been discovered on the floor of the Pacific Ocean and a team of scientists is soon dispatched in order to make the first contact. Their leader, Dr. Norman Goodman wrote the rules for the first human contact with aliens some time ago, never thinking that this might actually happen. Since the ship is deep underwater, the team will need to board a submarine in order to reach it. Cramped spaces, very intelligent people, and an alien presence will soon begin to take its toll on this mission. What will happen is up to you to find out.
Although the main story is quite derivative and if you’re a science fiction fan, you’ll probably figure out what movie is in question, I still think that Sphere features some really interesting concepts. Phenomenal cast and great visuals elevated it from a status of mediocrity to a decent science fiction flick. I think that Crichton concentrated more on several gimmicks and technical details, disregarding the main story that’s supposed to be the real meat. Especially if you like exploring new ideas and concepts, you’re basically waiting for the damned thing to come. However, when that happens, you’re left quite perplexed by its simplicity. The best thing to do is to watch this movie without many expectations.
Director: Barry Levinson
Writers: Michael Crichton, Kurt Wimmer, Stephen Hauser, Paul Attanasio
Cast: Dustin Hoffman, Sharon Stone, Samuel L. Jackson, Peter Coyote, Liev Schreiber, Queen Latifah
Fun Facts: Many scenes were completely improvised. For example Harry and Norman’s conversation about making up the ULF report and dealing with Ted.